Happy Presidents' Day! Here's guest editor Lilah Raptopoulos with this week's pods. Thanks for doing it, Lilah.
Nice to meet you. My name’s Lilah Raptopoulos, and over the years I have developed an undiagnosed addiction to podcasts. So much so that I’m in a podcast club—that’s a club where a bunch of nerd journalists sit in someone’s small London flat, eat soup, and argue about whether Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast is fun and persuasive or utter crap. I told you this so you know I’m the real deal.
In honor of the fact that 2017 is the ten-year anniversary of John and my friendship, I have accepted his challenge (and the privilege!) of guest writing this newsletter. Here are five great podcasts. If you like what you hear and want to hang out, you can find me, ambivalently but ever yours, on Twitter.
Afropop | The Money Show
[NPR | 59m]
Apparently Afropop has been on NPR for decades, though I’ve only recently discovered it. The show is about music from Africa and the diaspora, but this particular episode is about the business, man. It has four equally engrossing chapters: one about how music changes hands via cell phone. One on how competition between rival DJs created a new style of music called Champeta in Colombia (and its reliance on a very specific cheap '80s Casio keyboard). One about the humongous lawsuit behind "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," the world’s most crudely reappropriated song. And one about Jamaican dancehall music and its defiant relationship with copyright. The show is super well-produced and the music is amazing; I only wish each chapter were its own hour-long episode.
In Candidate Confessional, hosts Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis interview politicians who lost. They’ve spoken with Howard Dean about the scream that ruined his campaign, Wendy Davis, Clay Aiken, Jon Huntsman, Anthony Weiner, and the guy who lost to Rob Ford, among others. There is some magic combination of factors that allows politicians on this show to drop their talking points and sound like human beings. It’s a full hour, the hosts are talented interviewers, and the premise is defeat, which offers space for honesty and humility. I’d suggest any of their episodes, but am spotlighting their interview with Michele Bachmann. Although I find her politics infuriating, she is one of very few women who has run for president, and she speaks honestly about how her gender made that experience different. She also talks through a typical day on the campaign trail and it will stress you the eff out.
Pod Save America Takes Brooklyn
[Crooked Media | 2h 13m]
Choosing a podcast that’s number three on the iTunes top charts isn’t my most original move, but you’ll thank me for it, because it’s the only piece of media I consumed this week that actually made me despair less. This is a live episode from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where heroic NYC mayor Bill de Blasio gives us many reasons to be hopeful for the future. He explains exactly where Donald Trump has less power and fewer resources than it may seem. Also, Jon Lovett made me laugh out loud multiple times on the tube. And the Q&A at the end is particularly informative.
Dear Sugar is hopelessly earnest, and as an American living in a country where “not bad, actually” is a full-on compliment, I’ll take that where it comes. The podcast originated as an anonymous advice column published on The Rumpus, written first by Steve Almond and then by Cheryl Strayed. In 2014, after watching it develop a cult following, they started a podcast version. It’s like Dan Savage with less sex and less judgment and a lot more aggressive empathy. This particular episode takes on body image. It starts with a question from a young man who always wished his girlfriend were thinner, told her so, and (obviously) offended her. Steve and Cheryl take different sides here and the conversation is nuanced and satisfying in turn. They also call Lindy West. There is an argument to be made that Lindy West has become America’s fatness pundit. This may be true. But I learned a lot from her here.
Reckonings is a relatively new podcast about how American political views shift. We often hear Obama say this is done by changing hearts and minds, but how does that actually happen? I really like this as a concept for a storytelling show. This episode was co-produced with the brilliant Love + Radio, which John has recommended a few times now. It is about Harvard economist Glenn Loury, who in the 1980s was a very prominent black conservative. It starts with him recounting the time he made Coretta Scott King cry. This episode is a complex, beautifully produced one-voice narrative that jolts you through the twists of Loury’s life. You watch his worldview change over time. But it leaves you somewhere a bit unexpected.
Runners up if you’re itching for more:
Stories from refugee camps across Greece.
The behind-the-scenes story of creating one of the most haunting and brilliant pieces of radio ever, about the Jonestown massacre.
You Made it Weird | Moshe Kasher or Jenny Slate
This is the opposite of the Jonestown episode. Pete Holmes has a very goofy laugh and it’s a pleasure to listen to him interview funny people.