On a Percy-Jackson-quest-type-of-beat, with a prophecy from my oracles (aka editors), I listened to 24 hours of assorted podcasting in one week, seeking insights on the burgeoning breed of entertainment media.
Clear and obvious: the podcasting rainforest is wickedly dense and diverse in content. In 2022, the number of distinct global podcasts exceeds the population of 15 US states. Over 380 million listen to podcasts worldwide, more than all Netflix and Disney+ subscriptions combined. Mirroring the explosion of personal blogs in the early aughts, seemingly everyone, their mother, their sister-in-law, their three favorite actors, and their oldest hamster records a podcast.
Three years ago, the New York Times dropped an article questioning — “Have We Hit Peak Podcast?” — investigating the frenzied and superheating landscape. At the time, roughly 700,000 podcasts lived in the cyberverse. In retrospect, the answer to their question is too simple: Hell No. The pandemic catalyzed spoken word entertainment, and Spotify’s 200 million dollar deal for “The Joe Rogan Experience” had every C-list celebrity daydreaming of desk microphones, blankety voices, and money bags. Now, 2.4 million podcasts sleep on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, etc, with hundreds added every day. Platforms such as Relevnt allow you, and everyone else, to record and share your own imaginative thoughts to the world.
The apt media for the busiest of folks, until self-driving cars are ubiquitous, podcasts are here for the long haul. On my mission, I listened to over 20 podcasts last week, spanning all genres – from my first endeavor with True Crime to my favorite sports and movie analyses, I sought the breadth (or breath!) of the vast realm. On podcast supersaturation, I present six increasingly spicy hot takes.
Hot Take One: No [Insert Famous Person]! You don’t need a podcast!
Spice Level: Ok…yes…mild
An open letter to all celebrities,
I understand the scheme — your names alone beget interest, listeners. Many of you have the clout to steal your celebrities pals for an hour, to shoot the shit over coffee. You watch longingly as Joe Rogan records a few convos with Aaron Rodgers and Elon Musk and pockets 200 million clams. The temptation must be overwhelming. But please please please resist the urge to announce your own podcast.
I listened to podcasts by Meghan Markle, Anna Farris, Logan Paul, Gwenyth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, Marc Maron, among others, many of which hold a significant following. But a few short minutes into the humdrum conversations, and the takeaway is clear as day: name alone is the reason I listen to you on my drive to class. You are all fantastic actors and personas, but we need new voices.
For celebrities feeling the unstoppable itch, look to “The Office” stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, hosts of the tenth most popular podcast in the US, “Office Ladies”, a show in which the duo recaps each episode of their beloved sitcom. “Office Ladies” embodies the reasons a celebrity should pursue a podcast, because, well, they have a connection to the topic. As real life best friends, the duo has fantastic chemistry and their behind-the-scenes anecdotes are nostalgic for us all.
One last time, please celebrity, don’t do it.
Take Two: True Crime ain’t for everybody…but the symbiotic podcast pairing is undeniable
Spice Level: Texas Pete
The front half of this hot take is likely tangier than the back half. Confession: True Crime is not my preferred genre. But to deny its efficacy in the podcast form is silly. The second, fifth, ninth, eleventh and twelfth most popular podcasts in the US are True Crime. True Crime is so compelling, pretty good television shows are thriving off that plot point alone.
Podcasts flourish along two divergent veins — either, unscripted conversations riddled with arguments and humor, or well-crafted, compelling stories. True Crime leans into the ladder. Someone lock the doors please and make some popcorn.
Take Three: The Ringer Podcast Network is the highest guarantee of quality
Spice Level: Sriracha on my Pitchfork’s Quesadilla at 2 am
The Ringer is a journalistic podcast network specializing in sports and cultural commentary. Since 2020, Spotify has housed their give-or-take 70 (!) different feeds.
Owner and founder Bill Simmons’ podcast is a mainstay, and The Ringer network is pervasive with talented journalists, adept at intelligent analysis and humorous criticisms. The themes range from Boston sports to T Swift’s latest album to the most recent drop on Netflix. Curious about the latest “White Lotus” episode? “The Prestige TV Podcast” is ready to unpack. Just rewatched “The Dark Knight” for the 73rd time? “The Rewatchables” can push off the 74th. A little late on “Game of Thrones”…or right in the midst of “House of the Dragon”? “Talk the Thrones” breathes fiery takes over each and every episode.
Oh — plus their website is free, filled with fantastic articles and a neat little algorithm entitled ‘The Streaming Wars.’
Take Four: Talk over each other!
Spice Level: The Carolina Reaper
Informality is opportune.
A number of well-followed podcasts — Joe Budden, Pardon My Take — employ a gaggle of speakers to fly through jokes, takes and debates at the speed of light. The technique belies the stereotypical soothing podcast voice. The digression is appreciated — talk over each other. Super speed pacing builds excitement plus the metaphysical experience of sitting in the room with the speakers.
Take Five: Alex Cooper’s “Call Her Daddy” is genuine journalism
Spice Level: Neutron Star
Fret not — the 8th most popular podcast in the US — catches a mention. I listened to an interview with Hailey Bieber on the topic of [Justin’s-ex-who-shall-not-be-named]. Cooper crawled into the weeds, dragging Bieber along with investigative probes and hard-hitting queries. Bieber used the mic to dispel certain inaccurate perceptions, denounce internet hate and talk voting. She was, like, surprisingly, like, well spoken.
However, in researching best podcasts for women, a plethora of sites gave no acknowledgment to the most successful. Riot, “Daddy” fans.
Take Six: “Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend” is the best podcast in the world
Spice Level: BWW’s Blazin Challenge as a Fantasy Football punishment
Hosting “Late Night” for 28 years must teach a lesson or two on talking with people. The simplistic formula of “Needs a Friend” works wonders. Each week, Conan and his two witty partners Sona Movsesian and Matt Gourley chat with an actor or comedian. A law: Conan won’t involve unfunny guests, to ensure no comedic drop off. Additionally, he meets an average joe to chat about their life. In both cases, the cleverest, quickest crew in the world plays on anything and everything. The Harvard man has a firm grip on word choice to world history, flavoring the comedy with intellectual nuance. A voice for podcasting and the formula is perfect. C'est très bon pour la santé.
Bonus Take: Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” is the most fascinating
Spice Level: Cool Ranch Doritos
The master journalist and novelist explores uncanny, unexpected and misunderstood phenomena with the same inquisitive eye that fills his best selling novels. Same genius, different medium, same capture. And, A+ for the title.
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