Podcast Review: ‘Switched on Pop’
This podcast knows there is more than meets the eye with today’s pop music.
Editor’s Note: As part of our ongoing Music Journalism Course, our music team was asked to choose, listen to and write a reaction to an episode of a music podcast.
“You’ll fall in love with music you didn’t even know you liked.”
That claim is made by Vox’s Switched on Pop music podcast, and I can’t say they are wrong. The energy and detail that this show brings into the explanation of today’s popular music is engrossing. Time began to fly by as I listened, becoming more invested which each new music anecdote and fact that the hosts discussed.
I have a long commute in the mornings and decided to switch on an episode of Switched on Pop entitled “Billie Eilish is a Different Kind of Pop Star (ft. FINNEAS).” Despite the teen’s work dominating charts and capturing the attention of the younger generation, I have yet to be won over by Eilish’s music.
I listened with the intent to learn more and an open mind on reconsidering my opinion on the singer’s discography.
This was my first experience with Switched on Pop, but I did binge three episodes during my first listen. After the second episode, I learned the hosts do not follow a set format each week and keep options open to focus episodes on artists profiles, song reviews, trends or events in pop music. This variation in content is refreshing as the podcast adapts with the current state of pop rather than make pop news fit into a certain formula.
The dynamic between the hosts is electric. Musicologist Nate Sloan along with songwriter and producer Charlie Harding have lead the show since the inception in 2014. The two have an obvious curiosity to learn more about what makes music work and an intense appreciation for a good pop song.
When talking about Eilish, Sloan and Harding were like kids on Christmas morning. The hosts discussed, raved and made a very interesting superhero analogy as they pulled apart the make up of Eilish’s songs.
Harding’s explained his theory that “superpopstars are like superheros” because “they have a similar story arc.” First, they have an origin story, team up on remixes and go through antihero phases. He said that we are in a time of transition, or a “reboot,” because there is a new group of music listeners and they need a superhero “to have a narrative that speaks to their time and their generation. Eventually, [older superheros] age out and there’s a new audience that needs a superhero that speaks to the issues of the moment.” He finished with there is “no better superhero, superhero popstar, to look at than Billie Eilish.”
I was apprehensive about devoting time to a discussion about an artist that I do not listen to. I wondered how I would keep up without ever hearing the songs they were referencing. My concerns were invalid, the podcast was extremely accessible to any person. Snippets of songs were interwoven, making a background in the episode topics is unnecessary. Selections from Eilish’s music were played and every element — from the beat to the lyrics — were discussed.
The most informative part of the podcast is when the hosts go straight to the horse’s mouth, in this case to FINNEAS. FINNEAS is Eilish’s brother and producer that collaborates with her in their family home to make all her music. He confirmed and denied different theories that Sloan and Harding discussed and gave insight into the recording process.
The common practice on the podcast of inviting guests with real life connections to the music makes the podcast accurate, interesting, and personal. Other than FINNEAS, Sam Harris of the group X Ambassadors, Joywave and even actress Elle Fanning are among guests featured.
My opinion on Eilish’s music did not completely change despite Sloan and Harding’s love for her songs. They did convince me that Switched on Pop can change my perspective and introduce me to information valuable to forming opinions on pop music.
This podcast is my new go-to for exploring mainstream music that I would normally write off as not as uninteresting. I see myself switching this on in the future when I want to better understand why certain songs or artists are it hitting big.
After listening, I found a new appreciation for the impact that Eilish has on her audience and the work that goes into each of her songs. I have this podcast to thank for that.
If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.