Podcasts have an image issue.
Beyond the fact that our culture has for the most part moved away from the form’s original namesake—the iPod—there’s just a number of curious aspects to the medium that have got me thinking. It feels as though the taxonomy has become blurry, in need of a clean-up.
This week, the release of the new show 36 Questions, featuring Tony nominee Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton, has got us thinking about podcasts, musicals, and the intersection of the two. As the trend towards audio fiction has taken off over the past few years, it would seem that the groundwork has been laid for the podcast musical to come into its own as well. We’re looking today at a few examples of the form and analyzing what is working and what still has room for growth.
This past Saturday marked the formal celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, officially known as Canada 150, a campaign that has been marked by no little amount of controversy. It shouldn’t be necessary to disabuse American readers and listeners of the popular fallacy that Canada is simply an unfailingly pleasant intellectual haven to the North led by sentient meme Justin Trudeau. Such beliefs can largely be chalked up to the egocentrism of the American news media.
Canada—like nearly every nation—cannot be defined by a single set of experiences. Its is a messy history instead, composed of a patchwork of vibrant communities, indigenous and colonial and immigrant alike, none more authentically Canadian than another. There is just as much political wrangling, moral and ethical issues, boorishness and brilliance, and arts and culture as is to be found everywhere else in the world. None of this is to denigrate Canada, rather to offer readers a reminder that the nation exists on the plane of reality, where complexity abounds.
Just like the country which has birthed them, Canadian podcasts are an enthusiastically varied bunch. One of the strongest through-lines among the nation’s noteworthy shows is an attempt to showcase the diverse chorus of voices which make up the country, acknowledging that there is no universal “we” without giving its people the ability to relate their own authentic experiences. If the Canada 150 campaign was derided as a celebration of colonialism, then Canada’s podcasts appear set on changing the conversation.
Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu (Photo: Buzzfeed)
Since bursting onto the scene in 2015 as one of Buzzfeed‘s first forays into podcasting, Another Round has been an immensely popular and justly celebrated show. Hosted by writers turned real-life friends Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton, the program abounds with their infectious hilarity and grounded insight, managing to balance important conversations about race, gender, and mental health, with pop culture, dad jokes, and plenty of bourbon.
The pair have welcomed a veritable smorgasbord of high-profile guests onto the show, from Lin-Manuel Miranda to Queen Latifah, as well as introducing to a wider audience writers like Bim Adewunmi and Durga Chew-Bose. Of all their guests though, perhaps none stands out more than when then-candidate Hillary Clinton sought out the chance to appear on Another Round, giving her most honest and humanizing interview of the entire campaign. Equally notable was the manner in which Nigatu and Clayton pressed the Secretary, showing more interviewing mettle than basically any other journalist on the campaign trail. This was most evident when the pair pointedly asked her whether she and her husband had fucked things up for black people in America. It was a galvanic moment for the show.
We at Constant Listener were lucky enough to get a chance to catch up with the undisputed queens of podcasting ahead of their live show in live Chicago show—produced in partnership with WBEZ for its Podcast Passport Series—for a wide ranging chat about everything from misconceptions about their process, to the role that podcasts play in marginalized communities, and there’s even a sprinkling of Tom Hanks in there for good measure. It was an absolute delight, and we hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.
I’m someone whose very existence has been shaped by audio. Where some are content to read and others watch, I’ve spent my life listening. Since you’re here, I have to imagine that you feel the same.
The idea for the site is a simple one—that the medium of podcasting has a need for artistic criticism in the same vein that music, film, and television already enjoy. It is by close examination that the public grows in their ability to better understand the craft. As my multi-hyphenate friend Devon Taylor has said on the subject, a good critic instructs the viewer how to better see, and it is the aim of this site to help give listeners a better vocabulary and understanding of how to listen more fully.
There are a few ways that we’ll be approaching this aim. Once or twice a week I will be writing longer pieces, analyzing trends, particularly excellent episodes of shows, interviews with creators, and much more. In addition I’ll be linking to the writing of others on the subject that I find to be exemplary, and creating discussion around that as well.
Podcasting encompasses just about every facet of our modern life, and I definitely try to listen to as broad a swath of the programs available as possible, so expect this site to be just as varied in its content.
Finally, if you have a show that you feel would be a good fit, don’t be shy. Send me an email or a Twitter DM and let me know about it!