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As you can see by the amount of podcasts which qualify for a 'best podcasts' list, there's never been a better time for podcasts. Though the format has been around for a couple of decades now, it's only in the last few years that they really hit their stride. You might say that we're living through a golden age of podcasts, if you're the kind of person who needs all their culture categorised into neat eras.
But podcasts themselves seem to live in the wild. You need a David Attenborough to point the way through the undergrowth and stop you wasting time wandering down dead ends. So to that end, this is our pick of the best new podcasts that have arrived in 2020, as well as our highlight from long-running favourites. We've even herded them into neat little categories for you too.
"Where's the funny ones?" you might start griping. "I like the funny ones. And what about true crime? I was only here for some true crime, and now it's all gone."
Chill out mate. They're in their own spin-off lists: this one's the comedy one, and the true crime one is here. We've hived off the best of the BBC's podcasts into a separate list too, because there are absolutely loads. Nice one, the Beeb.
So, this is it: our pick of the best podcasts of 2021. Need anything else? Want us to pop your Airpods in for you too? Oh, go on then. We're all friends here.
Black Lives Matter / Current affairs / Drama / Sport
Quality chat / Health / Culture / Business
Black Lives Matter
Anti-racism campaigners, educators, academics and public figures talk about their work and their lives, and how the two influence each other day to day. Recent guests have included Trinidadian artist Richard Mark Rawlins, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, and Angelina Coronado, who curates The Menagerie Archive on Instagram.
Vox’s excellent Explained digested news strand was a hit on YouTube and Netflix, and it drops new 20-minute podcast episodes every day. Lately, it’s focused on George Floyd, police brutality and civil rights, and its episodes about police unions, the reality of black America’s nightmare, and why Trump’s attempts to blame unrest on Antifa is just plain wrong, are essential listening.
About Race with Renni Eddo-Lodge
The author of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race picked up where her book left off in this 2018 podcast, which follows the last 25 years of the fight for BAME rights, from the false hope of New Labour to now. Simon Woolley, founder of Operation Black Vote, Sisters Uncut and Riz Ahmed are among the key figures interviewed.
The Death of George Floyd: Will Anything Change?
The Guardian's Today in Focus is another daily news agenda-led podcast which takes a single issue as its focus, and this recent edition features an interview with former federal prosecutor and author of Chokehold: Policing Black Men Paul Butler about the injustice of the current system and how it has to be reformed.
Current Affairs Podcasts
Conflict of Interest
Even if you consider yourself extremely on top of the currents of geopolitics, it can be hard to riddle out exactly why conflicts start, where and how. The Imperial War Museum's new podcast lays out the roots of recent wars from the Troubles to the Yugoslav War of the early Nineties, and Afghanistan to Yemen. Celebs take on the role of asker-of-obvious-questions to the experts who show them around the museum itself and present objects and stories which show how we got to where we are, and so far it's featured Jamali Maddix and The Guilty Feminist's Deborah Frances-White.
Broccoli Productions' latest explores the lingering links between the transatlantic slave trade and modern Britain. Yes, it's sort of a history podcast, but if you want to make sense of the ongoing push to decolonise areas of public life and reckon with Britain's role in the slave trade – spoiler alert: we were pretty keen on it for a long time – then this is an engaging, typically thoughtful way of doing it. Moya Lothian-Mclean, journalist and descendent of both Black African enslaved people and white slave owners, presents and takes us on a journey which starts at Lady Hawkin's School in Herefordshire – named for the wife of Britain's first slave trader.
In Britain someone is reported missing every 90 seconds. This podcast, made with missing persons organisation Locate International and charity Missing People, focuses on the stories of the one percent of people who are still missing after a year. It isn't just a prurient, leering true crime thing; it's a sincere attempt to push the cases of missing people forward by involving listeners in the deliberations and discussions Locate International's detectives are having to bring the families and friends of those who've gone missing some peace.
Channel 4's thrice-weekly deep dive into a single issue in the news has taken in football's reckoning with former players developing dementia, how African nations have managed to contain coronavirus, whether the pandemic will lead to Scotland jumping ship from the union, and an affecting investigation into the life of one woman who was one of the 39 Vietnamese migrants found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex in 2019.
The internet's former favourite podcast is at last back from an – ahem – 'extended break'. Its co-host PJ Vogt and producer Sruthi Pannamaneni departed under a cloud earlier this year after their investigation into gatekeeping and racial discrimination at Bon Appetit led Reply All staffers to point out that almost exactly the same thing was going on at Reply All, as well as anti-union harassment from Pannamaneni. Now regular Reply All correspondent and Londoner Emmanuel Dzotsi will co-host with returning Alex Goldman in a revamped and, one assumes, slightly chastened new form. It'll be different of course, but Dzotsi's been a wry, empathetic presence on the podcast in the past. Don't bet against it coming back stronger.
A Bit of a Stretch
Three-time Bafta-nominated filmmaker Chris Atkins spent nine months at HMP Wandsworth for tax fraud. You assume that prison isn't going to be much of a laugh, but the true extent of the boredom, banality, casual violence, overcrowding and underfunding was the centre of Atkins' memoir of the same, and the spin-off podcast adds the voices of other former prisoners to explore the day-to-day of live inside. The success of A Bit of a Stretch comes with a little twinge of discomfort – it's pretty desperate that it takes a white-collar ex-convict to make middle England care the scale of the dysfunction and malaise of the prison system – but the system's intricacies and absurdities are endlessly fascinating.
The Bellingcat Podcast
The first season of the open-source investigative website’s podcast, which unpicked the MH17 atrocity with clear-eyed original reporting, won two ARIAs, a British Podcast Award and was named Political Podcast of the Year by the Political Studies Association. Now, for a brief but dramatic two-parter, it’s looked to Cameroon. A mysterious and horrific video showing women and children being shot has gone viral. But who are they? Where are they? Who filmed them? Why did they die? Investigators around the world start working together to riddle it out.
Today in Focus
Given how quickly everything's moving at the moment, anything more than a 20-minute catch-up can feel out of date almost immediately. The Guardian's daily podcast is an essential primer on the broader implications of this crisis, and its recent episode on how Covid-19 took hold in Italy is thorough and avoids alarmism.
The Beautiful Brain
Jeff Astle was - and remains - The King, an FA Cup winner and West Brom's legendary 137-goal striker known for his aerial ability. When he died in January 2002 at the age of 59, though, he'd spent his last years living with dementia-like symptoms. A coroner found that minor traumas to his brain had caused the degenerative brain condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and recorded a verdict of death by industrial injury - the first time blame for the condition had been placed squarely on heading heavy leather footballs day after day. This four-parter follows Astle's story via raw, intensely moving interviews with his wife Laraine and daughter Dawn, before reporter, producer and host Hana Walker-Brown explores how CTE affects survivors of domestic violence and asks: what does the science tell us to do, and who's responsible for making it happen? It's a gripping and essential - if often overwhelmingly poignant and righteously enraging - listen, as much a call-to-arms as a piece of investigative journalism.
Created by Jacob Roberts-Mensah and Rhys Reed-Johnson, Dem Times is an audio drama which follows troublemaker Samuel Adjei, whose parents are determined to straighten him out. He's sent away from home in the UK to a Ghanaian boarding school, where, suddenly an outsider, he soon realises he's going to have to do a lot of growing up. The first episode of this fish-out-of-water Bildungsroman has just landed, and the outlook's very good: Dem Times sounds a lot like it'll become a funny and moving coming of age story told from a fresh and rich new angle.
This is a proper blockbuster adaptation of Neil Gaiman's graphic novel. Look how stacked the cast list is: James McAvoy, Riz Ahmed, Michael Sheen, Taron Egerton, Andy Serkis and Miriam Margolyes are all involved, with old Macca in the title role. It's not just a straight radio play either. Audible promises that this one will rewrite what you can do with audio drama, just like The Sandman did with graphic novels.
Phoebe Reads A Mystery
You’ve probably set yourself some pretty optimistic goals for your reading now that you can’t really go outside, but don’t worry if the general vibe of impending doom is knocking your motivation. Audiobooks and podcasts count too. Phoebe Judge has an exceptionally soothing voice, and every day she’s dropping a chapter of a mystery thriller on this podcast. She’s just finished Agatha Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which introduced Hercule Poirot, and next up is The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Can’t drop off? This meditative, deeply reassuring podcast will soothe you, even if you’re in a deep rut of agitated nocturnal fretting. Think of these half-hour stories as fairytales for adults, with New Age soundscapes and mindfulness techniques thrown in, which gently draw you into drowsiness. It's like going to a spa, but it's free.
Geraint Thomas Cycling Club
That title really looks like it could do with a possessive apostrophe or a colon, but that's what it is. The 2018 Tour de France champ and two-time gold medallist dishes out expert advice, opinion and insider knowledge to amateur rider Tom Fordyce, and goes deep on the nitty gritty of what being an elite cyclist is all about. Which, as it happens, involves a lot more riding into telegraph poles than you'd think. Top guests pop up too: Aussie great Richie Porte pops in, while Sir Paul Smith puts together the perfect kit and talk about his favourite retro jerseys.
Berlin-based duo Musa Okwonga and Ryan Hunn talk about football, primarily the Bundesliga, and pretty much everything else besides. As with the best sporting podcasts, it’s not just about the sport. Memory, storytelling and the minutia of the game are as important as working out what species of extraterrestrial Erling Haaland is.
Ornstein & Chapman
Depending on exactly how much Mark Chapman you feel you can take in any one week, what with him being omnipresent across BBC radio and TV whenever football – either association or American – is under discussion, this might feel like a step too far. But you'd be missing out on insight from The Athletic's supremely well-connected David Ornstein and exclusive interviews with players and insiders. Look at their recent episode with former Liverpool and Spurs director of football Damien Comolli, and his retelling of the sorry Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra racism debacle and the day Liverpool sold Fernando Torres and bought both Suarez and Andy Carroll.
The Greatest Game
Pretty simple, this one: Jamie Carragher sits down to chat about the best game of football each guest has seen live or played in. That's about it, aside from a fairly standard bit where they pick a five-a-side team of ex-teammates or favourite players. What's interesting is the admirably insane seesawing in the quality of the guests. On the one hand: Thierry Henry, Steph Houghton, Jordan Henderson, Craig Bellamy. On the other: Niall Horan, Line of Duty's Martin Compston, Paddy McGuinness. The latest guest is firmly in the first camp, though. Steven Gerrard talks his good buddy Carra through his own favourite game – and it's not Istanbul 2005.
The Official Manchester United Podcast
Urgh. United. Insufferable when they were successful, unbearable when the edifice started crumbling and their fans moaned about finishing fifth, and somehow still awful now they're a mid-table irrelevance with more official noodle partners than functional central midfielders. We'll say this for them though: decent podcast. This being the official podcast, they can rope in absolutely stellar guests, from Paul Scholes and King Eric Cantona to Dimitar Berbatov, whose tale of being kidnapped while playing for CSKA Sofia needs to be heard to be believed.
Quality Chat Podcasts
The Great James Bond Car Robbery
You know the car: James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5. It’s a beauty. Heck – it’s the definitive automotive beauty. You can understand why, in 1986, someone paid $250,000 for a genuine DB5 used during the filming of Goldfinger and fitted with machine guns, ejector seat and the rest. What’s less understandable is how that car could suddenly disappear from a Florida airfield in 1997, and still be missing to this day. This podcast digs into the daring heist and follows specialists Art Recovery International as they try to track the Aston down.
Look, the idea of sitting down and relaxing with a nice, concentrated blast of death, pain and the wreckage that any death leaves behind isn’t exactly enticing, we know. But the unflinching attitude of Georgie Vestey’s interview podcast turns the most difficult subject of all into a listen that’s so tender and fascinating that you owe it to yourself to face down that awkwardness. Each time, Vestey speaks to a professional who stares into death’s absent eye sockets every day, from a police diver to a chaplain who looks after railway workers who’ve seen people take their own lives. Not immediately cheery, but completely sublime.
The Town That Knew Too Much
You might have heard Nick Hilton’s previous podcast on small town English weirdness, The Town That Didn’t Stare, about the odd ways that East Grinstead in West Sussex became a nexus for alternative religions including Scientology and Opus Dei. This one picks up a similar thread, but this time it’s about the Regency town of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. Beneath its chiselled, upright good looks, Hilton argues, is a town where lies and subterfuge leak from the walls. It’s the home of GCHQ, and even outside of its secretive walls there are decades of intrigue to explore.
Manchester Arena Bomb: Stories of Hope
Ghoulish retellings of massive, traumatic events are one of the most enduringly popular and ethically icky podcasting subgenres, and they're especially hard to countenance when something as sensitive and well-made as this lands. BBC Radio Manchester's four-part series brings together survivors of the terror attack in May 2017 to talk about how they've rebuilt their lives since then, and the connections which they've made with each other. There's Usman Ahmed, who was working his last shift as a steward the night of the bombing, and who found strength in his faith, and there's Martin Hibbert, who was left paralysed below the waist by 22 shrapnel wounds but hopes to raise a million pounds for the Spinal Injuries Association by climbing Kilimanjaro.
This one is a bit of a phenomenon, with three (three!!) separate TV adaptations of the true crime story already in production for Netflix, Lightbox and Chernobyl producers Sister. Anyone in Ireland will already know why: the investigation into the December 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier and its seemingly never-ending twists has been one of the longest-running and most thoroughly picked-over news stories of the last couple of decades there. Sophie was found beaten to death at her holiday home in Schull, County Cork. There was only one suspect. But it turned out to be a lot more complicated than that.
Katy Wix, who you know from Ghosts and Stath Lets Flats, and cohost Adam Drake put a new spin on the two-hosts-plus-guests format by venturing out of the studio and joining their interviewees for a wander around their old stamping grounds while chatting about what message they'd give to their younger selves. So far they've leaned toward comedians, hitting up East Ham with Wix's Stath costar Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Leeds with Liam Williams and Broadstairs with Lou Sanders. It's a good conceit for getting people to open up about what they were like as kids, and gives a bit more texture to the reminiscences.
Former Woman's Hour presenter Jane Garvey's new one is like a podcasting version of that Experience column in the Guardian Weekend magazine where people talk about strange, unexpected and often inexplicable events have happened to them. Grace Spence Green was minding her own business in Stratford Westfield shopping centre when she was crushed by a man who fell several storeys onto her, leaving her paralysed. Tony O'Reilly from County Carlow in Ireland put a pound on Patrick Kluivert to score first and Holland to beat Argentina 2-1 at the 1998 World Cup when he was 24, but over time his gambling freewheeled into stealing €1.75 million from his work, and he went on the run.
Call Me Mother
Recently there's been a spate of high quality podcasts exploring queer history within living memory, and this is another fine example. Journalist Shon Faye speaks to elders in the community about where we've come from and where we're going, and the adventures they've had on the way. That includes theorist Kate Bornstein, 73, who travelled across America to live with groups including the Amish, the Baha'i and the Church of Scientology to better understand their gender identity. It does a great service to the stories which were habitually excluded from the ones we tell about the 20th century.
Distressing as it is that the turn of the millennium is now long enough ago to be raked over in a lovingly nostalgic way, that’s where we’re at. It has at least given us this, in which film critic Simran Hans and music critic Tara Joshi dissect the culture that made the turn of the century such a strange mixture of the genuinely exciting, the endearingly rubbish, and the optimistically futuristic. So far, they’ve looked back at The Sims, Craig David, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, reality TV, and the golden age of the film tie-in soundtrack single. Leann Rimes’ magnificent ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’ finally gets its dues.
The First Mile
Obviously none of us are going to be trotting the globe with quite the same abandon we might have been used to for the time being, but this new indie travel pod is the next best thing. Travel journalists Ash Bhardwaj and Pip Stewart do the usual guest-of-the-week thing with adventurers, writers and filmmakers, but the big draw is the evocative audio dispatches from their journeys in New Zealand and Nepal.
The Adventure Podcast
It looks like we're going to have to settle in and get used to lowering our expectations for the next few months at least, but that's not to say you can't vicariously adventure beyond your immediate surroundings at all. Recently, The Adventure Podcast has spoken to filmmaker Emma Crome about her documentary following the last English poachers, mountain climber Nick Bullock on climbing Mount Gongga in China, and journalist George Monbiot's frankly terrifying early career covering land seizures in Manaus, the heart of the Brazilian Amazon.
The third series of Anthems (you can read about the last, themed around Pride month, below) is another collection of manifestos, poems, speeches and stories in sub-10 minute minisodes, this time exploring life in 2020 for Black Britons. Writers, journalists and cultural figures including Afua Hirsch, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Jade Anouka talk heritage, power, beauty, rage and tenderness.
What is this Behaviour?
Artist Almass Badat, filmmaker Aaron Christian and comedian Reuben Christian speak to creative South Asian people including DJs, YouTubers and filmmakers about how their identities mesh with Britain and being British right now, as well as how they navigated their ways through growing up British and Asian. Aaron runs The Asian Man, a project celebrating men's style, too, so there's inspiration to draw from there if you're in a lull.
Released for 2020's Pride month, it's never a bad time to dig into the back catalogue of this collection of uplifting, rousing personal manifestos, stories and reminiscences from a vast range of voices. Drag queens and kings, directors, stand-ups, DJs, filmmakers and more LGBTQIA+ people reflect joyfully and tenderly on queerness in 10-minute episodes. Production company Broccoli Content’s weekly news précis Your Broccoli Weekly is snappy too.
A Life Less Ordinary with Sophie Elwes
In 2011, Sophie Elwes became a wheelchair user at the age of 22 after breaking her back. Her new podcast features conversations with other people who've had to come to terms with and overcome huge events in their lives, including 16-time Paralympic medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, mental health campaigner Ben West, who lost his brother to suicide in 2018, and actor Ashley Belal Chin, who found peace and happiness after converting to Islam in 2002.
The Dope Black Podcast
Pulling together podcasts under the Dope Black Dads, Dope Black Mums and Dope Sports Podcast banners, as well as extra contributions from the UK, America and across Africa, this is all about giving Black parents the space to talk about what matters to them, from grief and how lockdown can shake your mental health to exactly why it’s so hard to remember birthdays.
Stories That Stick
The team behind the Blacticulate podcast – a portmanteau of ‘Black’, ‘action’ and ‘articulate’ – put together this one, on which BAME media makers and entrepreneurs talk about how they made their way in their industry, from DJ and radio producer Gemma Cairney to BBC and This American Life reporter Reya El-Salahi.
What We Coulda Been
Notables from all over the cultural map talk about the things that they nearly went into before they found the things they became known for. Host Chelcee Grimes chose songwriting over playing for Liverpool, which has panned out well so far, and guests including Lucy Bronze, Dua Lipa and Rio Ferdinand will be on to talk about their own Sliding Doors moments.
10 Things That Scare Me
The short, sharp five-minute episodes of this podcast have a simple set-up: people name 10 of their deepest unspoken fears. That's it. Some – like Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, ex-Trump White House fixer Anthony 'The Mooch' Scaramucci and Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello – are famous; others aren't. But all of them feature something jarring (Morello's family had nooses in their garage when he was a kid), something that makes you laugh then nod in a that-makes-complete-sense sort of way (The Mooch is best mates with his divorce lawyer), or something obviously horrifying which you'd never considered before and will now carry with you everywhere (falling and hitting your teeth). Urgh.
We’re going to stick our necks out here: we didn’t realise quite how good Kayvan Novak’s Fonejacker and Facejacker were when they first arrived on TV. Fortunately, Novak has revived Brian Bedonde, Irish Mike, Terry Tibbs and the rest for some 15-minute blasts of surreal irritation against the Great British public.
This long-running Radio 4 programme is the gold standard for music podcasts. It's about the strange ricochets and resonances which music can have through your life, and how the things you live through change your perspective on what a song means. The format might sound a little bit dry – each time ordinary people reflect on a different song or piece of music and its significance to them – but every single time it carries a serious emotional wallop. Recently it's covered David Bowie's 'Life on Mars?' and Talking Heads' 'Once in a Lifetime', but the archive spans 31 series going back 20 years, and often the best ones are those about music you've never heard before.
Renegades: Born in the USA
Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, the two cornerstones of liberal America's conscience, sit down for a big chat about life, music and everything. Some of the episodes are quite specific, like the first – Outsiders: An Unlikely Friendship, as the title has it – while others sound more like unlicensed short story collections inspired by the works of The Boss. Not many people could get away with calling a podcast episode 'Born to Run: The Loss of Innocence', but Bruce just about does.
You've probably felt vemödalen, even if you've never heard the word before. These short episodes – usually sub-15 minutes – explore and explain the specific emotional states which English-speakers need words from other languages to describe, as well as chatting to people who've felt them. Vemödalen, if you were wondering, is that feeling you get after taking a picture and realising that it's the same one as loads of other people have taken and yours is rubbish anyway.
Broccoli Book Club
We've mentioned Broccoli Productions a couple of times in this mega-list (see their excellent Anthems series) and this is their new one. As the title suggests, it's a book club, but rather than having your flatmate's old uni mate lumber you with a behemoth you're never going to finish, the emphasis is on reads that are going to make you more empathetic and inquisitive. It's got a slightly different rhythm to most podcasts, with each two-part discussion arriving once a month. First up is a Laura Dockrill's What Have I Done?, which details her postpartum psychosis, after the host Diyora Shadijanova talks about it with her guests, the author herself will be on to explore the book more deeply.
Sex educator Alix Fox hosts Audible's funny, thoughtful and unblushing dive into the world of sex subcultures. It's a warm and empathetic listen which starts out asking simple questions about what exactly kinks are and why they exist, before heading into exactly what's happening in the brain and, more importantly, what our kinks say about the society we live in. That means, among many other things, celebrating the subversive power which leather bar culture gave some gay men in the Seventies, and learning exactly how kinky things in the Middle Ages, Georgian and Victorian eras actually were. The answer: very.
No Time To Die: The Official James Bond Podcast
Naturally, you’re disappointed that it’s going to be another few months months before you can actually watch No Time To Die. That stings. When the hurt has subsided a little though, the official companion podcast will be waiting for you. Its six episodes will feature interviews with the main cast, including Daniel Craig, plus director Cary Joji Fukunaga and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson. Perhaps even more interestingly, there will be behind the scenes stuff from stunt co-ordinators, casting directors and visual effects supervisors.
Growing Up with gal-dem
Each time, a guest looks back at bits and pieces of ephemera from when they were younger – diaries, letters, texts – and think about where they were then, where they are now, and how they got from one to the other. So far that’s meant Michaela Coel reflecting on a blog post she wrote while at drama school, Clara Amfo on how her parents gave her confidence, and Diane Abbott looking at her maiden speech to Parliament.
Even now that podcasting at large has settled into three or four cosy little formats, sometimes a podcast comes along which surprises you with the sheer obvious brilliance of its conceit. Script Apart is one of those. Each time, a writer brings in the first draft of one of their most famous works, and talks through how they got from a rough but promising kernel to the final product. A little like Song Exploder, Script Apart isn't just about its guest, though they're very high calibre; it's about how creativity works, and the pleasures and difficulties of collaboration. Among others, Armando Iannucci has been on to talk about In the Loop, Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz about BlacKkKlansman, and Barry Jenkins for Moonlight.
The first series of Wild Thing followed Bigfoot watchers and hunters as they tried to convince the world of the big hairy lad’s existence. The new series goes a lot bigger: this one’s about the hunt for life beyond Earth. Laura Krantz talks to navy pilots who’ve seen strange lights, true believers at the UFO Festival in Roswell, and scientists including Frank Drake and Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence Institute co-founder Jill Tarter. It’s about the points where the very outer edges of scientific exploration meet a deep human yearning to know things which might not have a definite answer.
Books & Rhymes
This one started out as the Instagram book review page of the same name, and is now deep into its second season as a podcast. Host Sarah Ozo-Irabor speaks to guests from across African literature – authors including My Sister, the Serial Killer writer Oyinkan Braithwaite feature, as well as literary editors and publishers – about their journeys through reading. But the twist is that characters, stories and themes are paired with music that illuminates them further. Expect to hear the likes of Fela Kuti, Nina Simone, Nas and Destiny’s Child. It all gives the fairly tired host-guest chat format a joyous and original spin.
You probably heard a lot about cinematographer Roger Deakins during the promo push for 1917 at the start of the year, in which he and Sir Sam Mendes took us on a real-time single-shot journey through the trenches of World War I. Here, Deakins and his collaborator and wife James chat to other notables about the technical side of filmmaking, from directors including Mendes and Denis Villeneuve to Steadicam operators and colour scientists.
In Writing with Hattie Crissell
We tend to think of the writing process as being a bit mysterious. Even the phrase 'the writing process' is deliberately woolly. Everyone's is different, and this podcast gets into the nuts and bolts of it with a different writer each time, revealing just how much of 'the writing process' is just staring into space while eating a biscuit very slowly. This episode features Robert Popper, writer of Friday Night Dinner and script wizard on pretty much every worthwhile British comedy thing of the last decade or so: his CV includes Stath Lets Flats, Look Around You, Peep Show and The Inbetweeners.
The Pellicle Podcast
Going to the pub isn't going to feel the same for a very long while yet, but you can enjoy some high-grade chattering about beer, cider and wine production and the industry around it from the team behind the Pellicle magazine. It's not just the real ale bore banging on about why nobody drinks mild anymore; everything is tied to a sense of place, and drinks are a means of exploration and travel.
Twenty Thousand Hertz
Given podcasting is an aural medium, you’d think more of them would be a bit more curious about the specifics of the sounds that they pipe into your brain. Twenty Thousand Hertz is all about the noises you hear everywhere, all the time, and how they’re made. It has pulled apart sounds as diverse as that massive bum-wobbling note that THX showed off its cinema systems with, the golden record on the Voyager spacecraft, the multi-layered construction of the lightsabre’s vvvvvwing and, recently, farts.
This is several cuts above your average watchalong podcast. Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa, who played Christopher Moltisanti and Bobby Baccalieri, chat about The Sopranos episode by episode, dropping behind the scenes tidbits and anecdotes all over the place and discovering fan theories they never knew about.
This miniseries about cooking during lockdown is a team-up between two heavyweights of relatable, simple but detail-rich broadcasting: Samin Nosrat’s book and Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat is an unbelievably useful crash-course in cooking that broke everything down to those four essential elements; Hrishikesh Hirway is the creator and host of the endlessly fascinating Song Exploder podcast.
London-based hip hop DJ Lex on the Decks talks to other women in the rap world who work either in the booth or behind the scenes: bass DJ Tailor Jae, Resident Advisor’s Shireen Ramezani and drill producer Hannah V have been on lately. Revealing interviews alternate with history lessons about the great women of hip hop and rap over the last 40 years, from Afrobeats queen Tiwa Savage and dancehall icon Spice to Missy Elliott and MIA.
Shower Sessions with St Vincent
Annie Clark is pretty brilliant, let's be honest, and her new, slightly offbeat music podcast is exactly the sort of thing you'd hope she'd do with the medium. Unless you have Pitchfork's RSS feed wired straight into your brain stem you're unlikely to be across all the up-and-coming artists featured here, but Clark's shower-bound chats with the likes of Donna Missal, Liverpudlian musician Banners and the duo Loote are engaging, and each performs a set from their bathroom.
Frank Skinner's Poetry Podcast
Getting into poetry is an absolutely excellent thing to fill your lockdown hours with, but actually 'getting into poetry' is a lot more daunting than you'd think. Where do you start? Let Frank Skinner guide you. He's been a stand-up for the last 30 years, but before getting into comedy Skinner was an English teacher at a college near Dudley, and his passion comes through in his drily funny half-hour episodes. This one looks at Wendy Cope's 'Not Waving But Drowning' and William Carlos Williams' 'Dance Russe'.
You'll probably know stand-up Ed Gamble from his other extremely successful podcast, Off Menu, which he does with fellow comedian James Acaster. What you probably won't know about Gamble is that he's a massive metalhead, and that's what his new one for Spotify is all about: the dedication and obsessions of the genre's biggest fans, and what metal means to them.
If you're into food but always feel several steps behind wherever's cool on the whirling, never-ending menu that is London's restaurant scene, try this weekly update. Friends Sam Ashton and Taylor Fawcett dive into the good, bad and Taco Bell of the capital – start with their cycling tour of London's pasta restaurants and go from there.
Bong Joon Ho on The Curzon Film Podcast
Everyone’s on a Bong tip at the minute. Parasite’s riding a post-Oscars wave of love and breaking all sorts of records, and its director is everyone’s favourite human being. This episode of the Curzon Film Podcast looks back at his career, but it’s more than just your average primer. Tilda Swinton, who Bong directed in Snowpiercer, is on hand to interview him about his career, and critics Helen O’Hara and Tony Rayns add more context, as do academic Maria Konnikova and #BONGHIVE founder member Iana Murray.
You could be forgiven for assuming that Quentin Tarantino spends all of his time watching obscure Japanese Westerns and ranting about how great Dennis Weaver was to anyone who'll listen. That's not the case, though. Tarantino is a cinematic omnivore, as the films he brings along to this film roundtable chat podcast prove. The first two of his three picks for films he can't seem to stop himself returning to are Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and Tony Scott's runaway train thriller Unstoppable.
Switched On Pop
If you're of the (correct) opinion that pop is the greatest art form of the last century, this is an essential. It treats the songs, artists and trends most would think of as flotsam with high-minded enthusiasm, and its break-it-down-to-basics approach never patronises and always illuminates. Vox has form for all this with the excellent Explained Netflix series and YouTube channels, and the recent dive into what exactly makes 'Baby Shark' the juggernaut is typical, pulling together the history of the do-do-do in pop, what makes kids love certain songs and how to deal with hearing it for the millionth time.
Quentin Tarantino's Feature Presentation
In this three-parter miniseries, Tarantino has a sit down with critic and podcaster Amy Nicholson to talk about the films that the young Quentin absorbed and later bled into his own work. We start with 'Young Quentin Goes To The Movies', in which he considers the surreal revenge thriller Point Blank and its influence on Reservoir Dogs, and move into teenage Tarantino's yearning to head back to the Los Angeles of his youth having moved out to Knoxville, Tennessee. The last episode will look at the late 70s and early 80s, when Tarantino was trying to push himself into the movie biz himself.
Did Ya Know?
The British music industry leans heavily on the talent and skills of creative people of colour, and Did Ya Know? digs into untold stories of people who've managed to make it to the top of the music biz. Lately host and former Emeli Sandé manager Adrian Sykes has spoken to Tinie Tempah, legal expert and all-round big cheese Sonia Diwan and former Island Records boss Darcus Beese, and it's all aimed at giving anyone who's not sure how to crack into the music industry an insight into how it can be done, as well as revealing how it all works.
This offbeat podcast swirls together some very unlikely elements into a charming and illuminating whole. Alex Alfieri and Monty Cutteridge are two young Manc lads who run Butter Lane Antiques in Altrincham, and their sideways approach to the antique jewellery scene has set them apart from the industry's slightly stuffy image. This is a podcast about starting a business, but it's also an odyssey into a fascinating high-stakes world studded with absolutely mad anecdotes.
The excess and catastrophe at the heart of WeWork, the company behind those flash co-working spaces which was the former golden child of start-ups before it went absolutely arse-up not too long ago, has already been told in the very good WeCrashed podcast. But Bloomberg’s Foundering has access to recordings of founder Adam Newman and interviews with clients and employees, which bring the story to vivid life.
Out of Hours
Sorting out a side-hustle and becoming a multi-hyphenate business powerhouse is probably something you made a resolution to crack on with in January, and which given how dicey pretty much everything is right now, you might be looking at again. Take inspiration from Out of Hours, which features conversations people who started their own thing and helped it turn into something big. Start with DJ, poet and writer Charlie Dark talking about founding Run Dem Crew, the casual running club which now runs workshops, events, mentoring and support for young people around London.
How do you get from where you are to where you want to be? The creative and entertainment industries can seem incredible opaque, but Imriel Morgan is here to demystify things by chatting to guests including comedian Lolly Adefope, anti-online abuse campaigner Seyi Akiwowo and author Malorie Blackman.
Thrilling Tales of Modern Capitalism
Slate’s business podcast looks back at the past of a different company each week and plots out how they got to where they are today – whether they’re huge successes or terrible failures. The episode about how DomiNick’s, a failing pizza joint in Michigan sold to the Monaghan brothers for $1400 in 1960, turned the globe-straddling behemoth Domino’s pizza, is fascinating.
(If you want even more depth on Domino’s – and why wouldn’t you want more depth on a story which involves a Monaghan brother dealing with delivery driver muggings by hiding in the back of the drivers’ clapped-out Volkswagen with a baseball bat – The Dollop has a great episode on it too.)
The Sun King
In a bit of a coup, this beautifully assembled and concise six-parter is fronted by David Dimbleby, and tells the full story of how Murdoch built his empire and changed the way that millions of people around the world find out the news. It digs up insight from the people who've worked with him to answer bigger questions too: what motivates him? Is he in it for the money or the power? How much influence does he actually wield? And underneath it all, who is Rupert Murdoch?
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