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Aminatou Sow and Co. Resolve Heated Pop Culture Debates

Aminatou Sow and Co. Resolve Heated Pop Culture Debates

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Aminatou Sow’s culture quiz show is one of our picks of the week. Photograph: Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Conference for Women

If you were a production company, which podcast would you fund? Another series of a show that already had tons of followers? Or a totally new one which may flop? You don’t need me to tell you, in financially tricky times, which option looks increasingly appealing.

That’s why, even though podcasts are often about one-off, totally distinct stories, there are also many anthology shows. Think British Scandal, or even Serial, which leapfrogged from a whodunnit true-crime tale to a study of Guantánamo Bay. May as well try to tap into a pre-existing audience rather than start from scratch, eh?

It’s also responsible for some annoying trickery on Apple Podcasts. Old shows are often rebadged with the artwork of totally new ones and labelled as “season one,” so that a completely different podcast can be marketed as “season two” at all the people who’d previously hit “follow”. In case you can’t tell, that’s exactly what happened to me this week, while listening to Canadaland’s new series A Field Guide to Gay Animals, which is in the same feed as a previous series, Cool Mules. And now I’m too busy hearing about an ex-music editor’s drug exploits to listen to wildlife shows.

Luckily, you can count on us to be straight with you, at least. This week we’re previewing an analysis of how social media might have caused mass hysteria; enthusiastic pop-culture-based debates; and a hunt for a missing child. They’re joined by a look at Peppa Pig’s podcasting debut and a rundown of the finest shows about poetry.

Peppa Pig’s Play-A-Long Podcast (Audible, all episodes out now)
The queen of the oinkers has been an icon to toddlers all over the world for 20 years, so it’s about time she entered the podcasting realm. Kids and their parents can play along as Peppa Pig explores very big feelings, long car journeys and what to do when you’re not tired at bedtime. As you’d expect from the perpetrator of bangers such as Peace and Harmony, there are earworm-heavy songs and, of course, jibes at Daddy Pig.

Hysterical (Wondery+, episodes weekly)
When a group of girls at an upstate New York school started to exhibit mysterious symptoms including twitching and shaking, doctors were baffled. Was it all in their heads? Or was social media to blame? Now Dan Taberski (Missing Richard Simmons) investigates the outbreak labelled “mass hysteria” and joins the dots to other unexplained events.

Pop Culture Debate Club (BBC Sounds, episodes weekly)
If you still miss Call Your Girlfriend, get your fix of Aminatou Sow as she pits two pop culture fans against each other to joyfully debate important questions. Would it be better to hang with the cast of New Girl or Community? Is Space Jam or D2: The Mighty Ducks the superior sports movie? Sow has the final say.

Coatbridge: The Disappearance of Moira Anderson (Audible, all episodes out now)
Eleven-year-old Moira Anderson vanished from the small town of Coatbridge, near Glasgow, in a snowstorm in 1957. Journalist Rachael Revesz supports Moira’s old neighbour Sandra Brown to share her memories. What starts as sad feelings about a missing classmate unravels, with Brown’s uneasiness around her own father and the discovery of a web of abuse.

Master: The Allegations Against Neil Gaiman (Tortoise, all episodes out now)
This troubling four-part series lifts the lid on two women’s allegations of sexual abuse against the author. It juxtaposes the accusers’ testimony with Gaiman’s denials and contradictory account of events (based in consensual relationships) to create a story that is head-spinning – and at points difficult to listen to.

This week, Ammar Kalia chooses five of the best poetry podcasts, from an exploration of classic works to today’s writers on the secrets behind their craft.

The Poetry Exchange
Sometimes the easiest way to engage with poetry is to simply hear it read, analysed and explained. Charming, bite-sized series Interesting People Reading Poetry does exactly this, featuring artists and writers sharing their favourite poems and speaking briefly about their emotional resonance. If you want to go a bit further in depth then try this engaging pod, too, as hosts Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer first invite their guests to share a meaningful poem before delving into its personal significance and importance to readers. Listen to everyone from actors Brian Cox and Andrew Scott to poet Salena Godden on the power of verse in their daily lives.

Commonplace
Moving away from just talking about the magic of poems themselves, this long-running series from writer Rachel Zucker interviews poets about their craft and how everyday encounters inform creativity. Meandering through conversations that can often last over two hours, Zucker delivers insights on life and ways of living, thanks to questions on everything from writers’ morning routines to how much sleep they manage to get. Among the poets interviewed are one-time US Presidential candidate Eileen Myles; bestseller Maggie Nelson; and US Poet Laureate Ada Limón. A perfect listen for long journeys and slow mornings, Zucker’s enthusiasm for artistry in all its forms is fascinating.

A Mouthful of Air
If you crave the detailed analysis of a university lecture, look no further than poet Mark McGuinness’s series, A Mouthful of Air. Mixing interviews with contemporary poets on their writing with his own exploration of classic works from the likes of Chaucer, Emily Dickinson and DH Lawrence, McGuinness doesn’t shy away from textual analysis but rather explains concepts to listeners to unfold myriad meanings from the page. For even more comprehensive takes, The Poetry Foundation’s Poem Talk podcast is also rigorous in its roundtable discussions, with a group of academics and writers dissecting classic works and forgotten greats.

Poetry Off The Shelf
Focused on contemporary poetry, this Poetry Foundation series is full of fantastic works from living writers you have likely never heard of. Striking the perfect balance between analysis and free-flowing conversations on writers’ lives and inspirations, host Helena De Groot’s episodes feature everything from interviews with writers to thorough reviews of new anthologies and eulogies for recently-deceased poets. With over 100 episodes to choose from, choice entry points include translator Emily Drumsta on rhythm in different languages, Hawaiian poet No’u Revilla on the importance of land in her writing, and Mahogany L Browne on the attempted censorship of her children’s book, Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice.

The Slowdown
With each episode running to just five minutes, The Slowdown has created a genre in itself over the course of its 1000 episodes. Part-ASMR relaxation and part poetry lesson, each daily show features a reading of a new work by host and poet Major Jackson, as well as a brief exploration of its themes. Steering away from the usual suspects in the Western canon, Jackson instead takes a wider view of global literature. Reading in his soothing baritone, the episodes can be so relaxing they put you in a meditative state but thankfully, since they are also so short, you can easily replay them for their refreshing insights.

Why not try…

  • From Jameela Jamil to former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, there’s an interesting mix of guests indeed on Rylan Clarke’s new BBC podcast, How to Be in the Spotlight.

  • The Economist’s new series Boom! looks at how baby boomers have shaped politics – including the current US presidential race.

  • With England now in this weekend’s Euro 2024 final, it’s the ideal time to listen to the Guardian’s own Football Weekly podcast, which has turned into Football Daily for the duration of the competition.

Source: The Guardian, Audible, Wondery+, BBC Sounds, Tortoise, The Poetry Exchange, Commonplace, A Mouthful of Air, Poetry Off The Shelf, The Slowdown, The Economist