No corner of culture has been untouched by the pandemic, with institutions shuttered, most movie and TV production in limbo, and most live performances indefinitely postponed. But music has weathered the storm better than many art forms as artists turn to virtual concerts during lockdown or produce records inspired directly by the quarantine, like Charli XCX's "How I'm Feeling Now" and Taylor Swift's "folklore."
These seven podcasts will keep you up to date on new releases, deepen your appreciation of your existing playlists and help to broaden your musical horizons.
'Song Vs. Song'
One of the pleasures of being a pop culture fan is arguing the merits of your favorite thing versus somebody else's. This irresistible show re-creates that feeling every week as the hosts Todd Nathanson and Dany Roth pit two tonally similar songs against each other. Recent matchups have included the Backstreet Boys vs. 'N Sync (the battle of the 1990s boy bands) and Evanescence vs. Linkin Park (the battle of the early aughts angst artists). Starter Episode: "'Livin' on a Prayer' vs. 'Don't Stop Believin'"
Declining sales in the streaming era have raised questions about the future of the album, which makes this love letter to the format all the more powerful. In each of its seven seasons to date, "Dissect" focuses on a different contemporary album, diving into the structure, production and musical choices that make it so distinctive. The serialized analysis from Cole Cuchna is sharp and thought-provoking, providing fresh perspectives on records like Beyoncé's "Lemonade" and Frank Ocean's "Blonde." Spotlighting just one song per episode, this is a nirvana for any music nerd searching for a deep cut. Starter episode: "Beyoncé: LEMONADE"
'Switched On Pop'
Few genres face more dismissal and snobbery than pop music, but this enlightening series from Vox aims to change that. Targeting pop fans and skeptics alike, "Switched On Pop" sees musicologist Nate Sloan and music journalist Charlie Harding break down the techniques that make pop songs so catchy. The show's scope is broad; it recently featured a five-part miniseries in partnership with the New York Philharmonic where the hosts focused their critical microscopes on Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Starter episode: "folklore: taylor swift's quarantine dream"
'Cocaine & Rhinestones: The History of Country Music'
Country music may be a love-it-or-hate-it genre, but you don't need to be a die-hard to appreciate the rich storytelling of this limited series podcast. In its 14-episode run, "Cocaine & Rhinestones" examines the complex, surprising history of country music through the 20th century. Tyler Mahan Coe's (son of David Allan Coe) enthusiasm for his subject shines through but never deters him from asking tough questions about country music, which often means asking broader questions about America. One standout early episode tells the story of Loretta Lynn's 1975 song about birth control, "The Pill." Starter episode: "The Pill: Why Was Loretta Lynn Banned?"
There's no shortage of music podcasts that are essentially chat shows, but "Questlove Supreme" stands out. As its title suggests, the show is hosted by Questlove, drummer of the hip-hop band The Roots, and his reputation influences the kinds of guests he's able to attract and the candid insights he's able to coax from them. The show started life four years ago as an extension of the classes that Questlove taught at New York University and has evolved into an engaging, free-flowing weekly conversation between the host and guests. Starter episode: "QLS Classic: Michelle Obama"
If you're in the mood to get granular about the craft of songwriting, Hrishikesh Hirway's meticulous and stylishly produced show is the way to go. In each episode, Hirway dismantles a song by taking it apart into isolated audio tracks, then asks artists and bands like Yo-Yo Ma, U2, Sleater-Kinney, Phoebe Bridgers and Janelle Monáe to talk about the process of building it, piece by piece. Hirway's questions are edited out of the final show, giving "Song Exploder" the feeling of an intimate first-person account. A Netflix adaptation arrived Oct. 2. Starter episode: "Bon Iver — Holyfields"
This Gimlet Media anthology series began as a bio-pic in podcast form in 2017, exploring the life of hip-hop executive Chris Lighty. Through interviews with Lighty's family, friends and clients, the show chronicled his extraordinary rise and tragic, strange fall — he died by apparent suicide in 2012 — interwoven with a broader story about hip-hop's journey to the mainstream. The narrator, Reggie Ossé, who previously hosted the long-running hip-hop podcast "The Combat Jack Show," walks a fine line between keeping the show accessible for newbies and compelling for aficionados. Starter episode: "That Beat, That Beat Right There"