299 episodes

A podcast all about the making and meaning of popular music. Musicologist Nate Sloan & songwriter Charlie Harding pull back the curtain on how pop hits work magic on our ears & our culture. From Vulture and the Vox Media Podcast Network.

Switched on Pop New York Magazine

    • Music
    • 4.8 • 269 Ratings

A podcast all about the making and meaning of popular music. Musicologist Nate Sloan & songwriter Charlie Harding pull back the curtain on how pop hits work magic on our ears & our culture. From Vulture and the Vox Media Podcast Network.

    The ‘Renaissance’ Era

    The ‘Renaissance’ Era

    Beyoncé’s new album Renaissance is one of her most ambitious albums yet. On this week’s episode of Switched On Pop, we discuss Renaissance with beloved guest Sam Sanders, host of the new Vulture podcast Into It. In Sanders’ words: “it’s trying to do a lot” – but in the best way. The album incorporates seemingly every decade of contemporary popular dance music from Chic’s “Good Times” to Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.”

    Much of the early discourse surrounding the album was marred by a confusing controversy over a small sample (we try to resolve the issue musicologically) – but the references on Renaissance are worth listening closely to, acting as a guide through essential dance music. The album is an homage to the black and queer innovators of dance; with samples and interpolations of songs both niche and mainstream flying by, like a DJ set curated by house music pioneers. 

    On Renaissance, Beyoncé goes out of her way to cite, credit and compensate her influences, resulting in a triumph of musical curation. Just look at “Alien Superstar”: the song credits twenty-four people, largely due to Beyoncé’s musical nods, rather than an exercise in boardroom style songwriting. Sanders says “the liner notes themselves are showing you that this woman and her team have a PhD in music history.”

    Listen to Switched On Pop to hear how Renaissance honors dance music innovators and finds new modes of expression in the genre. 

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    • 31 min
    Into It: The Business of Beyoncé

    Into It: The Business of Beyoncé

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    • 39 min
    "It's About Damn Time" for Another Lizzo #1

    "It's About Damn Time" for Another Lizzo #1

    In the middle of a long, hot summer 2022, the people have spoken, and the people want to dance. Lizzo's "About Damn Time" just replaced Harry Styles's "As It Was" to become the top song on the Billboard Hot 100. Powered by retro instrumentation, a propulsive groove, meme-worthy lyrics, and a generous dose of slash chords (not the Guns 'n Roses guitarist, the harmonic voicing), Lizzo's hit song marks a deepening of the sound she established in past tracks like "Juice." But on other tracks from her latest album Special, Lizzo aims for new aesthetics. "Coldplay"—featuring a rare Chris Martin vocal sample—opts for emotional honestly over pithy affirmations. With the upbeat "Grrrls," Lizzo found herself in an online controversy: she had used a ableist slur in the song's lyrics. Taking the criticism as an opportunity to learn, Lizzo chose to replace the offensive line—but have other artists of pop's past always followed suit when met with fan feedback?

    Songs Discussed

    Lizzo - About Damn Time, Juice, Coldplay, Grrrls
    Daft Punk, Pharrel Williams - Lose Yourself to Dance
    Michael Jackson - Rock With You, They Don’t Care About Us
    Quelle Chris, Chris Keys - Sudden Death
    Coldplay - Yellow
    Beastie Boys - Girls, Sure Shot
    Taylor Swift - Picture to Burn
    Lady Gaga - Born This Way
    Orville Peck - Born This Way
    Ella Fitzgerald - How Long Has This Been Going On
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    • 30 min
    Elvis, Big Mama Thornton, Doja Cat, and the Long Legacy of “Hound Dog”

    Elvis, Big Mama Thornton, Doja Cat, and the Long Legacy of “Hound Dog”

    Baz Luhrmann’s hit box office hit biopic Elvis has spurred new interest in the music of The King. Elvis Presley’s streaming subscribers has grown by two million listeners on Spotify since the film’s release according to ChartMetric, and if you’re hearing a lot more “Hound Dog” these days, it might be partially due to the success of Doja Cat’s hit song “Vegas,” which updates – and interpolates – the song for contemporary listeners. 

    Doja Cat’s version samples from the original 1953 “Hound Dog,” sung by Big Mama Thornton and written by acclaimed songwriter team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (whose credits also include Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”). The original is a sauntering blues song with a raunchy tale about a two timing man; Presley, who is frequently said to have stolen the song from Thorton, instead sings a tepid lyric about an actual dog, and radically changes the groove. 

    But in an interview with Rolling Stone, Stoller says Presley didn’t steal the song at all. Rather, he adapted one of many covers of the song, specifically the version performed by the Las Vegas lounge act Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. Their “Hound Dog” borrows its upbeat rhythm from a song responding to the original “Hound Dog,” titled “Bear Cat.” It’s a similar rhythm to the one we hear on the contemporary Doja Cat version, “Vegas,” which heavily features samples of Thornton’s original vocals: listening closely reveals a song that synthesizes a complicated music history by uniting the best parts of the many versions of “Hound Dog.” 

    Listen to the latest episode of Switched On Pop and uncover the long legacy of “Hound Dog.”

    Songs Discussed

    Big Mama Thorton - Hound Dog

    Elvis - Hound Dog

    Doja Cat - Vegas

    Esther Phillips - Hound Dog

    Jack Turner - Hound Dog

    Rufus Thomas - Bear Cat

    Freddie Bell and the Bellboys

    T.L.C. - No Scrubs

    Sporty Thievz - No Pigeons 

    W.C. Handy - St. Louis Blues

    Duke Ellington - Conga brava

    Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Didn’t It Rain

    Fats Domino - Mardi Gras in New Orleans

    Dave Bartholomew - Country Boy

    Little Richard - Slipping’ And Sliding’

    Jack Harlow - Dua Lipa

    Future - Puffin on Zootiez

    Hitkidd, Gorilla - F.N.F. (Let’s Go)

    Bad Bunny - Después de la Playa


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    • 23 min
    We Won’t Go Back: Pop Music and the Fight For Reproductive Rights (w MILCK and Ann Powers)

    We Won’t Go Back: Pop Music and the Fight For Reproductive Rights (w MILCK and Ann Powers)

    On June 24th 2022 the Supreme Court decided Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v Wade and asserting that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion.

    The decision marked a seismic moment in politics and culture that has affected everyone’s lives, and the world of pop music is no exception. Musicians started responding immediately, from Cher to Olivia Rodrigo: on social media, at their shows, and in their music. Critic Ann Powers has been chronicling the reactions in a running list at NPR, and she joins in the second half of the episode to talk about the long history of artists speaking out—and singing—about reproductive rights. 

    One artist who wasted no time responding to the Dobbs decision is the singer and songwriter Connie Lim, aka MILCK. Her song “We Won’t Go Back,” composed with Biianco, Autumn Rowe, and Ani DeFranco, came about after Politico published an article in May with the leaked draft of the Dobbs decision, telling the world in no uncertain terms that the Supreme Court was considering striking down Roe. MILCK found herself protesting in D.C., this time with her camera ready. The chants she heard there became the first sonic element of “We Won’t Go Back.”

    Songs Discussed

    MILCK, Biianco, Autumn Rowe, Ani DeFranco - We Won’t Go Back
    MILCK - Quiet
    Ani DeFranco - Play God 
    Poison Girls - Mandy Is Having a Baby
    Cyndi Lauper - Sally’s Pigeons
    Leslie Gore - You Don’t Own Me
    Robyn - Giving You Back
    Joni Mitchell - Little Green
    L7 - Pretend We’re Dead
    Everlast - What It’s Like
    Madonna - Papa Don’t Preach
    Lauryn Hill - To Zion
    Megan Thee Stallion - Plan B

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    • 30 min
    Harry Styles and the Sledgehammer Horns

    Harry Styles and the Sledgehammer Horns

    As we hit the dog days of summer, the artist that’s started to soundtrack pool parties across the country is former One Direction bandmate and contemporary sex symbol Harry Styles.

    In May, Styles released Harry’s House, an album propelled by the number one hit “As It Was.” Despite having critical and commercial success, a barb often thrown at the album is the idea of it being inoffensive: pleasant, “easy listening” music apt for an elevator, grocery store or, perhaps, a sushi restaurant. 

    Fans of Styles have warmly accepted this, and have come to love his sly appreciation of different decades of pop music history. This latest album reveals an interesting connection to one era in particular: the 1980s and the percussive, full-bodied horn sections that came with it. 

    The first track on Harry’s House, “Music for a Sushi Restaurant,” offers a whole chorus of just horns, in an homage to one of Styles’s musical touchstones, Peter Gabriel. These 80s “sledgehammer horns” connect to a deep well of 80s grooves—from Lionel Richie's "Up All Night" to Janet Jackson and Herb Alpert's "Diamonds," —as Styles's strives to achieve the same effortless funk and propulsion of his brassy icons.

    MORE
    Sledgehammer Horns playlist
    Every Olivia Wilde reference Vulture found on Harry’s House
     
    Songs Discussed

    Harry Styles - As It Was, Music for a Sushi Restaurant, Daydreaming
    Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer
    Lionel Richie - Up All Night
    Donna Summer - She Works Hard for the Money
    Sheila E. - The Glamorous Life
    Steve Winwood - Higher Love
    Janet Jackson and Herb Alpert - Diamonds
    Herb Alpert - Rise
    Notorious B.I.G. - Hypnotize 

    We need your help. We are conducting a short audience survey to help plan for our future and hear from you. To participate, head to vox.com/podsurvey, and thank you!
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    • 24 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
269 Ratings

269 Ratings

leboued ,

So good! But Stromae next please! Merci!

Fantastic podcast, I share épisodes on songs/artists with friends who would like it all the time. Stromae is one of the most celebrated francophone artists of all time, & he just released a new album! Also his last album a decade ago Racine Carré is still iconic to this day, as is his break out hit Alors on Danse. Lyrically socially conscious and musically inventive he deserves an episode! Merci mille fois!!

charlieray14 ,

Nice

I’m a huge fan of this show and I think it’s great for people to learn more about music and why it matters! They have a great variety of genres that they explore and the hosts aren’t being bias towards certain genres. Whenever I listen to an episode about a certain song, I enjoy the song more than I did before. 5 stars!

Rebecca mac ,

Deep dive into pop music

Love how they dive deep into pop songs current and past. I love the hosts (especially Nate) and I always learn something new and reflect on pop songs in a new way. I love when they talk about the history of music and when they consult musicology experts. I like that they cover music by male and female artists and are open minded to seemingly all genres.

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