157 episodes

What makes pop songs so catchy? Musicologist Nate Sloan & songwriter Charlie Harding pull back the curtain on how pop hits work their magic on our ears & our culture. You’ll fall in love with music you didn’t even know you liked.

Switched on Pop Vox

    • Music Commentary

What makes pop songs so catchy? Musicologist Nate Sloan & songwriter Charlie Harding pull back the curtain on how pop hits work their magic on our ears & our culture. You’ll fall in love with music you didn’t even know you liked.

    Hopes and Fears of Mac Miller, Future, Drake, and Billie Eilish

    Hopes and Fears of Mac Miller, Future, Drake, and Billie Eilish

    Mac Miller, Future and Billie Eilish all have good and bad news to share. On Miller’s posthumous album, Circles, he exposes personal struggles with fame, addiction, and mental illness — sobering topics given his unintentional drug overdose last year. Yet at the same time we hear him searching for “good news,” practicing self care and accepting that “there's a whole lot more” waiting. Future & Drake’s celebration of material excess also finds them “working on the weekend” just to keep up appearances. Similarly, Billie Eilish has achieved “everything [she] wanted,” but dreams of death and darkness overwhelm her. But she’s buoyed by the support of her brother FINNEAS. Many pop songs are about a single emotion: love, heartbreak or exuberant joy. But these great songs evoke more complex emotions, existing somewhere in a liminal space between our hopes and fears.
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    • 44 min
    Dua Lipa’s Disco Fever

    Dua Lipa’s Disco Fever

    Dua Lipa remembers the disco era in her hit “Don’t Start Now.” What may sound like just another dance floor track, upon deeper listening unfolds as a celebration of the genre. References to Gloria Gaynor, Chic, Giorgio Moroder and The Bee Gees are all waiting here for the curious listener to uncover. But so are the Italian and Daft Punk inspired bass lines. Yet the song is more than just one big disco ball cliché. It is brilliantly written too. We asked our listeners to help us highlight the best moments of the song as this is a song that continues to sound anew upon each playback. In 2020, the influence of Disco is still very much alive and Dua Lip’s “Don’t Start Now,” written with Caroline Ailin, Emily Warren and Ian Kirkpatrick, is a shining example of a great contemporary disco track. 
    Songs Discussed

    Dua Lipa - Don’t Start Now

    Gloria Gaynor - Staying Alive

    Chic - Good Times

    Giorgio Mordoer - Baby Blue

    The Bee Gees - You Should Be Dancing

    The Michael Zager Band - Let’s All Chant

    MFSP - TSOP

    Todd Terje - Strandbar Piano

    Fred Falke and Alan Brav - Intro

    Daft Punk - Voyager

    Ryan Paris - Dolce Vita

    Madison Avenue - Don’t Call Me Baby

    Marvin Gaye - Got To Give It Up


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    • 38 min
    ICYMI: Chance The Rapper, Kehlani, & The Shifting Sound of R&B — with Oak Felder

    ICYMI: Chance The Rapper, Kehlani, & The Shifting Sound of R&B — with Oak Felder

    The sound of R&B is difficult to pin down. Since the 1950s, the label has been used both as a genre and as a catch-all for the entirety of black popular music. Soul, funk, disco and even hip-hop have at times been covered by this "R&B" umbrella. On Chance The Rapper's new album, The Big Day, all of these influences come through—and he's not alone. On recent Kehlani records, 90s R&B and 2000s trap both play a role. But both these artists are a far cry from the 50s R&B sounds of Sam Cooke. To understand how R&B has changed over time, we consult with Trevor Anderson, manager of Billboard's R&B/Hip Hop chart. Then we speak with R&B super-producer Oak Felder to understand how R&B is progressing and what it might become.
    Songs Discussed
    Chance The Rapper – Hot Shower
    Chance The Rapper – I Got You
    Sam Cooke – You Send Me
    Elvis Presley – Crying In the Chapel
    The Temptations – I Can’t Get Next To You
    Mtume – Juicy Fruit
    Biggie – Juicy
    Toni Braxton – Breath Again
    Janet Jackson – That’s The Way Love Goes
    Boys II Men – I’ll Make Love To You
    Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing)
    Diddy – I’ll Be Missing You (feat. Faith Evans & 112)
    Nelly – Dilemma
    Kehlani – Distraction
    SWV – Weak
    Aaron Hall – I Miss You
    Usher – You Make Me Wanna
    Brandy – Sit-in Up In My Room
    Dru Hill – In My Bed
    Silk – Freak Me
    Demi Lovato – Sorry Not Sorry
    Jodeci – Cry For you
    Mariah Carey – Vision of Love
    Kehlani Everything Is Yours
    Chance The Rapper – All Day Long
    Queen – Fat Bottom Girls
    Diana Ross – I’m Coming Out

    For an in depth history of R&B on Billboard, read Chris Molanphy's feature on Pitchfork.
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    • 55 min
    ICYMI: Billie Eilish is a Different Kind of Pop Star (ft. FINNEAS)

    ICYMI: Billie Eilish is a Different Kind of Pop Star (ft. FINNEAS)

    On a trajectory to be one of the biggest pop stars for this generation, seventeen year old Billie Eilish is not, however, your typical pop star. Her music speaks to the real anxieties of young people without any veneer. She sings from the perspective of monsters and villains. Her hushed voice, baggy style, and direct demeanor subvert the norms of the pop princess. And her music is dark, but still catchy. Billie co-writes and produces her sound with her older brother Finneas O’Connell. Together this family duo have crafted the second biggest selling album of 2019, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” On this episode, we examine how Billie and Finneas crafted a cultural phenomenon, why their message speaks to this generation, and we speak with Finneas about the creation of their hit song “Bad Guy.”

    MORE

    Watch Billie and Finneas break down “Bury A Friend” on The New York TimesBillie Eilish – Ocean Eyes

    Billie Eilish – Bored

    Billie Eilish – You Should See Me In A Crown

    Billie Eilish – Bad Guy

    Billie Eilish – Bury A Friend

    Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People

    The Doors – People Are Strange

    Nine Inch Nails – Closer

    Billie Eilish – ilomilo

    Billie Eilish – All Good Girls Go To Hell

    Billie Eilish – Xanny

    Frank Sinatra – Dream A Dream

    Billie Eilish – I love you

    John Carpenter – Halloween Theme

    Billie Eilish – Bellyache


    MORE
    Billie Eilish explained on Vox.com
    Watch Billie and Finneas break down “Bury A Friend” on The New York Times
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    • 46 min
    Dolly Parton's America (with Jad Abumrad)

    Dolly Parton's America (with Jad Abumrad)

    There are icons, and then there’s Dolly Parton. The country singer-turned-actress-turned-cultural phenomenon has produced a nearly unparalleled body of work, in both quantity (Parton is the sole or co-author of more than three thousand songs) and in legacy. Despite releasing her first album over 60 years ago, Parton’s songs are still covered and performed live by today’s pop artists. Presidential candidates are still selecting her songs as official walk-on music. So what is it exactly that makes her music so enduring? Today, we select four essential Dolly songs for dissection and try to answer that big question with the help of composer, longtime radio-maker and host of the new hit podcast, Dolly Parton’s America--Jad Abumrad. Whether or not you identify as a Dolly Parton fan, or even a country music fan, we think you’ll love this one.
    Songs discussed

    Dolly Parton - Dumb Blonde

    Dolly Parton - Down from Dover

    Dolly Parton - Jolene

    Dolly Parton - Light of a Clear Blue Morning

    Kesha - Praying

    Mariah Carey - Hero

    Andra Day - Rise Up

    Dolly Parton - 9 to 5

    Stevie Wonder - I Wish

    Dolly Parton - Mule Skinner Blues


    Thanks to Jad, producer Shima Oliaee and the rest of the Dolly Parton’s America team. You can check out the eight episodes they’ve released so far, and keep an eye out for the final one at www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/dolly-partons-america.
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    • 40 min
    Who's Afraid of the Sound of TikTok? (w Cat Zhang)

    Who's Afraid of the Sound of TikTok? (w Cat Zhang)

    Bass distorted to the edge of audibility; voices croaking out dark and violent lyrics; a hacked-together DIY aesthetic. This isn't a fringe musical movement, this is the sound of TikTok, the video app used by millions in Generation Z. And soon enough it might also be the sound of pop as we know it. Cat Zhang from Pitchfork stops by to clue us into the sonic reality of music's newest platform, from Gordon Ramsay to pumpkins screaming in the dead of night.

    Songs Discussed

    Savage Ga$p, 93FEETOFSMOKE - Pumpkins scream in the dead of night

    haroinfather, Savage Ga$sp - Tunnel of Love

    Arizona Zervas - ROXANNE

    HL Wave, Jhonny Flames - Gordon Ramsay

    Hooligan Chase - A*****e

    Comethazine - Walk

    Peter Kuli, Jed Will - ok boomer

    Young Spool, Jakob - WTF


    Check out Cat's article The Anatomy of a TikTok Hit on Pitchfork
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    • 36 min

Customer Reviews

Métis JT ,

Wow

Your podcast has expanded the way I listen to and think about music. Thank you for putting it out into the world.

London Tank ,

Amazing!!

Best music review podcast, and it’s for pop music!! I’m so happy, a lot of my friends don’t appreciate pop music so I’m glad I have this show :)
(Ps: please do the Lover album by a Taylor Swift I am SO curious what your thoughts are on it)

11111dikla2222 ,

A favourite

Love it. I’m still catching up from the start (currently listening to 21). I enjoy every minute and don’t want to rush.

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