235 episodes

Best Arts & Culture podcast Webby 2020 winner 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 Vulture

    • Music
    • 3.0 • 2 Ratings

Best Arts & Culture podcast Webby 2020 winner 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.

    40 Years Later, Japanese City Pop is Still Crashing the Charts (with Cat Zhang)

    40 Years Later, Japanese City Pop is Still Crashing the Charts (with Cat Zhang)

    If you listen to a lot of music on YouTube, you may have been recommended a video. The thumbnail image is a striking black-and-white photo of a Japanese singer named Mariya Takeuchi. The song, “Plastic Love,” is a lush disco track with deep groove, impeccable string and horn arrangements, and a slow-burn vocal performance from Takeuchi. When the song was released in 1979, it sold 10,000 copies. Today, it’s racked up over 65 million views since its posting in 2017.  
    How did the relatively obscure genre of Japanese City Pop, an amalgam of American soul and funk and Japanese songcraft from the 1970s and 80s, become the sound of the moment? For Pitchfork’s Cat Zhang, City Pop’s heart-on-its-sleeve emotions and slick production resonates with the nostalgic leanings of much contemporary pop. Sampled by artists like Tyler the Creator and inspiring original material from bands around the globe, City Pop has much to tell us about cultural exchange, technology, and the enduring universal power of slap bass. 
    Songs Discussed:
    Miki Matsubara - Stay With Me
    Mariya Takeuchi - Plastic Love
    Makoto Matsushita - Business Man Pt 1
    Tatsuro Yamashita - Marry-go-round
    Anri - Good Bye Boogie Dance
    Boredoms - Which Dooyoo Like
    Toshiko Yonekawa - Sōran Bushi
    Takeo Yamashita - Touch of Japanese Tone
    Mai Yamane - Tasogare
    Young Nudy ft Playboi Carti’s - Pissy Pamper
    Tatsuro Yamashita - Fragile
    Tyler The Creator - GONE, GONE / THANK YOU 9
    Sunset Rollercoaster - Burgundy Red

    Check out Cat’s article The Endless Life Cycle of Japanese City Pop on Pitchfork
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    • 31 min
    J Cole’s The Off Season and the Power of the 12/8 Shuffle

    J Cole’s The Off Season and the Power of the 12/8 Shuffle

    J Cole is one of the most successful rappers of his generation, someone who racks up hits while sustaining critical acclaim. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Cole’s sixth studio album “The Off Season” finds a musician struggling to stave off complacency and keep his skills sharp. In a short documentary about the album, Cole describes the album as an attempt to “push himself,” a sentiment reflected in a line from the Timbaland-produced track “Amari”: “If you solo these vocals, listen close and you can hear grumbling.” Cole is never satisfied on this album, pushing his technique to the breaking point through verbal dexterity and rhythmic complexity.
    One way Cole stays on his toes is through the use of a trap beat melded with one of the oldest grooves in pop: the 12/8 shuffle. He’s far from the only artist to make use of an often overlooked, but iconic meter. Why does this pattern keep us moving? And where did its unique sound come from? We have a theory about that...
    Songs discussed:

    J Cole - Amari, Punching the Clock, The Climb Back, Interlude

    Brief Encounter - I’m So in Love With You

    Adam Lambert - Another Lonely Night

    Carly Rae Jepsen - Run Away With Me

    Disclosure ft Sam Smith - Latch 

    Steely Dan - Aja

    Toto - Roseanna 

    Led Zeppelin - Fool in the Rain

    Kanye West - Black Skinhead

    Billie Eilish - Bury a Friend

    Vulfpeck ft Bernard Purdie and Theo Katzman - Something


    Watch Bernard “Pretty” Purdie: The Legendary Purdie Shuffle
    Read more on The Off Season in Craig Jenkins in-depth review on Vulture.
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    • 31 min
    ICYMI Rina Sawayama Reimagines the 00s

    ICYMI Rina Sawayama Reimagines the 00s

    One of our favorites artists right now is Rina Sawayama. She works with her producer Clarence Clarity to make this mash up of sounds from the late 90s and early aughts. She in particular recasts Max Martin pop and Nu Metal — too styles that rarely converged — to make compelling songs with a strong anti-consumerist message. I spoke with Rina Sawayama last summer about her debut eponymous album Sawayama and she shared with me the stories behind her songs XS and STFU. We're rebroadcasting our interview with her from last summer.
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    • 20 min
    Vijay Iyer on why jazz has always been political

    Vijay Iyer on why jazz has always been political

    When you think of jazz, you might think of La La Land, luxury car commercials, or fancy dinner parties. Cool, sophisticated, complex, jazz today seems to signify the epitome of class and taste. For pianist Vijay Iyer, that view gets the music completely wrong. Jazz isn’t cool. Jazz is countercultural. Jazz is alive and relevant. Jazz fights racism and injustice. And for those reasons, maybe we shouldn’t be calling this music “jazz” at all.
    With a trio of Linda May Han Oh on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Iyer has recorded a new album, Uneasy, that continues the defiant political legacy of improvised music. Through songs that tackles the Flint water crisis, the murder of Eric Garner, and social unrest, Iyer connects to the key of issues of our day without saying a word. While his songs speak to our chaotic present and crackle with fierce urgency, they also reach back to elders like John Coltrane, Geri Allen, and Charles Mingus—musicians who never shied away from a fight. 
    Songs discussed:
    Charlie Parker - Ko Ko
    Charles Mingus - Fables of Faubus, Original Faubus Fables
    Vijay Iyer - Children of Flint, Combat Breathing, Uneasy
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    • 31 min
    Introducing Galaxy Brains

    Introducing Galaxy Brains

    Today we’re sharing something a little different - a new TV and film show from the Vox Media Podcast Network that we think you’ll like called Galaxy Brains. On Galaxy Brains, entertainment writer Dave Schilling and Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Jonah Ray explore a big, mind-expanding question raised by a TV show or movie, and take it way, way too seriously. In the preview episode we’re sharing today, they explore why the once-panned musical comedy Josie and The Pussycats may have actually been a sharp critique of capitalism that was well ahead of its time. It’s weird. It’s funny. We’ll hope you’ll give it a listen, then go follow Galaxy Brains on your favorite podcast app.
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    • 34 min
    Turns out Willow Smith rocks

    Turns out Willow Smith rocks

    Willow Smith has a new Paramore-inspired emo-slash-pop punk track with a formidable drum groove powered by Travis Barker. Over churning guitars she sneers at fake friends: "smile in my face, then put your cig out on my back." As Nate and Charlie headbanged along to we found ourselves asking "why did we sleep on Willow Smith?"
    Maybe because we had not taken Willow seriously, knowing her only as the nine (!) year-old singer behind the precocious hit "Whip My Hair" back in 2010. In the ensuing decade, your hosts missed out on the rise of a talented musician. Her slow-burn, consciousness-expanding, galaxy-brain funk track "Wait A Minute!" from 2015 showcased the voice of a full-fledged artist. So why couldn't we hear her? Whether because we perceived nepotism or industry sleight-of-hand as the cause of her success, or maybe because we just didn't think a celebrity kid could also have anything to say worth hearing.
    Whoops. And it's not just Willow. Turns out the whole Pinkett-Smith clan have discographies worth taking a closer listen to. Who knew Jaden was sampling 1930s jazz wailer Cab Calloway? Or that Jada fronted a death metal band who got booed for being Black in a white genre? Or that the much-maligned "Getting' Jiggy Wit It" by Big Willie Style himself....actually bangs?
    Songs discussed:
    Willow Smith - Transparent Soul, Wait A Minute!, Whip My Hair
    Osamu - Koroneko No Tango
    Jordy - Dur dur d'être bébé!
    Wicked Wisdom - Bleed All Over Me
    Jaden Smith - Icon
    Cab Calloway - Hi De Ho Man
    Will Smith - Gettin' Jiggy Wit It
    Sister Sledge - He's the Greatest Dancer
    The Bar-Kays - Sang and Dance
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    • 32 min

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