Russell Brand has one, Ed Miliband has one, even noughties superstar Will Young has one. So what are you waiting for – if you’re not already on the podcast wave, here’s your chance. Get started with some of Katharine Swindells’ top recommendations.
For when you want to sound smart at parties
In 2016 Malcolm Gladwell, a man who has made a living out of being cleverer than everyone else in a room, made Revisionist History, a podcast which interrogates societal phenomena to answer questions about the meaning of life. ‘Hallelujah’, an episode on the Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley/Shrek song which examines the concept of genius is particularly brilliant, as is ‘The Lady Vanishes’, which shows how one minority getting past the glass ceiling can actually strengthen it for others.
If you’re anything like me, your Facebook saves and Twitter likes are full of intelligent-looking in-depth articles that you’ll (absolutely definitely) get round to reading someday. The Guardian’s Audio Longreads takes half the work out of that by having journalists read their work aloud, so you can listen to it on the way to uni. Never again will you be left nodding dumbly when someone says “Did you read that article about…”
There’s a reason Another Round, by Buzzfeed’s Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, is one of the most popular podcasts in the world. Clayton and Nigatu’s discussions on gender, race, mental health, pop culture and alcohol are thought-provoking and hilarious. And it’s that popularity that has landed them some of the biggest interviews possible: everyone from Hillary Clinton to Roxane Gay, to Lin Manuel Miranda.
Hosts Chris Sweeney and Will Young (yes, that Will Young) like to call their new podcast Homo Sapiens “Woman’s Hour, for LGBTQ people.” Every week they speak to a prominent LGBT guest about their experiences and activism, and chat about mental health within the LGBT community alongside funny anecdotes from Young’s popstar days.
Laugh Out Loud
Recently having finished its third series, there’s a reason why My Dad Wrote a Porno is so infamous. Yes, three friends reading aloud and critiquing erotic fiction written by a middle-aged-man is as absurd as it sounds, but it’s also hilarious. Stop giving your mates funny looks when they recommend it and join the ranks of public transport-gigglers everywhere. If you start now you can be up to date by the time they begin series four next summer. And I promise there’s no way you can prepare yourself for the twist at the end of book three…
The best in true crime
You won’t be able to stop listening to In the Dark, which researches the 30 year-old mystery of missing Minnesotan child Jacob Wetterling and whether police incompetence and town politics can be blamed for his disappearance. But this podcast has a surprise edge – just as the journalist was about to publish her research, the culprit turned themselves in. That doesn’t diminish the harrowing story though, which remains a fascinating study of the flaws of the law enforcement system. A second season is supposedly in the works, but we’re still waiting.
If, like me, you’re a politics nerd but have reached the end of your emotional tether where you simply can’t talk about Brexit anymore, you can find a more low-key politics podcast in Reasons to be Cheerful. The latest from bacon sarnie-eating Labour Leader-turned radio personality Ed Miliband, along with Geoff Lloyd, moves away from the specifics of party politics to look at “big-ideas” such as drug decriminalisation and Universal Basic Income. They interview experts, discuss evidence, and fill the gaps with light-hearted political banter.
On Mostly Lit, three friends Derek, Alex and Rai discuss literature both traditional and contemporary, and how it intersects with social justice, particularly black culture, and their own experiences as young black Londoners and book-lovers.
Srsly, the pop culture branch-off podcast from the New Statesman magazine, launched after the NS did a political analysis of Harry Potter, which met massive popularity and included such gems as “If objects can be mended and replicated by magic – why are the Weasleys poor?”. Since then, every week Srsly’s hosts Anna and Caroline discuss current TV, film and albums, and go back in time to analyse some old favourites. They’re both wonderfully dorky, and so likeable it feels like you’re watching a movie with your friends.
My All-Time Fave
Every week on Call Your Girlfriend, journalist Ann Friedman and tech businesswoman Aminatou Sow call each other to talk about pro-choice lawsuits, luxury pajamas, the Kardashians, and everything in between. When things are good, they make it better; their episode the day after Lemonade dropped was pure gold. And when things are awful, as they have been for a lot of women recently, their honest admittance of that is a breath of fresh air. Their invention of the term “shine theory” – for when women support and celebrate the successes of other women – has now entered the mainstream feminist lexicon, and their friendship is truly aspirational.
Not Worth Your Time
There are loads of podcasts out there that are critically acclaimed, with write-ups everywhere from the Metro to the New York Times. But you’re not reading those, you’re reading Forge Press, so I can tell you that loads of them are not all they’re cracked up to be. You’re welcome to listen and make your own judgments, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Now, cards on the table, I really, really fancy Russell Brand. But even I couldn’t handle listening to his podcast Under the Skin, where he essentially spends an hour interrupting experts to proclaim his superior point of view. I got through ten minutes of skin-crawling mansplaining before I was forced to tune out.
In Beautiful Anonymous, callers get the opportunity to tell their life stories, from high school crushes to illicit affairs and inspiring achievements. Its anonymous soul-bearing premise has the potential to be brilliant but presenter Chris Gethard seems unable to just let the stories tell themselves. His self-obsessive need to insert himself and his experiences into every narrative detracts from the subjects themselves and ultimately ends up working to the podcast’s detriment.