What are you listening to these days? I’m a longtime podcast fiend, but I still get overwhelmed by how many shows (how many really, really good shows!) are out there. As we head into a new year and the chilly months ahead, I thought I’d share some of my old and new favorites to cozy up with (and please tell me yours)…
IF YOU Love old movies — and scandals
LISTEN TO You Must Remember This
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT This is one of those shows where I am actually jealous of the people who haven’t discovered it yet. If you’re a sucker for celeb scandals and juicy biopics, or staying up ’til 3am reading Mommie Dearest (hi!), this one’s for you. Karina Longworth researches and reports (in crazy detail) the mysteries, legends and icons of old Hollywood. We’re talking everything from Judy Garland’s tumultuous celebrity childhood to Marilyn Monroe’s mysterious last days to Charles Manson’s infiltration of the Hollywood elite. Some of the most fascinating episodes are on little-known stories (this one on actress Frances Farmer sent me down the Wikipedia rabbit hole). It is. So good.
TRY THIS EPISODE Marlon Brando
IF YOU Just need a little break real quick
LISTEN TO Pop Culture Happy Hour
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT Listening to this show reminds me of dinner conversations you have with friends after going to the movies: Everyone has an opinion and everyone is in a good mood. This roundtable, led by host Linda Holmes and a rotating cast of podcast and radio personalities, is full of witty folks who are just as capable of waxing poetic about Jeopardy as they are debating the merit of melodrama in A Star Is Born. The biweekly episodes are short (about 20 minutes) but satisfying — a good giggle at the start and end of my week. Every Friday installment ends with a segment called, simply, “What’s Making Us Happy,” and honestly, who couldn’t use more of that?
TRY THIS EPISODE I say start with the most recent (but the episode on Mamma Mia 2 is also really fun — and I didn’t even see Mamma Mia 2)
IF YOU’RE In the mood for something spooky
LISTEN TO Lore
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT This is my go-to podcast for a chilly night when I’m cooking dinner alone in my kitchen. It’s eerie, but not horror-movie scary. Each episode tells the true story behind a legend: the Mothman, changelings, the New England vampire panic. The stories underscore the ways that human nature is intertwined with myth, and how our darker instincts often create the very monsters we fear. It’s hard to oversell this extremely popular show (FYI, it’s already been adapted into an Amazon TV series), but if you haven’t tried it yet, this is the time of year to give it a whirl. The days are short, the skies are dark, so grab a blanket and dig in.
TRY THIS EPISODE The Castle
IF YOU’RE A fan of This American Life (and who isn’t?)
LISTEN TO The Nod
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT The Nod isn’t derivative of This American Life (and typically has a much funnier, more high-energy feel), but it does explore fascinating stories and important moments in black culture — the Memphis 13, grape drink, an oral history of Knuck If You Buck — with the same thoughtful storytelling that TAL fans know and love. This show approaches black culture in a way that most media doesn’t, and it’s great to hear stories about black life from black hosts. Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings have a crackling rapport and a friendly rivalry, and I often find myself laughing along as if I’m in the room with them (when I’m actually alone on the subway).
TRY THIS EPISODE It’s hard to pick a favorite episode (I’ve listened to this one about a Beyoncé conspiracy theory three times because it still makes me laugh out loud), but this one, about Afrocentric pre-schools is a great place to start: A is for Afrocentric
IF YOU Listened to all of Dirty John in one day
LISTEN TO The Teacher’s Pet
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT This Australian investigatory podcast examines one of the country’s most infamous cold cases: the disappearance and “probable murder” of Lyn Dawson. It’s a tangled, fascinating story that grows even more compelling as the podcast continues — but what I love about this show is the humanity with which host Hedley Thomas approaches the subject. Listening to true crime sometimes leaves me with an icky sense of complicity in consuming these stories as entertainment. This one is careful not to treat its subjects like characters, but as real, complex people, each of whom has their own experience of the events.
TRY THIS EPISODE Start from the beginning (and no peeking ahead!)
IF YOU Feel extremely unglamorous after scrolling through Instagram
LISTEN TO Death, Sex & Money
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT If you’re not already a fan of this contemporary classic, Death, Sex & Money is just what it sounds like. It’s a show about things in our lives that are, as the creator Anna Sale puts it, “often left out of polite conversation.” Anna interviews (in her incredibly soothing voice) people from all walks of life — including the occasional celebrity — about deeply personal topics: a shoplifter on why she steals; a paralyzed newlywed on having a sex life; a Bitcoin mogul who went broke; a Texas town recovering from a series of local suicides; Alia Shawkat on navigating her twenties as a former child actress. This show gets real, no doubt, but it’s also a comforting reminder that there are universal experiences and things we all struggle with — and no one’s life is what it looks like on the outside.
TRY THIS EPISODE Ellen Burstyn’s Lessons on Survival
What’s in your ears these days?
(Photo of Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids.)