Switched on Pop

Switched on Pop

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.

Episodes

June 28, 2022 32 min
The world stops with a Beyoncé drop. On Monday, June 20th, our prayers were answered with “Break My Soul,” the lead single off of her upcoming album, Renaissance. The song draws from several places of inspiration: lyrically, it’s a cathartic dance-floor ode to liberation, soundtracking the current cultural moment that some have called the “Great Resignation.” Sonically, though, “Break My Soul” is Beyoncé’s foray into house music – ...
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Robert Glasper is the only artist to have an album debut in the top 10 of 4 different Billboard charts. He's a musical polymath whose resume ranges from Kendrick Lamar to Herbie Hancock. At the piano, he serves up jazz licks worthy of Mary Lou Williams before segueing into a Nirvana cover. Glasper brings his diverse skill set to bear on his latest project, the score for the HBO series Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynast...
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We recently deconstructed how Kate Bush’s 1985 song “Running Up That Hill” has found itself at the center of culture due to a placement in the Netflix, eighties, horror, sci-fi show, Stranger Things. For that episode we excerpted an interview with the composers of the show who shared great insights on how they created the iconic theme song and spooky soundscape for the most streamed show of 2022. But we want to share the full conve...
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Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” enters the latest season of Stranger Things during a brooding high-school hallway scene right out of the John Hughes playbook, and it has since bounded up the charts, hitting No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and performing better now than when it peaked at No. 30 upon release. Stranger Things, whose latest season has logged more viewer minutes for Netflix than any other English-language release to d...
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On TikTok, pop stars — Halsey, FKA Twigs, and Florence Welch among them — have been complaining a lot lately about their labels forcing them to make TikToks. As people spent the early part of the pandemic staring at their phones instead of flocking to concerts, the short-form-video social-media platform upended music discovery. In many cases, it gave unknown musicians a pathway to enormous audiences and allowed them to burst into t...
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If you've heard Latto's swaggering track "Big Energy"—and after 30 weeks on the Hot 100, you probably have—you may have heard a resemblance to Mariah Carey's 1995 hit "Fantasy." That's because both songs borrow a groove from the 1981 hit "Genius of Love," a genre-defying smash made by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. "Genius of Love" was made when Frantz and Weymouth took a break from ...
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May 24, 2022 31 min
It’s been five years since Kendrick Lamar released his Pulitzer winning album DAMN. Having established himself as a modern rap virtuoso whose songs have become anthems fueling social movements, expectations run high for his latest release. So when he dropped his new album Mr Morale and the Big Steppers, people tuned in - it is the biggest album drop of 2022 so far. Lamar moves his focus presumably from the societal to the personal ...
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On all of his projects — Grammy-winning albums, playing keys with Maroon 5, fronting a full string section in his NPR Tiny Desk Concert — PJ Morton evinces his mastery at updating classic soul and R&B with modern sounds. His latest full-length release, Watch the Sun, sees him joined by some of his own sources of inspiration, Stevie Wonder and Nas. The three combined forces on Morton’s track “Be Like Water,” which recites an upl...
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May 10, 2022 28 min
Greece, Spain, UK, Sweden, Italy and Ukraine are the frontrunners in the 2022 Eurovision competition. Switched On Pop analyzes the top six songs as well as some of the more oddball picks. Songs Discussed Amanda Tenfjord - Die Together Chanel - SloMo Britney Spears - Work Bitch Sam Ryder - SPACE MAN Elton John - Rocket Man Cornelia Jakobs - Hold Me Closer Zdob și Zdub - Trenulețul  Citi Zēni - Give The Wolf A Banana Mahmoo...
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Belle and Sebastian released the first album Tigermilk in 1996, and they’ve released eight more since—a catalog that helped define the sound of rock and indie in the new millennium through buoyant melodies and verbose lyrics.  Their new album, A Bit of Previous, continues to refine their unique sound but also embraces new musical directions. We spoke to Stuart Murdoch, leader of the 7-piece band hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, abou...
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April 26, 2022 31 min
Last month, Nirvana entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time in nearly two decades — only their fifth time in history — thanks to a comic-book movie. The band’s 1991 track “Something in the Way” was heavily featured in The Batman, whose director, Matt Reeves, said Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain inspired Robert Pattinson’s brooding performance as the caped crusader. Plus, Cobain’s music influenced the film’s score: Mich...
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Allison Ponthier knows the hardest part of making anything is getting started. When she was young, she “always wanted to write songs,” fanatically scribbling rhymes in a diary, but gave it up — the prevailing narratives of natural talent, artistic genius, and spontaneous inspiration put the brakes on her songwriting aspirations. She didn’t pick it up again until she turned 19: “It just took me that long to build the confidence.” N...
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April 12, 2022 27 min
The recorded version of Justin Bieber’s “Peaches” opens with a full-blast chorus alongside driving percussion and ringing guitars. But when he performed the song at this year’s Grammys, the song’s instrumentation was stripped down, with Bieber alone at a grand piano, crooning into the mic. Slowly, a band built up, and in came guest verses from Daniel Caesar and Giveon between seven repetitions of the chorus. Each time the chorus re...
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April 5, 2022 41 min
We love listening to music at a ridiculous level of detail. But the other day we heard a podcast that made us fundamentally question the accuracy and reliability of our own listening skills. In it they played a familiar melody, “Yankee Doodle,” in such a way that we couldn’t recognize it at all. Our brain plays so many auditory tricks on us — some truly spectacular and unexplainable. In fact that’s the name of the show: Unexplainab...
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March 29, 2022 27 min
There’s no more iconic Britney lyric than the opening of “Gimme More.” It's 2007, four years since her last album In The Zone was released, and Britney is affirmatively back with the uptempo track leading off her album Blackout: “It’s Britney, Bitch.” The song echoes the dance-pop Neptunes sound of “I’m A Slave 4 U.” It's built around a driving riff and off-kilter drums produced by Floyd Nathaniel Hills AKA Danja. Each time...
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March 22, 2022 28 min
In 2003 Britney Spears released “Toxic,” a song that would make converts out of pop skeptics, be named one of the greatest tracks of the 21st century by multiple publications, and become a personal favorite of Switched on Pop. Despite its success, when “Toxic” was released as the second single from Spears’s fourth album, In the Zone, even the song’s writers thought it was too “weird” to become a hit. But thanks to the new iTunes p...
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March 15, 2022 29 min
In the first three years of Britney Spears’ pop music career, she released annual, consecutive albums. In 1999 we got Baby One More Time – its lead single was #5 on the Billboard year-end Hot 100 chart. In 2000, Oops… I Did It Again generated multiple hits. It’s eponymous single reached the #1 spot on Top 40 radio but only ascended to #55 on the year-end chart — the single was only released on vinyl, not CD, to boost album sales. D...
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On a crisp Autumn morning in 1998, the world was introduced to the voice of Britney Spears, and pop would never be the same. Britney’s mix of vocal fry, percussive pronunciations, and timbral play on “...Baby One More Time” hadn't been heard before. As successful as they were, these techniques were derided by critics as parts of her manufactured “baby voice." Listening in 2022, we can hear Britney with more clarity: as a ra...
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Presenting Chartbreakers, in which Nate and Charlie listen to the Billboard Hot 100 chart from top to bottom and discover a TikTok controversy, a Nashville music mystery, a rogue duck-billed platypus, and Megan Thee Stallion's debut piano concerto. Songs Discussed Gayle - abcdefu Muni Long - hrs and hrs Ckay - Love Nwantiti (Ah Ah Ah) Dustin Lynch featuring Lauren Alaina or Mackenzie Porter - Thinking 'Bout You Red Hot C...
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Leon Bridges is the soul singer hailing from Fort Worth, Texas, who burst onto the music scene in 2015 with the album Coming Home. Since then he’s established himself as an adventurous musician whose latest album Gold Diggers Sound combines retro sounds with contemporary production. Khruangbin is the Houston-based power trio——Mark Speer on guitar, Laura Lee on bass, and DJ Johnson on drums—who also debuted in 2015 with the album Th...
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