When I’m not in front of a TV or computer, I’m often still consuming pop culture in the form of nonfiction podcasts, which can be as good—or better!—than nonfiction TV.
And I like to share the best of those with you. So here are three podcast recommendations: the very personal Anything for Selena, the fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of sound in Twenty Thousand Hertz, and Still Processing’s conversations about culture.
Anything for Selena
I discovered Anything for Selena through Nick Quah’s recommendation. He wrote that it “is perhaps appropriately described as part documentary and part memoir, in the sense that the podcast uses an intimate first-person disposition to ground its project of excavating a deeper understanding of its subject.”
The subject and Selena of the title is the singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, who was murdered at age 23 by the president of her fan club. And while that summary is true, somehow Everything for Selena feels impossible to adequately summarize.
So here’s how Maria Garcia describes the podcast, on the podcast:
“This podcast, it’s not really about Selena’s story—I mean, yes, it is, but really, I’m trying to understand why her impact feels as far-reaching today as it did a quarter of a century ago. I want to know what mourning, remembering, celebrating Selena means. And after many, many months of immersing myself in her, I’ve come to realize Selena is like this vessel to understand so many things about race, class, body politics, and finding our place in this country.”
She points out in an early episode that “Selena’s everywhere. Her iconography’s ubiquitous,” and that “Kim Kardashian dressed up as Selena for Halloween.” Garcia also points out that Selena “means so many things to so many people.”
In the first two episodes, host Maria Garcia breaks the fourth wall to talk about some of the challenges of making the podcast, but effortlessly connect that back to both a larger narrative about Selena’s father’s influence and its host’s life.
So that’s why The podcast, from WBUR and Futuro, says it “weaves Maria’s personal story as a queer, first-generation Mexican immigrant with cultural analysis, history and politics to explore how, 25 years after her death, Selena remains an unparalleled vessel for understanding Latino identity and American belonging.”
Instead of quoting any more summaries, I’ll conclude with this: Everything for Selena is riveting and intimate and informative and altogether a terrific, must-listen podcast.
Twenty Thousand Hertz
I love learning new things, and especially about how the world is made. I previously recommended Every Little Thing, which is as great as ever.
Twenty Thousand Hertz is similar, in that it tells us the surprising stories behind familiar things. It’s hosted by Dallas Taylor and produced by Defacto Sound, which has done sound design work ranging from Game of Thrones trailers to documentaries.
The podcast began in 2016, but I only started listening last year. I was immediately captivated, especially by the second episode, which tells the story of the NBC chimes. (They have an outstanding website with detailed archive pages for each episode if you want to quickly browse the more than 100 episodes.)
There are episodes on Hamilton and Mel Blanc, audio descriptions and ASMR. There’s a fascinating episode on misophonia, which I am intimately familiar with but never understood.
As a podcast about sound, Twenty Thousand Hertz also, well, sounds terrific, with incredibly high quality audio and sound design.
As someone who writes about and analyzes pop culture, I like reading—and listening to—other people do the same thing.
On Still Processing Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris “devour TV, movies, art, music and the internet to find the things that move them — to tears, awe and anger,” according to its description. Sometimes it’s about current events in pop culture; other episodes are reconsiderations of the past.
It’s lively and conversational, and frequently funny. For me, the pleasure is in listening to two of my favorite culture writers engaging with each other and thinking, in real time.
Full disclosure: I met Wesley Morris when he was the culture editor at Student.com, when I was an intern, and was in awe of his ability to write about pop culture in a way that went beyond summary and platitude. I still respect and admire his writing—and Jenna’s, too—and the podcast offers a different dimension.
Still Processing’s next season starts in March, so they’re re-upping some old but evergreen episodes this month, which is a great way to get introduced to it.
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