A PODCAST PLAYLIST FOR PRECARIOUS TIMES
April 13th, 2020
Words by Arielle Vetro · Collage by Alia Wilhelm
If you want some damn good podcasts to help see you through these unsettling times, I’ve got a few suggestions
When asked how I’m handling the quarantine, my knee-jerk response is to say that I’m completely fine. My Google search history, however, suggests otherwise: “Is it okay to call home every 45 minutes?” “Why did I cry when I saw a well-stocked toilet paper shelf at the grocery store?” “How do I soak dried beans?” “Do I have to soak dried beans?” “Life hacks to get around soaking dried beans?”
Despite the flurry of emotions cluttering my mind, one sensation that I miraculously have not been overcome by is boredom. I wish that there was some impressive reasoning behind this, that I too - like Isaac Newton - used my time in quarantine as an opportunity to develop sophisticated theories that would forever alter the world at large. But I haven’t taken a physics class in 8 years, so that seems like a big ask.
In truth, my lack of boredom almost entirely boils down to the extraordinary podcasts that I’ve been listening to. So, if you’re not pulling a Newton and just want some damn good podcasts to help see you through these unsettling times, I’ve got a few suggestions. Some of these shows are old, others new, and not all of them are necessarily cheerful. But what I can say is that each one is captivating in its own right. I have travelled to different countries, wiped tears of sadness and laughter from my eyes, and felt the comfort and intimacy of being in the company of others, all without leaving my room. I hope these podcasts do the same for you.
If you’re looking to dip your toe into fiction podcasts (Note: I am constantly trying to convince people to dip their toes into fiction podcasts), James Kim’s MOONFACE is an excellent place to start. The story centres around Paul, an American-Korean in his 20s living in L.A. with his mother. While he navigates his career, friendships, racial identity and place in the world as a first-generation immigrant, he also grapples with telling his mother that he’s gay. The relationship between the two is a challenging one: she speaks very little English, and he minimal Korean. As a result, the depth of their interactions never manages to extend beyond conversational basics. It's a poignant but powerful element of the show that truly sets it apart from other podcasts in the genre. Overall, it's an original and provocative story, with ethereal sound design and an epic soundtrack to boot. (Please tell me that you have now removed your socks and are prepared for some toe-dipping).
This is a very strange podcast that seems fitting for these very strange times. Host Ian Chillag has lengthy discussions with inanimate objects in order to learn more about their life stories (yes, you read that correctly). Once you get past the bizarre premise of the show and accept that you’re about to spend twenty minutes listening to the stream of consciousness of a tooth or the inner frustrations of a chainsaw, it's unexpectedly moving. Chillag also breaks each interview to speak with an actual human about a topic related to the object, which offers a rare glimmer of fact in an otherwise absurdly fictitious show. The third season launched a few weeks ago and its first episode, “Tami and Ed, Sharpie,” is an instant classic. If you’re looking to comb through previous seasons, “Maeve, Lamppost” is an endearing listen that had me laughing out loud.
Anthems is a new show that took International Women’s Day and turned it into a whole damn month. Produced by Broccoli Content, Anthems is described as “a collection of 31 original manifestos, speeches, stories, poems and rallying cries written and voiced by exceptional women.” Each episode brings you a word of the day, using it as an entry point to engage with complex and intimate themes, from racism and transphobia to anger and self-love. The voices featured are wide-ranging and include Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo and VICE’s Zing Tsjeng, to name a few. I’d recommend starting from the beginning and listening to them in succession, but if you’d prefer to start at random, then Nathalie Nahai’s “WEAVE” and Ruby Tandoh’s “NOURISH” are two episodes that I found especially touching. As a whole, Anthems is beautiful and endlessly thought-provoking, and if you don’t find your eyes welling up at least once, then I’d like to extend a heartfelt congratulations to you and your tear ducts of steel.
The New York Times’ hugely popular and much-loved show won’t be a new recommendation for any of you seasoned podcast listeners out there. But what you might not know is that in light of coronavirus, the show has set up home studios and is now back with new episodes to see us through quarantine! Hosted by Times’ magazine culture writers Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, the show is a critical yet accessible look at pop culture - from books and albums to TV shows and films. The first episode of the season, “A Pod From Both Our Houses,” is a strong but tender kickoff, so I’d recommend starting there. The following episode was a candid and in-depth discussion of the new Hulu series “High Fidelity,” while last week’s reviewed Netflix’s wildly successful “Tiger King." If the season continues along this trajectory, it looks like we might have just found ourselves the ultimate “book club” for all of our quarantine Netflix binges.
I don’t say this lightly: Floodlines is without question one of the most outstanding podcasts I’ve heard in years. Released by The Atlantic last month, it’s an eight-part series that examines the 2005 hurricane that devastated New Orleans. Through powerful personal interviews it re-examines the misinformation about Hurricane Katrina and gets to the heart of what actually took place. The show breaks down tall tales that dramatically altered public perception of New Orleanians at the time and influenced the support that the victims and survivors received. Floodlines stands out in a sea of traditional news podcasts because it takes the time to humanize a story that has been so brutally robbed of its humanity. And while I will say that it’s a heavy listen, at the end of the day it’s hugely important work that reminds us of what really matters in times of crisis.
Arielle Vetro is a Canadian in London who writes about podcasts and produces them, too. She’s interested in the politics of food, community organizing and female-authored fiction. Arielle also enjoys podcasts (was this implied?). You can follow her on both Instagram and Twitter @ariellevetro
Alia Wilhelm is a Nearness co-founder. She works as a multimedia artist and director's assistant in London. You can follow her @aliiiiia and check out her work at