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Switched on Pop

Switched on Pop

Author: Vox

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What makes pop songs so catchy? Musicologist Nate Sloan & songwriter Charlie Harding pull back the curtain on how pop hits work their magic on our ears & our culture. You’ll fall in love with music you didn’t even know you liked.

157 Episodes
Mac Miller, Future and Billie Eilish all have good and bad news to share. On Miller’s posthumous album, Circles, he exposes personal struggles with fame, addiction, and mental illness — sobering topics given his unintentional drug overdose last year. Yet at the same time we hear him searching for “good news,” practicing self care and accepting that “there's a whole lot more” waiting. Future & Drake’s celebration of material excess also finds them “working on the weekend” just to keep up appearances. Similarly, Billie Eilish has achieved “everything [she] wanted,” but dreams of death and darkness overwhelm her. But she’s buoyed by the support of her brother FINNEAS. Many pop songs are about a single emotion: love, heartbreak or exuberant joy. But these great songs evoke more complex emotions, existing somewhere in a liminal space between our hopes and fears. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dua Lipa’s Disco Fever

Dua Lipa’s Disco Fever


Dua Lipa remembers the disco era in her hit “Don’t Start Now.” What may sound like just another dance floor track, upon deeper listening unfolds as a celebration of the genre. References to Gloria Gaynor, Chic, Giorgio Moroder and The Bee Gees are all waiting here for the curious listener to uncover. But so are the Italian and Daft Punk inspired bass lines. Yet the song is more than just one big disco ball cliché. It is brilliantly written too. We asked our listeners to help us highlight the best moments of the song as this is a song that continues to sound anew upon each playback. In 2020, the influence of Disco is still very much alive and Dua Lip’s “Don’t Start Now,” written with Caroline Ailin, Emily Warren and Ian Kirkpatrick, is a shining example of a great contemporary disco track.  Songs Discussed Dua Lipa - Don’t Start Now Gloria Gaynor - Staying Alive Chic - Good Times Giorgio Mordoer - Baby Blue The Bee Gees - You Should Be Dancing The Michael Zager Band - Let’s All Chant MFSP - TSOP Todd Terje - Strandbar Piano Fred Falke and Alan Brav - Intro Daft Punk - Voyager Ryan Paris - Dolce Vita Madison Avenue - Don’t Call Me Baby Marvin Gaye - Got To Give It Up Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The sound of R&B is difficult to pin down. Since the 1950s, the label has been used both as a genre and as a catch-all for the entirety of black popular music. Soul, funk, disco and even hip-hop have at times been covered by this "R&B" umbrella. On Chance The Rapper's new album, The Big Day, all of these influences come through—and he's not alone. On recent Kehlani records, 90s R&B and 2000s trap both play a role. But both these artists are a far cry from the 50s R&B sounds of Sam Cooke. To understand how R&B has changed over time, we consult with Trevor Anderson, manager of Billboard's R&B/Hip Hop chart. Then we speak with R&B super-producer Oak Felder to understand how R&B is progressing and what it might become. Songs Discussed Chance The Rapper – Hot Shower Chance The Rapper – I Got You Sam Cooke – You Send Me Elvis Presley – Crying In the Chapel The Temptations – I Can’t Get Next To You Mtume – Juicy Fruit Biggie – Juicy Toni Braxton – Breath Again Janet Jackson – That’s The Way Love Goes Boys II Men – I’ll Make Love To You Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing) Diddy – I’ll Be Missing You (feat. Faith Evans & 112) Nelly – Dilemma Kehlani – Distraction SWV – Weak Aaron Hall – I Miss You Usher – You Make Me Wanna Brandy – Sit-in Up In My Room Dru Hill – In My Bed Silk – Freak Me Demi Lovato – Sorry Not Sorry Jodeci – Cry For you Mariah Carey – Vision of Love Kehlani Everything Is Yours Chance The Rapper – All Day Long Queen – Fat Bottom Girls Diana Ross – I’m Coming Out For an in depth history of R&B on Billboard, read Chris Molanphy's feature on Pitchfork. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
On a trajectory to be one of the biggest pop stars for this generation, seventeen year old Billie Eilish is not, however, your typical pop star. Her music speaks to the real anxieties of young people without any veneer. She sings from the perspective of monsters and villains. Her hushed voice, baggy style, and direct demeanor subvert the norms of the pop princess. And her music is dark, but still catchy. Billie co-writes and produces her sound with her older brother Finneas O’Connell. Together this family duo have crafted the second biggest selling album of 2019, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” On this episode, we examine how Billie and Finneas crafted a cultural phenomenon, why their message speaks to this generation, and we speak with Finneas about the creation of their hit song “Bad Guy.” MORE Watch Billie and Finneas break down “Bury A Friend” on The New York TimesBillie Eilish – Ocean Eyes Billie Eilish – Bored Billie Eilish – You Should See Me In A Crown Billie Eilish – Bad Guy Billie Eilish – Bury A Friend Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People The Doors – People Are Strange Nine Inch Nails – Closer Billie Eilish – ilomilo Billie Eilish – All Good Girls Go To Hell Billie Eilish – Xanny Frank Sinatra – Dream A Dream Billie Eilish – I love you John Carpenter – Halloween Theme Billie Eilish – Bellyache MORE Billie Eilish explained on Watch Billie and Finneas break down “Bury A Friend” on The New York Times Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
There are icons, and then there’s Dolly Parton. The country singer-turned-actress-turned-cultural phenomenon has produced a nearly unparalleled body of work, in both quantity (Parton is the sole or co-author of more than three thousand songs) and in legacy. Despite releasing her first album over 60 years ago, Parton’s songs are still covered and performed live by today’s pop artists. Presidential candidates are still selecting her songs as official walk-on music. So what is it exactly that makes her music so enduring? Today, we select four essential Dolly songs for dissection and try to answer that big question with the help of composer, longtime radio-maker and host of the new hit podcast, Dolly Parton’s America--Jad Abumrad. Whether or not you identify as a Dolly Parton fan, or even a country music fan, we think you’ll love this one. Songs discussed Dolly Parton - Dumb Blonde Dolly Parton - Down from Dover Dolly Parton - Jolene Dolly Parton - Light of a Clear Blue Morning Kesha - Praying Mariah Carey - Hero Andra Day - Rise Up Dolly Parton - 9 to 5 Stevie Wonder - I Wish Dolly Parton - Mule Skinner Blues Thanks to Jad, producer Shima Oliaee and the rest of the Dolly Parton’s America team. You can check out the eight episodes they’ve released so far, and keep an eye out for the final one at Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Bass distorted to the edge of audibility; voices croaking out dark and violent lyrics; a hacked-together DIY aesthetic. This isn't a fringe musical movement, this is the sound of TikTok, the video app used by millions in Generation Z. And soon enough it might also be the sound of pop as we know it. Cat Zhang from Pitchfork stops by to clue us into the sonic reality of music's newest platform, from Gordon Ramsay to pumpkins screaming in the dead of night. Songs Discussed Savage Ga$p, 93FEETOFSMOKE - Pumpkins scream in the dead of night haroinfather, Savage Ga$sp - Tunnel of Love Arizona Zervas - ROXANNE HL Wave, Jhonny Flames - Gordon Ramsay Hooligan Chase - Asshole Comethazine - Walk Peter Kuli, Jed Will - ok boomer Young Spool, Jakob - WTF Check out Cat's article The Anatomy of a TikTok Hit on Pitchfork Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
We hand over the hosting duties to Constance Grady, book reviewer for, to discuss our new book/baby - Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works and Why it Matters, and go deep on two specific concepts we haven’t touched nearly enough on the show: timbre (with the help of Sia’s “Chandelier) and sampling (via M.I.A.’s iconic “Paper Planes). The book of course goes further, devoting a full chapter each to sixteen different concepts we’ve explored on the show (think harmony, modulation, syncopation, genre), and pairing those concepts with the pop tracks that really bring them to life.  There are so many people who helped us get this thing from concept to bound stack of papers that you can hold in your hands, but right now, right here, we want to shout out: our listeners. You all shape the show every week by suggesting incredible episode ideas and recommending songs for us to break down. You also inspired this book, when you asked us year in and year out for a definitive guide to the essential musical knowledge necessary to understand contemporary pop. We hope you like it, and know that your emails, tweets and analysis continue to delight and inspire us to no end. SONGS DISCUSSED Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe Sia - Chandelier M.I.A. - Paper Planes MORE Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works and Why it Matters is available now! Find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound or buy directly from Oxford University Press. Book illustrations by the indomitable Iris Gottlieb: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The East Coast / West Coast hip hop feud between Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls is full of tragedy and conspiracy, but what did it really sound like? For the third season of of the hit podcast Slow Burn, host Joel Anderson and producer Christopher Johnson dig up untold stories about this infamous rivalry, and they join Nate and Charlie to break down boom bap, G Funk, and the surprising points of overlap between two titans of rap. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Electric Guest (Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton) take a left turn towards pop on “Dollar" — a song about making more out of less, something too many people find themselves to do right now. The music follows the same principle, turning cheap synths and canned horns into a symphony of sound. We chat with Asa about how the track — equally inspired by Stevie Wonder and Bertolt Brecht —came to be and why pop can be a balm in dark times. Songs Featured Electric Guest - Dollar Stevie Wonder - Uptight (Everything's Alright) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nate doesn’t know much about the musical style known as emo. Sadly, he was too busy nerding out on jazz during his youthful years to catch the moment. That’s a shame, because emo is experiencing a revival right now - most surprisingly within the world of hip hop. All of which leaves Nate in the awkward position of not really having any idea what’s going on, so thank goodness for some schooling by Vox culture reporter Allegra Frank, who spent her teenage years the right way: getting emotional to the soundtrack of emo. Her first lesson about this endlessly fascinating subculture? It’s way more than just a sound.  Songs discussed: Sunny Day Real Estate - Seven Jawbreaker - Do You Still Hate Me?! My Chemical Romance - I’m Not Okay (I Promise) Fall Out Boy - Sugar, We’re Goin Down Panic! At the Disco - I Write Sins not Tragedies Jimmy Eat World - Lucky Denver Mint Jimmy Eat World - A Praise Chorus Jimmy Eat World - The Middle American Football - Never Meant Foxing - Lich My Prince  The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Heartbeat in the Brain Check out more of Allegra’s work here: And learn more about Tom Mullen and Washed Out Emo here: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Once upon a time, classical music was pop, so today it's worth stepping back and asking: where does one genre stop and the other begin? Can classical ever be popular again? And why do only some classical tracks makes for good samples? Luckily James Bennett II of classical station WQXR is on hand to break down these and other musical conundrums, including but not limited to: killer opera clowns, Bach hip hop hybrids, and the namesake album of this very podcast. Songs discussed: Dessa and the Minnesota Orchestra - Chaconne Enrico Caruso - Vesti la Giubbia Mario Lanza - Because You’re Mine Wendy Carlos - Prelude and Fugue in C Minor Jackie Evancho - Nessun Dorma Jackie Evancho - Burn Lindsay Stirling - Underground Vitamin String Quartet - Shallow Florence Price - Symphony 1 Nas - I Can Black Eyed Peas - Back 2 Hip Hop Victoria - Impropreia Kanye West - Gone Check out more of James's writing here: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Back in the fall of 2017, our producer Megan Lubin went for a stroll near her house, popped in earbuds, and heard a song that’s stuck with her ever since: “Si Tú Supieras Compañero” (“If you only knew, my friend”), by the Spanish pop star Rosalía. Since then, Rosalía’s star has continued, especially after the 2018 release of “El Mal Querer,” Rosalía’s genre-blending album of R&B and flamenco.  On this episode, we dig into Rosalía’s sound to try and figure out what stopped Megan in her tracks back then, and what keeps us coming back. With the help of New York Times Magazine writer Marcela Valdes, we break down key elements of the flamenco tradition, like the hard-to-define magic of duende, and count out some of the diabolical rhythms that keep us dancing.  Songs Discussed Rosalía - Si Tú Supieras Compañero Rosalía - BAGDAD (Cap.7: Liturgia)  Rosalía - PIENSO EN TU MIRÁ (Cap.3: Celos) Episode Spotify Playlist: Read “Rosalía’s Incredible Journey from Flamenco to Megastardom” by Marcela Valdes: Watch Rosalía performing “Me quedo contigo”: More coverage of Rosalía from The FADER magazine: **A previous version of this episode claimed that Alicia Key's "Fallin'", Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man", "Marvin Gaye's "Here, My Dear" and Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" were all written in 3/4 time. That was in error, and we've edited the episode to reflect that. CORRECTION After airing this episode, listeners informed us that many Romani people consider the term “gypsy” to be antiquated, discriminatory and derogatory. We apologize for airing this this word in the episode, and will avoid its usage in all forgoing work. See the NOW foundation’s explanation for further detail: The “G” Word Isn’t for You: How “Gypsy” Erases Romani Women Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Last year, NPR Music ran an audacious headline: "Rihanna Is The 21st Century's Most Influential Musician." Millions and millions of fans the world over agree, and while we try to avoid overt expressions of pop favoritism, we think they’ve got a strong case. It’s for that reason and a dozen others that we were thrilled to welcome Gina Delvac of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend back to the show to discuss the legendary career of one Ms. Robyn Rihanna Fenty. As we all await her ninth studio album (R9), join us for a virtual* blunt-smoke-laced tour through the hit songs that defined her early sound, and a delectable deep dive into her most recent album, ANTI. *Zero blunts were enjoyed at the time of recording. Songs Discussed Rihanna - Pon de Replay Rihanna ft. Jay-Z - Umbrella Rihanna - What’s My Name Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris - We Found Love  Rihanna - Cheers (Drink to That) Rihanna - You Da One Rihanna - B*tch Better Have My Money Rihanna ft. Drake - Work Rihanna ft. SZA - Consideration Rihanna - Needed Me Check out Jenny Gathright's NPR article “Rihanna Is The 21st Century's Most Influential Musician” here: And find even more work from our wonderful contributors this week down below: Gina: Ivie: Zoe: Cate: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Anil Dash is obsessed with Prince. Since he’s the host of the tech podcast Function, he has a unique perspective on the Purple One’s complicated relationship with technology. Anil joins the show to break down the many ways that Prince predicted the sound and science of modern pop, from drum machines to online distribution to internet culture. We’ll discuss how Michael Jackson jacked Prince’s electronic experimentation for Thriller, why Prince liked to lurk in fan chat rooms, and how he found ways to change his sound without ever sacrificing his integrity. We’re only beginning to understand Prince’s legacy, but Anil takes us one step closer to fully appreciating the ahead-of-their-time talents of a once-in-a-century artist.  Songs featured: Prince - 1999 Kraftwerk - The Robots Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message The Human League - Don’t You Want Me Baby Prince - Little Red Corvette Michael Jackson - Thriller Santana ft. Rob Thomas - Smooth Prince ft. Eve - Hot Wit U Prince ft. Ani Difranco - Eye Love U, But Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore Prince - How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore Prince - Black Sweat Prince - THIS COULD BE US Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Men singing high is so ubiquitous in modern pop that we might take it granted, never pausing to ask: has it always been this way? Estelle Caswell, who makes the Emmy-winning Earworm series for Vox, decided to find out, and she stops by to share results from her painstaking study of male falsetto in pop music from 1958 to today. Some of her findings may surprise, like 1996 was the peak year for falsetto, Justin Timberlake doesn't sing as you high at might think, and falsetto has been around as long as pop itself.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
NPR's Sam Sanders stops by to break down the tracks that Switched On listeners have been loving. Swedish dancefloor confessionals, songs that stop time, the specificity of Lana Del Rey, and the awkwardness of descending fourths: it's all on the table in this freewheeling conversation of deep musical nerdiness. Songs DiscussedTove Lo ft Kylie Minogue - Really don’t like uCamila Cabello - LiarAce of Base - All That She WantsTyler the Creator - EARFQUAKETaylor Swift - Cruel SummerLana Del Rey, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus - Don’t Call Me AngelLana Del Rey - Happiness is a butterflyKing Princess - ProphetKim Petras - Hillside BoysIDK - PornoJai Paul - Str8 Outta MumbaiJai Paul - Genevieve (Unfinished)Many thanks to everyone who called in for this one: Amanda, Jackie, Melanie, Alec, Madeleine, John B, Steve, Courtney, Julia, Zach, Lee, Tara, Habbi, and of course - John from Baltimore. For more of Sam's great takes on culture, check out It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders.  CORRECTION: A version of this episode incorrectly stated that Jack Antonoff was a writer on the song "Lover." Taylor Swift was the sole credited songwriter on that song, while Jack Antonoff has a production credit on the piece. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dallas Taylor, host of the stellar sound design series Twenty Thousand Hertz, stops by to fill Nate in on the science and style of mastering: the subtle art that explains why Metallica had to re-release a controversial album, Kanye sounds so crisp, and why the best pop really pops.  Songs Discussed Lizzo - Juice Kanye West - Heartless Led Zeppelin - Stairway to heaven Pink Floyd - Money Daft Punk - Get Lucky Metallica - The Day That Never Comes DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper The Beatles - Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds Intrigued by mastering? Get your fix with the Twenty Thousand Hertz episode The [Compressed] History of Mastering. We are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jazz 1959

Jazz 1959


Charlie's out on parental leave, which means no one is here to stop Nate from going off the rails. And you know what means... JAZZ! As soon as dad left the room, Nate enlisted his favorite journalist, jazz and sports writer Natalie Weiner, to come on the show and discuss her incredible 1959 Project — a day-by-day chronicle of jazz during one of its most pivotal years. We listen to classic 1959 albums Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and Dave Brubeck's Take Out, discuss the complex legacy of Billie Holiday, and dig into some of the year's forgotten gems. Sixty years later, jazz is no longer the cultural juggernaut is once was — but it still has much to teach us about pop culture of the present. Playlist: •Miles Davis - So What •Dave Brubeck - Take Five •Billie Holiday - Blue Moon •Billie Holiday - Billie's Blues •Erykah Badu - On & On •Amy Winehouse - There Is No Greater Love •Muriel Roberts - Sleigh Ride •Terry Pollard - Laura •Willene Barton and her Trio - Rice Pudding Check out the 1959 and 2019 jazz cuts we're listening to. We are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The pace of new music releases these days is dizzying. Sometimes it’s like watching someone do a magic trick--we *swear* those songs weren’t there a second ago! But then, there they are, popping up in batches right out of thin air. Of course, behind each individual release sits months of decision-making by the artist: who to collaborate with and when, how to structure the musical product of that collaboration, what to call it, how to release it, when, and on what platform. The list is long, and each of those choices has a big impact on how we hear the song. The Verge’s Dani Deahl recently sat down with reigning Princess of Pop, Charli XCX, to discuss how she approaches those decisions, and how that approach is bucking long-established norms in popular music. In this special bonus episode of Switched on Pop, Dani rings up Charlie (not XCX) to recap that conversation and put Charli (XCX)’s artistry in context. Via Dani, we learn that for Charli collaboration is more than just an artistic choice; and release strategy is much more than a major label playbook. There’s a total freedom in the way Charli releases music, and we love it. Huge thanks to Dani for bringing us this peek into her world. Songs discussed:Charli XCX - Boom ClapCharli XCX, Christine and the Queens - GoneCharli XCX ft. Lizzo - Blame It On Your LoveLizzo - Truth HurtsCatch the rest of Dani’s conversation with both Charli/es in the newest episode of The Verge’s ‘Future of Music’ video series, We are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
For most parents, “Baby Shark” is the nightmare that will not end. Ever since the South Korean educational company Pinkfong released the song earlier this year, it’s almost impossible to avoid. The infectious children’s tune has more than 2.3 billion views on YouTube and made it onto the Billboard Top 40 list. So what makes this song so catchy and irresistible to children? And how do the rest of us cope with the unavoidable hit while keeping our sanity? Andrea Silenz, host of the parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time, and Charlie explore the phenomenon that is “Baby Shark. Songs DiscussedPinkfong - Baby SharkFrank Zappa - Baby SnakesStevie Wonder - Isn’t She Lovely Suzanne Vega - Tom’s DinerBaby Shark/ Tom’s Diner mashup “Baby Diner”The Weeknd - I Can’t Feel My FaceRadioheadPinkfong - The Penguin DancePinkfong - Lions in LoveDrake - God’s PlanMicheal Jackson - Billie JeanWhitney Houston - I Wanna Dance With SomebodyBruno Mars - Uptown FunkBeastie Boys - Brass MonkeyVanilla Ice - Ice Ice BabyJosh Groban - River The Beatles - All You Need Is LoveHarry Potter theme Raffi - Baby Beluga  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Comments (39)

Cristofer Dorante

buttcheeks bumping?? 🤣🤣🤣

Jan 15th

Owen Ball

how did Freddie Mercury not get a mention in an episode about falsetto? great show!

Nov 20th

Claudio Rodriguez Valdes


Nov 20th
Reply (1)


I wish they wouldn't have so many guests on. It's cool every now and then but it's a disruption to the formula of the show. Especially when the guests are just there to be interviewed, it's better when they are there to bring analysis like the latest Rihanna episode guest

Nov 2nd


I never thought I would see you guys cover K-Pop.

Jul 11th


"bragging about her songwriting prowess" oh my god give me a break she didn't produce the song!!

Jun 28th

Seluvaia Po'Uha

great song

Jun 5th

Byron Drake

It's like Pearl Jam got famous, then you get Days of the New and Stabbing Westward ect...

Jun 4th


to wit: fuck no

Jun 2nd

Tone Ravnå Bjørnstad

buuuut- the original of Don't Kill My Vibe by Norwegian young artist Sigrid is sooo much stronger vocally 😮! (+ she wrote the song)

May 12th

Steven G

I liked your comments and explanations. Looking very much forward to the next episodes. I think I can learn a lot about how music is created and what the magic behind the songs is.

May 5th

Whitney Rodden

Cool concept! Another great episode, guys.

Apr 2nd

Whitney Rodden

Post Malone journey LMAO

Mar 28th

Amanda Please

this discussion is so well done. They analyzed great angles with a really broad perspective. I think these guys are great at communicating and listening, especially when it comes deconstructing complex controversies in music and pop culture.

Mar 21st
Reply (2)

Eoin G

No NIN - Closer? For shame

Feb 28th

Dave Lawlis

A mere two songs from one decade does not a deep dive make. Anyway to sum it up, the music industry completely dropped the ball and failed to cash in on "alternative" music and college rock in the 1980s. Encouraged by Nirvana's popularity they basically went apeshit in the 90s, taking any act that wasn't quite mainstream and flinging them like so many turds at the wall in the hopes that some of them would stick.

Sep 20th

Julie McLaughlin

it's a clicky pen, with which she'll write your name. duhhh.

Aug 2nd

Sofia Zepeda

The episode on "The Deep" was amazing!

Jun 15th

Alexandra Maynard


Apr 18th

Ian McFarlin


Apr 13th
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