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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.
169 Episodes
The band 5 Seconds Of Summer have just released their fourth studio album, Calm. Lead vocalist Luke Hemmings and bassist Calum Hood join us to talk about some of Australia’s biggest hits. In the first half of our conversation we discuss the catchy rhythms and vocals in Tame Impala’s song “Borderline,” a song driven more by vibe than conventional structures. Then on side B, 5SOS break down their new single single “Wildflower” and its countless 80s references. One sound in particular, the “stab” or “orchestral hit” in "Wildflower's" chorus, truly evokes the 80s. The song’s producer, Rami Yacoub, had used the sound before on Britney Spears “Lucky,” as had 100s of other artists who first got their hands on this sample from an Australian inventor who forever changed the sound of music. Songs Discussed 5 Seconds Of Summer - Youngblood 5 Seconds Of Summer - Who Do You Love 5 Seconds Of Summer - Lie To Me (ft. Julia Michaels)  AC/DC - Highway To Hell Midnight Oil - Beds Are Burning  Tame Impala - Same Ol Mistakes  Tame Impala - Borderline Post Malone - Circles Slipknot - Before I Forget  Massive Attack - Teardrop  Tom Petty - Wildflowers 5 Seconds Of Summer - Wildflower  Fleet Foxes - Ragged Wood Cindy Lauper - Time After Time Oasis - Wonderwall INXS - Need You Tonight Talk Talk - It’s My Life Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants To Rule The World Enya - Orinoco Flow Stravinsky - Firebird Suite Afrika Bambaataa- Planet Rock Pet Shop Boys - Always On My Mind Britney Spears - Lucky  5 Seconds Of Summer - Red Desert  More Estelle Caswell’s Earworm Video on Peter Vogel’s Fairlight CMI and her playlist of Orchestral Hits Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Scandal and intrigue surround Joe Exotic, the central character of the new Netflix documentary Tiger King. Among the many bizarre traits of this zoo keeper, Exotic tries his hand at country music. Interspersed throughout the series, Joe sings about his love of big cats as well as his hatred for his nemesis in a gruesome murder ballad. But it turns out that amongst his many lies, Exotic’s country career may be yet another fabrication. Charlie speaks with journalist Robert Moor, host of the podcast Joe Exotic: Tiger King about who’s really behind the music.  Songs Discussed Joe Exotic - I Saw A Tiger Vince Johnson Band - He’s Loving You Jake Owen - Down To The Honkytonk  Lonestar - My Front Porch Looking In Joe Exotic - Here Kitty Kitty Spindrift - Speak To The Wind Johnny Cash - Long Black Veil Joe Exotic - This Is My Life George Straight - Living For The Night Sean Watkins - I Saw A Tiger More Robert Moor’s Twitter Thread on what Tiger King left out NY Mag: Tiger King Joe Exotic and His American Animals  Podcast: Joe Exotic: Tiger King Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
In the year 2000, D'Angelo released Voodoo—with some help from Questlove, Angie Stone, Raphael Saadiq, and a band of jazz veterans—an album that has cast a long shadow with its unique sound of stripped-down soul, Faith Pennick, who literally wrote the book on the record, joins to break how D'Angelo broke the "shiny suit" regime of R&B, explore how he conjured the spirits of J Dilla, Prince, and Roberta Flack, and consider how one video almost derailed his career. Check out D'Angelo's Voodoo by Faith Pennick, from Bloomsbury's 33 1/3 Series Songs discussed: D'Angelo - The Line, The Root, Spanish Joint, Chicken Grease, Untitled (How Does it Feel) Rev JC Burnett - Amazing Grace Prince - Kiss Justin Timberlake - Damn Girl Thundercat - Them Changes Slum Village - CB4 Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola - There Used to be a Nightclub There Roy Hargrove - Strasbourg / St. Denis Solange - Cranes in the Sky Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
With Nate’s birthday around the corner, it’s time to admit that our go-to birthday song is actually the worst to sing to someone. There are reasons both musicological and cultural why this wooden celebratory number needs to go, ranging from funereal rhythms to Wagnerian opera to the Wizard of Oz. Tune in to uncover the horror of “Happy Birthday” and consider some of the alternatives on offer, including a recent Anne-Marie hit that takes birthday wishes and turns them around 180º. Songs Discussed Frédéric Chopin - Piano Sonata No 2 in B-Flat Minor, III John Williams - The Imperial March Judy Garland - Over the Rainbow Richard Wagner - Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde The Beatles - Birthday Anne-Marie - Birthday Fetty Wap ft. Monty - Birthday Stevie Wonder - Happy Birthday Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Latin Trap megastar Bad Bunny may be best known to American audiences for his feature on Cardi B’s #1 “I Like It’, but the Puerto Rican native is known to music-lovers worldwide for more than just those few bars. Bunny started off as a student in Universidad de Puerto Rico studying audio visual communications. He was bagging groceries at a supermarket in PR when he posted his song ‘Diles’ on SoundCloud. That moody, 808-fueled track turned into a record deal, as well as huge feature opportunities with bigger acts like Becky G, and of course--Cardi. His newest project, YHLQMDLG (an acronym that stands for the Spanish translation of “I do what I want”) is currently smothering the Hot Latin Billboard Chart. The albums opening track, "Si Veo a Tu Mamá" had us listening to the origins of Bossa nova, and investigate how elevator music-sounding samples and overused chord progressions add up to latin trap magic for El Conejito Malo.  Special thanks to Bad Bunny super fan and listener Maita, for never giving up hope :) Songs discussed: Bad Bunny - Diles Becky G ft. Bad Bunny - Mayores Cardi B ft. Bad Bunny, J Balvin - I Like It Bad Bunny ft. Drake - MIA  Bad Bunny - Si Veo a tu Mamá Antônio Carlos Jobim - The Girl From Ipanema Bad Bunny - Soliá Bad Bunny ft. Kendo Kaponi, Arcangel - P FKN R Bad Bunny ft. Jowell & Randy, Nengo Flow - Safeara Missy Elliot - Get Ur Freak On Bad Bunny - <3 Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Gone are the days of a clear dividing line between “mainstream pop” and “conscious” music. Many of the world’s highest-grossing pop stars are climbing the charts with lyrics that seem to get right at the very weight of human existence. They’re tackling climate change, and drug addiction, crippling anxiety, inequality, sexism and racism. It’s a fascinating shift to witness. That’s why this week, we’re especially thrilled to be chatting with folk-pop duo Overcoats. JJ Mitchell and Hana Elion are known for otherworldly harmonies that sound more like a single voice diverging in two rather than the other way around. We discuss two singles off their new album “The Fight” (out now), and reflect on how seemingly small decisions about a song’s arrangement can make things like anxiety and microaggressions feel a bit easier to carry. Here’s a teaser quote from the episode that we’ll be thinking about for a while: “We often use repetition as a way of saying something until you believe it...that’s very true for this song as well. We’re singing ‘There’s a fire / There’s a fury’ feels apocalyptic. But the more you say ‘We’ll get through it’ and the more voices join in, it starts to feel true, and starts to feel hopeful.” SONGS DISCUSSED Overcoats - The Fool Overcoats - Fire & Fury The Supremes - Stop In The Name Of Love LCD Soundsystem - Watch The Tapes Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
This week, Charlie talks to Lauv, the singer, songwriter and producer behind unfailingly catchy tracks such as “Mean It” and “I Like Me Better.” Lauv’s a master at making the sad feel fun—masking themes of anxiety and betrayal with upbeat, percussive production. He even does a bit of the opposite, too, by infusing his joyful songs with vulnerability and emotional complexity. You’ll soon be able to hear all of that and more on his debut studio album, ~how I’m feeling~, out later this week. Our conversation explores Lauv’s song-making process and touches on everything from T Swift (Lauv counts himself a fan), “mind” rhymes, and the particular nuances of loneliness in the internet age. Today’s episode also features the voices of some of our wonderful listeners--special thanks to Katy, Sadie, Robert, Genevieve, Keen and everyone else who wrote in with questions for Lauv. Songs Discussed: Lauv with Anne-Marie - fuck, i'm lonely Lauv & LANY - Mean It Lauv - I Like Me Better Lauv & Troye Sivan - i’m so tired... Lauv - Changes Lauv - Modern Loneliness Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
When Bristol-based producer Laxcity logged onto Twitter to find out that Justin Bieber sampled his music, he was at first unphased. The sampled material came from a royalty-free sample pack on, free for Splice users to add to their track. Then accusations of theft started rolling in. Another artist, Asher Monroe, had used the same sample just a few weeks earlier and he accused Bieber of copying the idea. Laxcity inserted himself into the argument to show that the so-called offending sound, was in fact his, but not limited to anyone’s use. This mixup led to Bieber shouting out Laxcity, giving the nascent producer a career boost. On his episode we speak with Laxcity, Splice CEO Steve Martocci, PEX COO Amadea Choplin and Verge reporter Dani Deahl (who first reported the story) to unpack how sampling works in today’s music. Then we hear how Beiber’s new album, “Changes,” interprets the sample to convey Bieber’s personal evolution in the public eye. Songs Discussed Laxcity - Good Morning (Splice Sample) Asher Monroe - Synergy Justin Bieber - Running Over, Sorry, Available, Yummy, Intentions Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
In 2019 guitar made a comeback in the top 10. According to analysis from Hit Songs Deconstructed, about a third of all songs featured the electric guitar, a nearly 10% jump from the year before. In 2020 this trend isn’t stopping. Recent releases by Halsey, 5 Seconds of Summer and Joji all prominently feature electric guitars tones. They reference 90s nu-metal, grunge and metal genres. More than a nostalgic nod, these songs draw from an era that was self-consciously “alternative” to convey disaffection, frustration and longing. SONGS DISCUSSED Khalid, Normani - Love Lies Juice WRLD - Lucid Dreams Halsey - Without Me Joji - Slow Dancing In The Dark Joji - Run Metallica - Enter Sandman Santo & Jonny - Sleep Walk Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode Buddy Holly - That’ll Be The Day LCD Soundsystem - Losing My Edge 5 Seconds Of Summer - No Shame Nirvana - Come As You Are Halsey - Experiment On Me Rage Against The Machine - Bulls On Parade Limp Bizkit - Break Stuff MORE Listen to our conversation about MIA’s “Paper Planes” and Drake’s “God’s Plan” with Sam Sanders on NPR’s It’s Been A Minute Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Selena Gomez has her first #1 song on the Hot 100. “Lose You To Love Me” is a confessional look at her past five years of heartbreak and health challenges. By contrast, her single “Look At Her Now” is a testament to moving on and moving up. Each of these songs inhabits a different musical and lyrical world and we were lucky to get to speak with her collaborators on the songs to take us behind the scenes of how they came to be. Justin Tranter and Ian Kirkpatrick are two of today’s most in-demand writers. They walk us through how Selena takes her personal emotions and translates them into public catharsis on her album “Rare.” Songs Discussed Selena Gomez - Vulnerable, Lose You To Love Me, Look At Her Now Crash Test Dummies - Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmmm Dua Lipa - New Rules More Watch Selena Gomez interviewed by Zane Lowe on Beats One. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The boy band One Direction has been on hiatus for nearly five years, yet only now have all of the members of the group released a solo album. But how do these efforts from Niall, Liam, Harry, Louis and Zayn stack up? Vox Writer (and One Direction fan) Alexa Lee compares albums as a challenge for each member to rise to their greatest artistic potential. SONGS DISCUSSED Zayn - Let Me Zayn - Entertainer Niall Horan - Nice To Meet You Niall Horan - Put A Little Love On Me Liam Payne - Strip That Down Liam Payne - Hips Don't Lie Louis Tomlinson - Walls Louis Tomlinson - Kill My Mind Harry Styles - Adore You Harry Styles - Watermelon Sugar Harry Styles - Cherry MORE Read Alexa’s piece “2 winners and 3 losers from One Direction’s solo albums” Listen to Nate convince Charlie to love One Direction in an early episode of Switched On Pop Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Post Malone has confounded your hosts since he emerged on the scene, so this week we sit down to try and get to the bottom of our cycles of attraction and repulsion through deep analysis of his current hit, "Circles." Along the way, we discuss trenchant questions such as: How is the minor IV always the saddest of all chords? Why does Posty tend to sound like a certain ruminant mammal? And, what happens when you plug Tchaikovsky into a Wu Tang name generator? Songs Discussed: Post Malone - Circles, Rockstar, Stay, Congratulations, Candy Paint, Fleetwood Mac - Landslide Tchaikovsky - Symphony No 6, Finale And don't forget to enter the Wu Tang Name Generator Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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 - I Will Survive 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
Comments (42)

Yasmine C

Kaleidoscopic pop, keyboard pop, korporate pop, Korean pop... what a great introduction to kpop.

Feb 17th


nice podcast

Feb 13th

Whitney Rodden

Another great episode.

Feb 5th

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
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