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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.
133 Episodes
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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 DiscussedChance The Rapper - Hot ShowerChance The Rapper - I Got YouSam Cooke - You Send MeElvis Presley - Crying In the ChapelThe Temptations - I Can’t Get Next To YouMtume - Juicy FruitBiggie - JuicyToni Braxton - Breath AgainJanet Jackson - That’s The Way Love GoesBoys II Men - I’ll Make Love To YouLauryn Hill - Doo Wop (That Thing)Diddy - I’ll Be Missing You (feat. Faith Evans & 112)Nelly - DilemmaKehlani - DistractionSWV - WeakAaron Hall - I Miss YouUsher - You Make Me WannaBrandy - Sittin' Up In My RoomDru Hill - In My BedSilk - Freak MeDemi Lovato - Sorry Not SorryJodeci - Cry For youMariah Carey - Vision of LoveKehlani - Everything Is YoursChance The Rapper - All Day LongQueen - Fat Bottom GirlsDiana Ross - I’m Coming OutFor an in depth history of R&B on Billboard, read Chris Molanphy's feature on Pitchfork.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
For the live action remake of the Lion King, Beyoncé, (who voices Nala in the film), recorded and curated a companion soundtrack called The Gift. She worked with leading Afropop stars to expose the music of the continent to a global audience. In her piece, “Diversity Is in the Details: What Beyoncé’s 'The Lion King: The Gift' Gets Right and Wrong,” Okayplayer music editor Ivie Ani argues that the album highlights music while unintentionally treating the continent as a monolith. Ani joins Switched On Pop to break down this album and what it means for Afropop. Songs DiscussedBeyoncé, Jay-Z, Childish Gambino, Oumou Sangaré – MOOD 4 EVAOumou Sangaré – Diaraby NenBurna Boy – JA ARAFela Kuti – Water No Get EnemyFena, MDQ, Mayonde, Kagwe, Blinky Bill – PARTY NATIONListen to Blinky and Ivie’s East African playlist recommendationsLeave us a voicemail about your favorite songs of summer: 385-626-6179Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Why is it that every hip restaurant plays the same music? When Eater restaurant editor Hillary Dixler Canavan kept hearing similar songs while dining for work assignments, she compiled a playlist of what she heard. It included songs by LCD Soundsystem, M83, Grimes, Biggie, Beck and the like. Her subsequent article about this music, “This Is Every Generically Cool Restaurant’s Playlist,” went viral. She’d captured the elusive sound of small plate dining. But what left her guessing was why this sound? And how did it reach so many restaurants in cities across the U.S.? She brought this question to Switched On Pop to understand why this 00s mostly indie sound was the ideal background for post-industrial chic establishments. Investigating the issue, she discovered a small bubble of music selectors who curate these lists for businesses. She spoke with Yvette Bailhache, a D.C. based music selector for restaurants and bars about how these lists are made. And she asked Jonathan Shecter, founder of the Las Vegas based background music service Playback Prodigy, about what makes an ideal background sound. What she discovered is surprising. The sounds in the background may dictate more of our foreground than you’d expect. Music DiscussedLCD Soundsystem - I Can ChangeM83 - Midnight City Grimes - GenesisIce Cube - It Was A Good DayWu-Tang Clean - CREAMThis Will Destroy You - KitchenListen to Hillary’s Every Restaurant Playlist and for more stories and news on food, subscribe to Eater's podcast UpsellLearn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Lil Nas X licensed the beat for “Old Town Road” from an e-commerce platform. He originally bought a non-exclusive copy of the backing track for just $29.99 from a 19 year old Dutch record producer called YoungKio. And he’s not the first hitmaker to do so. Desiigner, Bryson Tiller and Queen Naija have all made hit songs from internet beats. These beats are big business. The arguable market leader, BeatStars, has paid its producers over $50M since its inception in 2008. The platform allows producers to market their beats to MCs and singers, boasting 340,000 active sellers and 1.5M tracks. BeatStars CEO Abe Batshon originally created the company to connect artists who may not live in the music industry hubs in L.A., N.Y., Nashville and Atlanta. His global ambitions were realized—producers on the platform come from all over the world. They release a steady stream of new music, marketing their original and sound-a-like beats to aspiring and emerging artists everywhere turning into ad music, Instagram stories and even Billboard Hot 100 hits. While BeatStars increases access to music, could this commoditization of music devalue the creative process? We speak with Abe as well as producers on the platform—songwriter Breana Marin and producer Dansonn—to understand how online beat selling is effecting the sound of pop music. Music Discussed:Lil Nas X - Old Town RoadBryson Tiller - Don’tYBN Nahmir - Rubbin off the PaintDesiigner - Panda’Queen Naija - MedicineCERTIBEATS - MojoBEATDEMONS - NohoBrytiago ft Bad Bunny - NETFLIXXXBreana Marin’s BeatStars pageDansonn’s BeatStars pageListen to “Bouncing On The Band Stand” by Marian Hill’s Jeremy Loyd (Clear Eyes) and Charlie (Charlatan). You can even license it for $29.99 for your own production. Vote for Switched On Pop in this year's People's Choice Podcast Awards!Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Shawn Mendes’ hit song “If I Can’t Have You” is so ridiculously catchy that Charlie had it stuck in his head after the first chorus. How is that possible?! Declamation, or the way that text is set to music, is a big part of the song’s appeal—every word that Mendes sings is perfectly in rhythm. In this episode we use Mendes’ latest track to explore creative declamation throughout history. How do artists from Whitney Houston to Queen to Taylor Swift keep finding new ways to sing the word “somebody”? Why did the composer Georg Friedrich Handel get in trouble for a bit of awkward text setting in one of the most famous pieces of Baroque music? And, does Beyoncé even know how to pronounce “sandcastles”? Finally, Mendes’ hit leads us to ask: is “incorrect” declamation is something to celebrate, or criticize?Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Find out how music creates a feeling of space in this three part episode. First, we may not realize it when we listen to Madonna's new record, but the location of her music is essential. In exploring her catalogue we hear the sound of different eras by just the space evoked in a song. Second, the same is true for Stephen Puth who uses spacial effects for brilliant creative purposes on his song "Look Away." When music is recorded in a studio with perfect acoustics, engineers manipulate that audio to place it in a 3D virtual space using reverb, delay, volume, panning and filters. Each of those effects changes our relationship to the music, and in Steven's case, the lyric. Finally, when we get outside the studio, like with Found Sound Nation and Make Music Day's “Street Studios”, music can echo the geography it is made in. Take this wild journey with us and truly expand your listening. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
How should we listen to K-pop? This music has become a global phenomenon, charting on the Billboard Hot 100, taking over social media feeds, and touring the world. In particular, the group BTS has captured the ears of millions, building an Army of fans along the way. As uninitiated listeners, the language and culture barrier left us uncertain about how to approach listening to, let alone breaking down their music. So we sought out the support of Dr, Suk-Young Kim, Professor of Critical Studies and the Director of the Center for Performance Studies at UCLA, and KCON's Vanessa Augsbach. Dr. Kim's research on K-pop helps to expand our ears and understand the genre's history and aesthetics, while Augsbach helps us better appreciate the fandom. Applying their insights, we listen to "Boy With Luv" as a  first foray into the wonders of K-pop. Read Dr. Kim's book K-pop Live: Fans Idols, and Multimedia Performance, Watch Vox's Netflix series Explained on the history of K-popLearn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Fans are not happy with Will Smith's update of the classic Disney song "Prince Ali" in the live-action Aladdin. Their complaint? The new "Prince Ali" is slow, sluggish, and dull. Indeed, the Smith version is 8 BPM (beats per minute) slower than Robin Williams's 1992 original—a subtle musical detail. We dig into the properties of tempo and key to understand why people have such a visceral reaction to a relatively small change and consider whether it suggests that we—meaning all of us humans, from musicians to amateurs—are more musically literate than we think.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Nice Try! is a new podcast from Curbed and the Vox Media Podcast Network that explores stories of people who have tried to design a better world, and what happens when those designs don't go according to plan. Season one, Utopian, follows Avery Trufelman on her quest to understand the perpetual search for the perfect place. Enjoy this special preview of the first episode, Jamestown: Utopian for Whom, and subscribe to Nice Try! for free in your favorite podcast app.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Ever notice that wobbly, drunken and underwater sound common in so many contemporary pop songs? In an era of pristine recording quality, music producers are referencing old and impure technologies to add character to their recordings. Digital cassette hiss, tape wobble, and vinyl crackle are intentionally added to productions as a facsimile of "authentic" recording technology. Why the sudden nostalgia? Where does this underwater sound come from? What does it mean? How is it made? Find out on a live episode of Switched On Pop, recorded at Recode's annual Code conference with guest host Estelle Caswell, creator of Vox's Earworm video series. Listen to Estelle's Spotify playlist of underwater intros. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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Comments (15)

cbeautyam

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

Jul 11th
Reply

tbh

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

Jun 28th
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Seluvaia Po'Uha

great song

Jun 5th
Reply

Byron Drake

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

Jun 4th
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mattters

to wit: fuck no

Jun 2nd
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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
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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
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Whitney Rodden

Cool concept! Another great episode, guys.

Apr 2nd
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Whitney Rodden

Post Malone journey LMAO

Mar 28th
Reply

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
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Whitney Rodden

Amanda Please Well said. I agree completely!

Apr 3rd
Reply

Eoin G

No NIN - Closer? For shame

Feb 28th
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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
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Julie McLaughlin

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

Aug 2nd
Reply

Sofia Zepeda

The episode on "The Deep" was amazing!

Jun 15th
Reply
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