The best thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them while you’re doing other things: Washing dishes, going for a run, coloring, and especially, driving. But there are so many podcasts these days that it’s simply impossible to keep up. New ones are debuting all the time, and it’s hard to know whether they deserve a spot in your feed.
Every week, we highlight new and returning podcasts we couldn’t put down. Whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest or you’re just dipping your toe into the vast ocean of podcasts, we’ll find you something worth listening to. This week, we’ve got podcasts about spies, linguistics, humanity’s future, Beyoncé, and astrology.
Imagine you’re on your way to work, waiting to cross the street. A man sidles up to you and says, “Get out of the country or you’re dead.” That’s spy life.
It’s not just in the movies, either. Jack Barsky, a former KGB agent, tells the tale in the second episode of I Spy, a podcast from Foreign Policy magazine. In the first episode, CIA agent Jonna Mendez discusses her amazing job with one of the coolest titles of all time: Chief of disguise. Not only is the subject matter fascinating, the show is hosted by Margo Martindale, who, as an actor on The Americans, knows a thing or two about spies.
When a Massachusetts Democrat proposed a bill that would “make it a crime to maliciously call someone a ‘bitch,’” Aaron Paul tweeted, “Ummmm … what if it’s in a nice way?? Asking for a friend.” That word, of course, was the catchphrase of his Breaking Bad character, Jesse Pinkman. You might call it his lodestar.
Lodestar is an uncommon word beloved by Vice President Mike Pence, so it raised eyebrows when it popped up in an anonymous New York Times op-ed a year ago. Anonymous is back in the news with a book, and Kavita Pillay, who co-hosts Subtitle with Patrick Cox, wonders if it’s not so much a tell as a red herring. The first episode is a fascinating explainer about forensic linguists, including Robert A. Leonard, whose resume includes singing for Sha Na Na, teaching at Hofstra University, and assisting detectives in murder cases.
Recently, I watched The Society on Netflix, because, based solely on its name I thought it was going to be like The Skulls. It’s nothing like The Skulls. Instead, a group of teens finds themselves in a Lord of the Flies-type situation when their town is suddenly, mysteriously cut off from the world, sans parents. They have to figure out how to function as a civilization, without the internet.
The apocalypse is where Life Cycle begins. Hosts John Holten and Eva Kelley talk to philosophy professors, Ph.D. candidates, and other experts about the future of humanity and the many directions it could take. I don’t normally recommend podcasts from brands (this one is from Klang Games), but the first episode tied together William Butler Yeats, Erwin Schrödinger, and Immanuel Kant, and I was hooked.
In October, Mathew Knowles announced a forthcoming album from Girls Tyme. That’s not a new group; three of the members went on to form Destiny’s Child. Mathew Knowles is, of course, Beyoncé’s father.
He’s a big presence in the first episode of Making Beyoncé, a three-part podcast that explains how a young girl from Houston became a megastar. Host Jill Hopkins also talks to Beyoncé’s former dance teacher and Ashley Davis, an erstwhile member of Girls Tyme. The group’s producers thought that even at 9 years old, Beyoncé had a star quality that made her a natural lead for the group. Already, she was Sasha Fierce on stage, even if she was otherwise shy.
In middle school, my science fair project was about tracking the accuracy of horoscopes by asking my classmates how much had come true on a daily basis. As a terrible scientist, I wasn’t rigorous in my data collection and ended up making up a bunch of random stats. I feel very guilty about this now, though I’m not sure the results would’ve been much different if I’d actually properly conducted the experiment.
Astrology is everywhere these days, but I don’t think I’d heard about anything like Jess Abbott’s take on it until I listened to Astro Blast. She hosts it with Chris Farren, who knows nothing about the subject. Abbott studies psychological astrology, and for her that means using a birth chart to examine who you are and the choices you make. She’s less interested in how celestial bodies influence your current events and more focused on how you’re reacting to what’s happening. Both Abbott and Farren are musicians, as is producer Jenny Owen Youngs. In relation to their star charts, Abbott asks three probing questions to fellow musicians, like Mike Kinsella and Kevin Devine: What is your purpose, what makes you feel safe, and what fictional character do you aspire to be like.
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