Switched on Pop

Vulture

A podcast all about the making and meaning of popular music. Musicologist Nate Sloan & songwriter Charlie Harding pull back the curtain on how pop hits work magic on our ears & our culture. From Vulture and the Vox Media Podcast Network.

Elvis, Big Mama Thornton, Doja Cat, and the Long Legacy of “Hound Dog”
26-07-2022
Elvis, Big Mama Thornton, Doja Cat, and the Long Legacy of “Hound Dog”
Baz Luhrmann’s hit box office hit biopic Elvis has spurred new interest in the music of The King. Elvis Presley’s streaming subscribers has grown by two million listeners on Spotify since the film’s release according to ChartMetric, and if you’re hearing a lot more “Hound Dog” these days, it might be partially due to the success of Doja Cat’s hit song “Vegas,” which updates – and interpolates – the song for contemporary listeners.  Doja Cat’s version samples from the original 1953 “Hound Dog,” sung by Big Mama Thornton and written by acclaimed songwriter team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (whose credits also include Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”). The original is a sauntering blues song with a raunchy tale about a two timing man; Presley, who is frequently said to have stolen the song from Thorton, instead sings a tepid lyric about an actual dog, and radically changes the groove.  But in an interview with Rolling Stone, Stoller says Presley didn’t steal the song at all. Rather, he adapted one of many covers of the song, specifically the version performed by the Las Vegas lounge act Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. Their “Hound Dog” borrows its upbeat rhythm from a song responding to the original “Hound Dog,” titled “Bear Cat.” It’s a similar rhythm to the one we hear on the contemporary Doja Cat version, “Vegas,” which heavily features samples of Thornton’s original vocals: listening closely reveals a song that synthesizes a complicated music history by uniting the best parts of the many versions of “Hound Dog.”  Listen to the latest episode of Switched On Pop and uncover the long legacy of “Hound Dog.” Songs Discussed Big Mama Thorton - Hound Dog Elvis - Hound Dog Doja Cat - Vegas Esther Phillips - Hound Dog Jack Turner - Hound Dog Rufus Thomas - Bear Cat Freddie Bell and the Bellboys T.L.C. - No Scrubs Sporty Thievz - No Pigeons  W.C. Handy - St. Louis Blues Duke Ellington - Conga brava Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Didn’t It Rain Fats Domino - Mardi Gras in New Orleans Dave Bartholomew - Country Boy Little Richard - Slipping’ And Sliding’ Jack Harlow - Dua Lipa Future - Puffin on Zootiez Hitkidd, Gorilla - F.N.F. (Let’s Go) Bad Bunny - Después de la Playa Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
We Won’t Go Back: Pop Music and the Fight For Reproductive Rights (w MILCK and Ann Powers)
19-07-2022
We Won’t Go Back: Pop Music and the Fight For Reproductive Rights (w MILCK and Ann Powers)
On June 24th 2022 the Supreme Court decided Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v Wade and asserting that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion. The decision marked a seismic moment in politics and culture that has affected everyone’s lives, and the world of pop music is no exception. Musicians started responding immediately, from Cher to Olivia Rodrigo: on social media, at their shows, and in their music. Critic Ann Powers has been chronicling the reactions in a running list at NPR, and she joins in the second half of the episode to talk about the long history of artists speaking out—and singing—about reproductive rights.  One artist who wasted no time responding to the Dobbs decision is the singer and songwriter Connie Lim, aka MILCK. Her song “We Won’t Go Back,” composed with Biianco, Autumn Rowe, and Ani DeFranco, came about after Politico published an article in May with the leaked draft of the Dobbs decision, telling the world in no uncertain terms that the Supreme Court was considering striking down Roe. MILCK found herself protesting in D.C., this time with her camera ready. The chants she heard there became the first sonic element of “We Won’t Go Back.” Songs Discussed MILCK, Biianco, Autumn Rowe, Ani DeFranco - We Won’t Go Back MILCK - Quiet Ani DeFranco - Play God  Poison Girls - Mandy Is Having a Baby Cyndi Lauper - Sally’s Pigeons Leslie Gore - You Don’t Own Me Robyn - Giving You Back Joni Mitchell - Little Green L7 - Pretend We’re Dead Everlast - What It’s Like Madonna - Papa Don’t Preach Lauryn Hill - To Zion Megan Thee Stallion - Plan B We need your help. We are conducting a short audience survey to help plan for our future and hear from you. To participate, head to vox.com/podsurvey, and thank you! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Harry Styles and the Sledgehammer Horns
12-07-2022
Harry Styles and the Sledgehammer Horns
As we hit the dog days of summer, the artist that’s started to soundtrack pool parties across the country is former One Direction bandmate and contemporary sex symbol Harry Styles. In May, Styles released Harry’s House, an album propelled by the number one hit “As It Was.” Despite having critical and commercial success, a barb often thrown at the album is the idea of it being inoffensive: pleasant, “easy listening” music apt for an elevator, grocery store or, perhaps, a sushi restaurant.  Fans of Styles have warmly accepted this, and have come to love his sly appreciation of different decades of pop music history. This latest album reveals an interesting connection to one era in particular: the 1980s and the percussive, full-bodied horn sections that came with it.  The first track on Harry’s House, “Music for a Sushi Restaurant,” offers a whole chorus of just horns, in an homage to one of Styles’s musical touchstones, Peter Gabriel. These 80s “sledgehammer horns” connect to a deep well of 80s grooves—from Lionel Richie's "Up All Night" to Janet Jackson and Herb Alpert's "Diamonds," —as Styles's strives to achieve the same effortless funk and propulsion of his brassy icons. MORE Sledgehammer Horns playlist Every Olivia Wilde reference Vulture found on Harry’s House   Songs Discussed Harry Styles - As It Was, Music for a Sushi Restaurant, Daydreaming Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer Lionel Richie - Up All Night Donna Summer - She Works Hard for the Money Sheila E. - The Glamorous Life Steve Winwood - Higher Love Janet Jackson and Herb Alpert - Diamonds Herb Alpert - Rise Notorious B.I.G. - Hypnotize  We need your help. We are conducting a short audience survey to help plan for our future and hear from you. To participate, head to vox.com/podsurvey, and thank you! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Beyoncé's House
28-06-2022
Beyoncé's House
The world stops with a Beyoncé drop. On Monday, June 20th, our prayers were answered with “Break My Soul,” the lead single off of her upcoming album, Renaissance. The song draws from several places of inspiration: lyrically, it’s a cathartic dance-floor ode to liberation, soundtracking the current cultural moment that some have called the “Great Resignation.” Sonically, though, “Break My Soul” is Beyoncé’s foray into house music – a genre that the chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, Jason King, summarizes as “a highly rhythmic dance music created by mostly Black and brown artists in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” propelled by a fanbase of queer and trans communities of color. There’s been an undeniable buzz that Beyoncé is “bringing house music back.” And from Charli XCX to Drake, it does feel like house music is currently having a moment in mainstream pop music, paralleling the original rise of the subculture from the ruins of disco. But the genre “has always been here,” in King’s words, and has decades of history. In this episode of Switched On Pop, we unpack house music – and how Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” fits into the genre.   Songs Discussed Beyoncé - “BREAK MY SOUL” Beyoncé - “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” Drake - “Falling Back” Thelma Houston - “Don’t Leave Me This Way” Robin S - “Show Me Love” Bob Sinclair, Steve Edwards - “World Hold On (Children of the sky)” Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj - “Swish Swish” Charli XCX - “Used To Know Me” Livin’ Joy - “Don’t Stop Movin’” Mr. Fingers - “Can You Feel It” Madonna - “Vogue” Black Box - “Ride on Time” CeCe Peniston - “Finally” Aqua - “Barbie Girl” Big Freedia - “Explode” Beyoncé - “Formation” Drake - “Nice For What” Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers - “Get Lucky” Destiny’s Child - “Say My Name - Maurice’s Last Days Of Disco Millennium Mix” Beyoncè - “FIND YOUR WAY BACK” Madonna - “Deeper and Deeper” Janet Jackson - “Together Again” C & C Music Factory - “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)”  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Kate Bush, Stranger Things, and a hit song four decades in the making
14-06-2022
Kate Bush, Stranger Things, and a hit song four decades in the making
Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” enters the latest season of Stranger Things during a brooding high-school hallway scene right out of the John Hughes playbook, and it has since bounded up the charts, hitting No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and performing better now than when it peaked at No. 30 upon release. Stranger Things, whose latest season has logged more viewer minutes for Netflix than any other English-language release to date, has leaned heavily on ’80s nostalgia since its premiere in 2016: Its iconic theme song is reminiscent of John Carpenter B-movies, and, in an email, used-instrument resale site Reverb.com tells us the show has boosted interest in analog synthesizers. “Running Up That Hill,” then, is a natural fit for the show, and it plays a pivotal, spoiler-ridden plot point in the show, requiring us to hear the hook multiple times throughout the season — a perfect earworm. But its success is owed to more than just repetition. It waffles between major and minor, and the show’s composers, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, told Switched on Pop that both it and the rest of the Stranger Things score have “moments of darkness and lightness in it, constantly trading places.” Plus, they’re composed from the same set of instruments: classic synthesizers and drum machines like the LinnDrum. The song is part and parcel with the soundtrack itself: “There’s these little melodies that we always refer to as ‘And then the Kate Bush part comes in,’” Dixon says. Listen to Switched On Pop to hear how Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” is an exquisite song placement and hear how it blends seamlessly with the Stranger Things soundtrack. MORE Check out Reverb Machine’s sounds of Kate Bush Reverb.com made a tutorial on the synth sounds of Stranger Things The story of the Kate Bush renaissance from The Ringer Songs Discussed Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - Stranger Things Kate Bush - Running Up That Hill Dead Or Alive - You Spin Me Round Talking Heads - Psycho Killer Musical Youth - Pass the Dutchie  Carly Rae Jepsen - Cut To The Feeling The Weeknd - Blinding Lights  Prince - When Doves Cry Phil Collins - Sussudio Tangerine Dream - Sorcerer Theme Song John Carpenter - Night S U R V I V E - A.H.B. S U R V I V E - High Rise  Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - Eggo in the Snow Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - She Wants Me to Find Her Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - Starcourt Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - Eight Fifteen Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - Boys and Girls Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - The Ceiling is Beautiful Kate Bush - Waking the Witch Kate Bush - Hammer Horror Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
So your song went viral on TikTok. What’s next?
07-06-2022
So your song went viral on TikTok. What’s next?
On TikTok, pop stars — Halsey, FKA Twigs, and Florence Welch among them — have been complaining a lot lately about their labels forcing them to make TikToks. As people spent the early part of the pandemic staring at their phones instead of flocking to concerts, the short-form-video social-media platform upended music discovery. In many cases, it gave unknown musicians a pathway to enormous audiences and allowed them to burst into the mainstream on the backs of their TikTok hits. It’s a story as old as the music industry itself: No-name musician gets big overnight and lands a record deal. But until recently, it’s been hard to say just how big and how overnight, so Estelle Caswell from Vox and Matt Daniels from The Pudding spent seven months manually compiling and interrogating the data of who went viral, who got signed, and whose careers dropped off. Their resulting short documentary, We Tracked What Happens After TikTok Songs Go Viral, is a definitive dive into the 2020 class of viral TikTok stars. Although the platform is clearly a dominant force in new-music discovery, they found that streaming music is still overwhelmingly dominated by legacy artists. And since these established acts are now competing for the same eyeballs as their lesser-known colleagues on TikTok, it’s getting harder and harder for the latter to break out. So what happens after you go viral on TikTok? Listen to Switched On Pop to find out. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
The New Alternative
26-04-2022
The New Alternative
Last month, Nirvana entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time in nearly two decades — only their fifth time in history — thanks to a comic-book movie. The band’s 1991 track “Something in the Way” was heavily featured in The Batman, whose director, Matt Reeves, said Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain inspired Robert Pattinson’s brooding performance as the caped crusader. Plus, Cobain’s music influenced the film’s score: Michael Giacchino references the dirge-like chords of “Something in the Way,” borrowed from Chopin’s famous funeral march, throughout The Batman’s soundtrack. While these musical motifs obviously pair well with the inner turmoil of a fledgling Batman, the sound is part of a larger revival of “alternative” music. The DIY aesthetic of ’90s alternative, heard in the music of young stars like Olivia Rodrigo and Willow, is a pendulum swing from electronic-laden sounds of the last decade. And the genre’s anti-corporate perspective, which developed out of the excesses of the ’80s, is a fitting backdrop to contemporary activist attitudes. From the nostalgia of Beabadoobee, to the post-rock sounds of Wet Leg, to the industrial sonics of Halsey’s latest project, new artists are using alternative’s old sounds to shape the sound of contemporary pop. On the latest episode of Switched on Pop, Nate and Charlie scan the alternative radio and streaming charts for standout songs that trace this umbrella genre’s myriad sounds and influences. More Read Justin Curto's article 2021 Killed the Myth that Rock Ever Died Songs Discussed (playlist) Nirvana - Something In The Way, Heart-Shaped Box Frédéric Chopin, Leif Ove Andsnes - Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 35 “Funeral March” Michael Giacchino - Can’t Fight City Hallowwen Beabadoobee - Care Hole - Celebrity Skin Tracy Bonham - Mother Mother Wheatus - Teenage Dirtbag Blink-182 - I Miss You Wet Leg - Chaise Longue The Slits - Typical Girls Halsey - I am not a woman, I’m a god Nine Inch Nails - Closer Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - Intriguing Possibilites Machine Gun Kelly, Lil Wayne - ay! Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj - Knockout Willow ft. Siickbrain - PURGE Evanescence - Bring Me To Life Deftones - My Own Summer (Shove It) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Jump-starting the creative process with Allison Ponthier
19-04-2022
Jump-starting the creative process with Allison Ponthier
Allison Ponthier knows the hardest part of making anything is getting started. When she was young, she “always wanted to write songs,” fanatically scribbling rhymes in a diary, but gave it up — the prevailing narratives of natural talent, artistic genius, and spontaneous inspiration put the brakes on her songwriting aspirations. She didn’t pick it up again until she turned 19: “It just took me that long to build the confidence.” Now, after a short stint in jazz school, a scholarly approach to YouTube song tutorials, and consistent writing practice, the 26-year-old Ponthier has crafted a songwriting method that reliably turns the mundane into the profound. Her 2021 EP Faking My Own Death shows the hand of a seasoned artist, with lyrics that mine her personal life for unexpected twists and turns. (“It took New York to make me a cowboy,” says the Texas-born, New York–based singer on “Cowboy.”) It helps that she has the backing of songwriting heavyweights such as recent collaborators Lord Huron, Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, and Ethan Gruska (whose productions with Phoebe Bridgers soundtracked the pandemic). To provide a closer look at her process, Ponthier gave us a tour of her songwriting notebook — but not before noting that “no one looks at this, by the way.” The details it contained on the making of her single “Autopilot” is a master class for anyone looking to break through creative barriers. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
A Higher Power Ballad
12-04-2022
A Higher Power Ballad
The recorded version of Justin Bieber’s “Peaches” opens with a full-blast chorus alongside driving percussion and ringing guitars. But when he performed the song at this year’s Grammys, the song’s instrumentation was stripped down, with Bieber alone at a grand piano, crooning into the mic. Slowly, a band built up, and in came guest verses from Daniel Caesar and Giveon between seven repetitions of the chorus. Each time the chorus returned, the band got louder, the music pointing upward until a high-flying synth solo closed the song. It may have been a surprisingly churchy arrangement of Bieber’s hit, but it was the same sort of slow climb heard earlier in the night when Maverick City Music, the first Christian group to perform at the Grammys in 20 years, gave an uplifting performance of their song “Jireh,” off their award winning album Old Church Basement.  In the church tradition, the slow build is a common feature, beginning as a quiet prayer that expands outward as more voices join in. Naomi Raine, one of Maverick City Music’s members, describes this kind of slow build as a “common and underlying structure” that feels “supernatural and spiritual.” But it’s clearly not restricted to the church. “We are called to blur the lines as far as what is Christian and what is gospel — those two have been segregated for too long,” says the group’s leader, Chandler Moore. The expansiveness of the music is represented in Maverick City Music’s diverse makeup. The seven core members invite dozens of songwriters from countless backgrounds to songwriting camps to explore the traditions constraining boundaries. Having only started putting out music in 2019, Maverick City Music has since released more than 17 combined LPs and EPs in multiple genres, including worship, gospel, R&B, and Latin pop. Consistent across all those records is the transcendent slow build. After exploring the discography of Maverick City Music, one starts to hear the slow build all over pop music. In the case of Bieber, who is both friends with the group and has a religious background, previous hit songs like “Holy” and “Anyone” also use the technique. Even the reworked “Peaches” Bieber performed at the Grammys makes sense, given the chorus’s final line: “I get my life right from the source.” There has been a long history of stylistic exchange between the religious and secular world. There would be no rock and roll without gospel, and Christian Contemporary draws its sounds from the ’60s folk movement. Today, songs made for worship share qualities with power ballads, the former elevating the spirit, the latter coaxing out emotions. On the latest episode of Switched on Pop, hosts Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan speak with Maverick City Music and listen to songs both religious and secular that lift us up. Songs Discussed Justin Bieber - Peaches (feat. Daniel Ceasar & Giveon), Holy (feat. Chance The Rapper), Anyone Maverick City Music - Old Church Basement, Jireh, Same Blood, Used To This, Nadie Como Tú Coldplay - Fix You Céline Dion - Because You Loved Me Luther Vandross - Endless Love (with Mariah Carey) But, Honestly - Foo Fighters Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices