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The 15 best podcasts to listen to in lockdown

From the intricate storytelling of online culture podcast ‘Reply All’ to the relaxed gossip of reality star Gemma Collins, Annie Lord ranks the best podcasts to listen to while in quarantine

Thursday 14 January 2021 11:31 GMT

There are three conversation openers that immediately cause me to shut down. “Have you seen that episode of Black Mirror where…”, “I’m actually really working class because…” and “There’s this podcast you should listen to...” That said, there are podcasts you should listen to. And since you probably don’t know when you’re next going to leave your house, now is the time to get through them all. So stop watching Friends repeats and tune into one of the following on this list:

1. This American Life

The host of This American Life, Ira Glass, is to podcasts what Beyoncé is to pop. Some episodes are pleasingly mundane, like the one where producers embed journalists in an American diner for 24 hours. Others are shocking thrillers: a flute player steals millions of dollars’ worth of dead birds from the British Museum; babies are switched at birth. This American Life will allow you to experience an entire world through your ears.

2. Have You Heard George’s Podcast?

George the Poet (Getty)

Spoken word artist George the Poet’s podcast is an audio collage of drama, news, poetry, observations, lived experience, experimental ideas and music. Sometimes, he unpicks a drill track, or interviews a friend, or uses audio from a home video his Mum took of him as a boy. To listen to this podcast is to walk an intimate map of George’s beautiful, meandering mind. No wonder it won so many golds at the British Podcast Awards.

3. The Next Picture Show

The first half of this hour-long podcast sees four film buffs dissect a classic. The second sees them compare it to a modern successor. A recent episode involves a discussion of manipulation, madness and trauma by way of a comparison between 1944’s Gaslight and new release The Invisible Man. Another looks at women misbehaving through the lens of Thelma & Louise and DC Comics’s new superhero film Birds of Prey.

4. The Gemma Collins Podcast

Gemma Collins arriving at the ITV Gala (Getty Images)

If the news is making you want to crawl inside your own body and hide, some escapism might be on the cards. For that, look no further than Gemma Collins’s podcast, a hilarious, sassy and infinitely warming chat show where, alongside spirituality, topics for debate include, “Is St Tropez and Cannes the same place?” and “Is this an accolade to our vaginas?” Only the GC can save us now.

5. Literary Friction

Struggling to actually read a book? Why not pretend you have by listening to Literary Friction. From therapy to vanity, falling down the rabbit hole to brotherhood, each episode is built around a theme. Authors are invited on to discuss their book and the way it fits into that topic. With expert critical insight from hosts Carrie and Octavia, Literary Friction is like listening to a uni lecture you can actually follow.

6. Reply All

Reply All explores stories about the internet: how humans shape it and how the internet shapes them. From the most coveted Snapchat usernames to a comprehensive history of incels, the details hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman uncover are so baffling, you’ll be turning the episodes over in your head for weeks. They might even keep you up at night.

7. The Last Days of August

August Ames (Getty)

This dark and disquieting take on true crime investigates the mysterious suicide of a successful young porn star, August Ames, who had been dealing with a controlling boyfriend and bad friends, and accused of online homophobia. ​The Last Days of August shows you that people don’t harm themselves because there’s one particular villain, but because of an interconnecting web of unfortunate events. Extra points for how Jon Ronson manages to be critical of the porn industry without coming off like a moralistic and condescending Dad.

8. Murmurs

Less The Archers, more Stranger Things, each episode of this radio drama takes place in a different cosmic world. The first episode follows a soldier who becomes scattered across time and space. Another follows a homeless person called Germaine whose life is slipping out of whack. It’s floaty and cosmic and it will send you beyond the walls of your room and into the stars.

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New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

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9. Stuff You Should Know

Join Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant as they get to the bottom of odd questions, like how Twinkies work and if zombies exist. Confronted by the knowledge that what they are saying is fact, you end up taking their advice seriously. That’s why their episode on breakups will make you stop checking your ex’s Instagram stories and why their episode on viruses will push you to tackle handwashing with newfound vigour.

10. The Dropout

Elizabeth Holmes speaks at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco (AP)

The Dropout tells the story of the rise and fall of former Silicon Valley darling Elizabeth Holmes. The self-made billionaire dropped out of Stanford to launch her company Theranos – claiming her technology could detect hundreds of diseases from a drop or two of blood. If it worked, she would have changed healthcare forever. But today, Elizabeth Holmes is under criminal indictment, facing up to 20 years in prison on wire fraud charges. The podcast uses interviews with former employees, patients and investors to see how it all came crashing down.

11. The Receipts Podcast

This is the closest thing you will get to actually hanging out with your friends. Funny and engaging hosts Audrey (AKA Ghana’s finest), Milena and Tolly T tackle issues ranging from mental health to cheating boyfriends, dry humping to how to tell your boyfriend to clean his toilet. Some call it “too much information”, others say “release another episode”.

12. Slow Burn

Biggie and Tupac (Rex)

Now is the time to bake sourdough bread, to eat chocolate until you feel sick and also, to finally understand what happened between Tupac and Biggie. Rather than reducing the story to another inevitably unsolvable “whodunnit”, Slow Burn focuses on the context around the rappers’ murders: a US still reeling from the 1992 LA riots and the grip of moral hysteria over gangsta rap. It makes for compulsive listening, as do the Watergate and Monica Lewinsky seasons.

13. We Crashed

We Crashed follows Adam Neumann’s precipitous plummet from the wunderkind CEO of $47bn startup WeWork to being ousted from the company and reportedly fleeing the US. The series features an exclusive tape interview that will provide more context to Neumann’s fall from grace, as well as research that goes back to Neumann’s childhood.

14. The Last Bohemians

Zandra Rhodes, a guest on the new series of ‘The Last Bohemians’ (Laura Kelly)

Presented by music journalist and broadcaster Kate Hutchinson, this podcast showcases the stories of female firebrands and maverick outsiders. In one episode, LSD campaigner Amanda Feilding explains the medical benefits of psychedelics and why she had a hole drilled in her head after learning about the ancient practice of trepanation. In another, British bohemian icon, painter and erotic novelist Molly Parkin reflects on loneliness and masturbation.

15. Catch and Kill

In this documentary series, Ronan Farrow details the harrowing process by which he brought to light the sex abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Fast-paced storytelling and encyclopedic detail make this podcast impossible to pause, especially the third instalment, where Italian model Ambra Gutierrez finds herself faced with serious allegations after participating in a police sting against the Hollywood producer.

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