In this week’s issue: stonks, celebrity politicians, and Carly Rae Jepsen.
This isn’t one pick but several, because what I’m hoping to get across is a window into one of the genuine pleasures I get from this whole podcast thing.
That pleasure is this: Whenever something really big happens — in this case, the Great GameStop Stock Pop of 2021 — all I really want to do is marinate myself in waves of discussion, analysis, and, of course, takes on takes on takes. It’s a disease, really, this addiction to other people’s chatter that I categorically glide through at 2x speed, but it’s one that has given me so much energy over the years.
Anyway, let me pull up my recent podcast-app history here. First of all, a shout-out to Planet Money, which served up a fairly comprehensible beat-by-beat accounting of what happened on r/wallstreetbets in the weeks leading up to the Wednesday when the whole circus hit the headlines. (At this point, I feel obligated to say that Planet Money itself was born out of an effort to explain another episode of financial chaos; there are times when you are made to do what you were made to do.) Planet Money co-host Robert Smith pops up as a guest on Endless Thread, the WBUR podcast that’s actually made in partnership with Reddit. Speaking of which, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman hopped on Sway to talk to Kara Swisher about the subject, and he toggled between “Let the people roll” and “I know not much about stocks.” Slate Money had a good, wonky segment on this, as did Slate’s What Next: TBD with Lizzie O’Leary running point. And for those not so wonk inclined, there were primers galore from the circuit of daily news podcasts. On the Media did a piece as well, and it turns out Brooke Gladstone made some money off the whole thing. (For the record, she has neither paper hands nor diamond hands, just hands.) I enjoyed listening to Katie Baker, a former financial person turned sports-culture writer, as she broke down the takes on The Press Box. And Coin Talk briefly reunited to go over the situation before drifting off to talk about various forms of NFTs. (If you know what that means, good for you.) It is perhaps the only speculative-investment pod in my archives that I’m willing to divulge on the pages of Vulture, largely because it’s given some media legitimacy by its hosts, Longform’s Aaron Lammer and the journalist Jay Caspian Kang. The others I feel self-conscious to list.
It occurs to me that I might have opened a Robinhood account a few years ago and forgotten all about it. I should go.
A political saga is underway in Uganda. The nation’s most recent presidential election, which pitted the longtime authoritarian ruler Yoweri Museveni against the Afropop superstar turned politician Bobi Wine, seemingly ended in the former’s victory by a considerable margin, though the trustworthiness of the process has been called in question. There have been violent protests, a complete shutdown of the internet in the country, and an arbitrary application of house arrest on the opposition candidate. Wine is currently contesting the results, citing electoral fraud.
The Messenger, a new podcast from Spotify Studios, kicks off in 2018, one year before Wine would officially announce his run for the presidency of Uganda. His background, rise to stardom, and eventual political emergence as a democratic reformer make up the central focus of this series, which was produced in collaboration with the podcast shop Awfully Nice and Dreamville Studios, the content division of J. Cole’s record label of the same name. And the tale it spins is a pretty riveting one, a quick injection of rich character and historical detail in a live news story.
Hosted by the Sudanese American rapper Bas, The Messenger also leans hard into the angle of musicians and artists being agents of social change and broadly seeks to elicit some thematic connection to or parallel with what has been seen in the United States. It’s an understandable conceit but one that can be overly simplistic. In addition to the specific risks of political participation in a country ruled by a leader with a capacity for violence, Wine’s story is also singular in the sense that his celebrity across Africa was singular. It just feels a little weird to evoke Kanye West, as The Messenger does at the top of its first episode, without doing very much with the association.
Still, The Messenger often surprises in the questions it’s willing to kick up. As will become readily apparent to its listeners, the series isn’t a straight-up endorsement of Wine’s presidential campaign, nor is it a broad political portrait of an individual attempting a very difficult and very dangerous thing. Over the course of the podcast, Bas allocates time to lay out the context of Uganda’s recent presidential history, pointing out that Museveni himself had once been a democratic reformer rebelling against Idi Amin, the country’s despotic leader in the 1970s. He also brings up the more controversial facets of Wine’s own history, including allegations of his bigotry against the LGBTQ+ community.
The problem, though, is that The Messenger tends to walk up to those lines of critique and stop right at the point of substantial unpacking. It’s a little frustrating given the podcast’s obvious ambition, but it’s not a deal-breaker. The series remains an interesting attempt at a different kind of political documentary, one that uses the nature of its musician-subject — layering actual tracks over certain stretches of the story — to good effect.
• Switched On Pop is now officially part of the Vulture family! If you’re unfamiliar with the show, consider checking out the episode on Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You.” Not only is it representative of the vibe, but Jepsen is the show’s patron saint.
• Thirst Aid Kit may be gone, but co-host Nichole Perkins is making another podcast, This Is Good for You, which spends every episode exploring something people love. For me, that would be late-night runs to Stop & Shop.
And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at email@example.com.
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