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Foundering Tells the Story Behind TikTok (and 3 More Podcasts Worth Trying)

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Tell me what you’re listening to. Find me on Twitter or reach me over email: nicholas.quah@vulture.com.

Foundering, Season 2

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Website

Let’s say you’re not familiar with the ever-shifting, rapidly changing world of social-media platforms. Let’s say you find the jumble of names overwhelming: Cameo, OnlyFans, Twitch, Clubhouse, Discord. It can be a lot, after all. I totally get it.

If there is, however, at least one platform you should keep particular tabs on, it’s TikTok, which nowadays has become an incredible force that is increasingly shaping the terrain of pop culture and the legions of people who actively participate in it. The app has launched careers and flipped new songs into hits. It’s fertile ground for the creation and amplification of all sorts of memes (sheesh). It also became a momentary point of political intrigue when former president Donald Trump tried to get it banned because it was owned by a Chinese conglomerate.

All of which is to say you may want to brush up on the app’s full story just in case: how it was born, how it’s designed, how its underlying incentives work, and how it’s fundamentally reshaping the broader entertainment-industrial complex.

For these purposes and more, the latest season of Bloomberg’s Foundering will come in handy. Hosted by the reporter Shelly Banjo, this new series is basically one long Businessweek profile told in a serialized audio format — which, I don’t know about you, really hits for me as one of those people who generally like business-type profiles. Sure, you have to brace yourself for some clunky elements endemic to the genre, like gossamers of founder worship, particularly in the telling of the platform’s origins, but that’s nothing too distracting at the end of the day. There’s a lot to dig through in the TikTok story, and having all the basics in one package is a good thing.

The Lazarus Heist

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Website

What can you immediately recall about the Sony Pictures hack of 2014?

Chances are it’s a blur of international security, political intrigue, and show-business spectacle. There was a shadowy cybercrime group linked to North Korea and a public rebuke by then-President Barack Obama. There were troves of leaked emails that disrupted Hollywood and disclosed a decent amount of embarrassing details about individual stars, executives, and power brokers. At least some portion of the motivation behind the cyberattack had to do with The Interview, the Seth Rogen–James Franco movie featuring the assassination the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (played winningly by Randall Park), but whether that was the sole reason was unclear even at the time.

An incident that big and bizarre rarely stands in isolation, which is where The Lazarus Heist comes in. A new audio documentary from the BBC World Service, the ten-part series takes the Sony Pictures hack as an anchor point to illustrate a much larger story about North Korea and its subterranean engagement with the rest of the world. Somewhere in the tale is an entity called the Lazarus Group, a plot to steal a billion dollars, and the ways those things fit into the history, economics, and geopolitics of the reclusive state with a nuclear-weapons program.

Based on the first three episodes out now, The Lazarus Heist is doing a supremely competent job of telling this wild and complex story in a calm, collected, and clearly accessible way. That’s what you get, I suppose, when you have a reporting duo made up of Jean Lee, a Pulitzer-nominated foreign correspondent who has operated out of North Korea, and Geoff White, a veteran freelance investigative journalist who specializes in cybercrime. There’s also something to be said about the structural effectiveness of the dual-host format with subject matter as thorny and complicated as this: It allows for a nice bounce-back effect in which the two sides can work off each other and alternately serve as the audience surrogate when necessary.

In The Lazarus Heist, the personal and the geopolitical clash in thoughtful, compelling ways, and I’m eager to see where the story goes. Also: I would recommend pairing this series with Assassins, the recent documentary about the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, and what happened to the two women at the center of the plot.

Meanwhile…

• Timestorm, a great time-traveling fiction podcast from Cocotazo Media — mostly for kids, though not always — returned for its third season last week.

• This may be interesting for fans of the Saw franchise: There’s a new horror fiction podcast out next Monday called The Gloom, and it’s set to star Tobin Bell, who played Jigsaw in those movies.

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 nicholas.quah@vulture.com.

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Foundering Does TikTok (and 3 More Podcasts Worth Trying)