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Everybody Loves Gossip (and 4 More Podcasts Worth Trying This Week)

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Happy post-Valentine’s Day to you. I briefly considered theming this issue around the subject of love and romance and other assorted concepts appropriate to the season, but decided against it when I couldn’t find enough pieces on the matter that moved me sufficiently. (Relatedly, it’s still winter, and I remain seasonally depressed.)

Instead, I will leave you with a fun fact that did move me, for reasons uncertain: the word “ferret” is apparently derived from the Latin word “furittus,” meaning “little thief,” which is thematically appropriate, as the animals have in history been deployed by pickpockets to aid with the lifting of valuable items from pockets.

Anyway, tell me what you’re listening to. You can reach me at nicholas.quah@nymag.com or find me on Twitter.

Normal Gossip

What is gossip if not the good shit persevering. 
Available on all platforms. Listen here

I once heard a story about a friend of a friend who got into a sprawling legal dispute with their neighbor over a chicken coop that crossed property lines. It was, and remains, one of the best stories I’ve ever heard.

Few things exist in the universe more potent than good gossip, especially if that gossip has minimal stakes and has absolutely nothing to do with you. This is the simple truth held by Normal Gossip, a relatively new podcast hosted by Kelsey McKinney and produced by Alex Sujong Laughlin. It’s published from Defector Media, the media pirate ship famously founded by former Deadspin writers.

Normal Gossip delivers everyday gossip from and about perfectly ordinary strangers. It’s one of those premises that makes you go “oh, that sounds like a podcast” but usually fails in the execution … except, of course, this is the rare instance in which the follow-through actually succeeds. I’m not entirely sure it’s for everybody (then again, what is?), but it’s definitely for people like me — which is to say, individuals whose hearts are set aflame by the words “Do you want to hear what I just heard?”

Each episode follows the same structure. McKinney is joined by a guest, which up until this point typically comes from her pool of media friends and acquaintances; past participants include Scam Goddess’ Laci Mosley, It’s Been a Minute’s Sam Sanders, and Slate’s Rachelle Hampton, among others. The proceedings kick off with small talk, where the guest is asked about their relationship to gossip, but it doesn’t take long until main course begins: McKinney walks the guest through a robust piece of gossip submitted by a Defector reader or, alternately, someone from the periphery of McKinney’s personal circle. The stories are intentionally banal, about dating or in-group conflicts or small-town bullshit, but as good gossip-mongers know, the banality of a thing doesn’t preclude its oddity or wildness. McKinney is a great, casual storyteller; her slightly discursive style lulls you into a soothing rhythm before a sly reveal extracts an involuntary gasp. There is also, unexpectedly, a light interactive element in the mix: At different points of the tale, she takes a beat to ask the guest what they would do in that situation, which of course is a chance for you, the listener, to ask yourself the same question.

Normal Gossip can evoke bigger ideas about gossip: its purpose in society, its nature and meaning, its appeal. Across the episodes, McKinney occasionally glances towards headier connections: What is political reporting, if not verified gossip usually attributed to unnamed sources? What are sports trade rumors, if not gossip deployed by scheming front office executives? But she doesn’t linger too long on these ideas, less they get overbaked. Thank goodness. There’s no need to always over-intellectualize things. Good gossip can be just a good time.

Chameleon: Wild Boys

Never trust teenage boys. 
Available on all platforms. Listen here

The latest season of Chameleon, Campside Media’s podcast for stories and things that aren’t what they seem, takes place in the rural British Columbia town of Vernon, where, sometime in the early 2000s, two boys started showing up around the fringes of the community.

These boys were strange creatures. They claimed to be from the wilderness. They seemed to only eat fruit. They smelled pretty bad … though, to be fair, so do many teenage boys. Despite their gaunt frames, they exhibited a keen interest in nutrition, and talked about it constantly.

Because Vernon has a storied history of attracting offbeat characters — it’s described in the podcast as a haven for “hippie communes, cults, and polygamist groups” — these young men weren’t entirely beyond the universe of what the town could imagine. A local resident, embodying small town warmth, sought to care for the duo, and the community rallied around them. They would be referred to as the “Bush Boys,” and soon attracted the attention of the Canadian media and beyond. Eventually, they became a local phenomenon, and perhaps even a source of community pride.

Of course, there is more to the story. This is a true crime-adjacent podcast, after all. And so the tale that unfolds in Wild Boys is one of discovery, at least in its first half. I’ve only listened to the first four episodes — that was all that was available at the time of writing — and by the end of this stretch, secrets are revealed, along with a hint that the show will shift in structure to tell the rest of the story.

Wild Boys is led by Sam Mullins, a writer and comedian based in Toronto, who produces the series with Abukar Adan. Mullins is from Vernon, and he brings to the narrative a minor sense of nostalgia and some further context to the setting of this tale. In addition to being a mystery, Wild Boys is in part a story about being from a small rural place, and how the community of such a place thinks and feels about itself, along with the ways in which that can clash with the outside world.


➽ Tonya Mosley, who recently left her position as co-host of NPR’s Here and Now, is returning to the mic with the latest season of Truth Be Told, which debuts on Thursday. The podcast offers a mix of narrative storytelling, interviews, and listener-call responses, all of which contribute to Mosley’s broader theme of exploring “what it means to grow and thrive as a Black person in America.” This new season attends to the notion of liberation in the contemporary context. It’s produced by Ahyiana Angel, Ishea Brown, James T. Green, and Enrico Benjamin.

➽ I’ve been really digging going through the back catalog of BBC Radio 3’s Sound of Cinema program, which constructs episodes around film scores that usually share a theme based on a new film release. An example: a recent installment pegged to the new Scream involved a discussion about the history of literal screaming in movies, followed by the presenter Matthew Sweets queuing up scores from thematically-appropriate films like PsychoJaws, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This is Grade A film nerd shit, though I should note: I wasn’t able to listen to episodes through normal podcast apps. You’d have to hit up the website directly.

➽ Also worth highlighting: Sound of Cinema has a sister program about music scores and sound design in video games, called Sound of Gaming. That show is led by presenter Louise Blain, and I’ve also found it thoroughly enjoyable.

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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