When Pop and Classical Collide (with James Bennett II)

Once upon a time, classical music was pop, so today it’s worth stepping back and asking: where does one genre stop and the other begin? Can classical ever be popular again? And why do only some classical tracks makes for good samples? Luckily James Bennett II of classical station WQXR is on hand to break down these and other musical conundrums, including but not limited to: killer opera clowns, Bach hip hop hybrids, and the namesake album of this very podcast. Songs discussed: Dessa and the Minnesota Orchestra – Chaconne Enrico Caruso – Vesti la Giubbia Mario Lanza – Because You’re Mine Wendy Carlos – Prelude and Fugue in C Minor Jackie Evancho – Nessun Dorma Jackie Evancho – Burn Lindsay Stirling – Underground Vitamin […]

Songs of Summer Call-in Special

Every year, critics and media outlets the world over put out definitive song-of-summer guides based on…well, we’re not always entirely sure. Certainly popularity, as measured by streams and radio play; not to mention that bewildering feeling that creeps up some time mid-July, prompting whispered exclamations of: “man, this song is everywhere.” But the most ubiquitous track isn’t necessarily the one you’ll have on repeat on those steamy summer commutes to work, nor is it the song you’ll want soundtracking this year’s vacations, graduations, summer flings and backyard cookouts.   In this episode, we abandon the pursuit of a single song of summer, and ask the question we’re more interested in: What does summer sound like? To answer that question, we asked you, our listeners, and […]

Chance The Rapper, Kehlani, & The Shifting Sound of R&B — with Oak Felder

The sound of R&B is difficult to pin down. Since the 1950s, the label has been used both as a genre and as a catch-all for the entirety of black popular music. Soul, funk, disco and even hip-hop have at times been covered by this R&B umbrella — Billboard has changed how it counts what genres over the years. On Chance The Rapper’s new album, The Big Day, all of these influences come through. He’s not alone. On recent Kehlani’s records for example, 90s R&B and 2000s trap both play a role. But both these artists are a far cry from the 50s R&B sounds of Sam Cooke. To understand how R&B has changed over time, we consult with Trevor Anderson, manager of Billboard’s R&B/Hip […]

Beyonce’s Gift To Africa (with Ivie Ani)

For the live action remake of the Lion King, Beyoncé, (who voices Nala in the film), recorded and curated a companion soundtrack called The Gift. She worked with leading Afropop stars to expose the music of the continent to a global audience. In her piece, “Diversity Is in the Details: What Beyoncé’s ‘The Lion King: The Gift’ Gets Right and Wrong,” Okayplayer music editor Ivie Ani argues that the album highlights music while unintentionally treating the continent as a monolith. Ani joins Switched On Pop to break down this album and what it means for Afropop. Songs Discussed Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Childish Gambino, Oumou Sangaré – MOOD 4 EVA Oumou Sangaré – Diaraby Nen Burna Boy – JA ARA Fela Kuti – Water No Get Enemy […]

LCD Soundsystem and the Unbearable Sameness of Restaurant Playlists

Why is it that every hip restaurant plays the same music? When Eater restaurant editor Hillary Dixler Canavan kept hearing similar songs while dining for work assignments, she compiled a playlist of what she heard. It included songs by LCD Soundsystem, M83, Grimes, Biggie, Beck and the like. Her subsequent article about this music, “This Is Every Generically Cool Restaurant’s Playlist,” went viral. She’d captured the elusive sound of small plate dining. But what left her guessing was why this sound? And how did it reach so many restaurants in cities across the U.S.? She brought this question to Switched On Pop to understand why this 00s mostly indie sound was the ideal background for post-industrial chic establishments. Investigating the issue, she discovered a small […]

The $50M Beat Marketplace That Broke the Billboard

Lil Nas X licensed the beat for “Old Town Road” from an e-commerce platform. He originally bought a non-exclusive copy of the backing track for just $29.99 from a 19 year old Dutch record producer called YoungKio. And he’s not the first hitmaker to do so. Desiigner, Bryson Tiller and Queen Naija have all made hit songs from internet beats. These beats are big business. The arguable market leader, BeatStars, has paid its producers over $50M since its inception in 2008. The platform allows producers to market their beats to MCs and singers, boasting 340,000 active sellers and 1.5M tracks. BeatStars CEO Abe Batshon originally created the company to connect artists who may not live in the music industry hubs in L.A., N.Y., Nashville and […]

Space, The Final Frontier: Madonna, Stephen Puth and Street Studios

Find out how music creates a feeling of space in this three part episode. First, we may not realize it when we listen to Madonna’s new record, but the location of her music is essential. In exploring her catalogue we hear the sound of different eras by just the space evoked in a song. Second, the same is true for Stephen Puth who uses spacial effects for brilliant creative purposes on his song “Look Away.” When music is recorded in a studio with perfect acoustics, engineers manipulate that audio to place it in a 3D virtual space using reverb, delay, volume, panning and filters. Each of those effects changes our relationship to the music, and in Steven’s case, the lyric. Finally, when we get outside […]

What BTS’s “Boy With Love” ft. Halsey Can Teach Us About K-pop

How should we listen to K-pop? This music has become a global phenomenon, charting on the Billboard Hot 100, taking over social media feeds, and touring the world. In particular, the group BTS has captured the ears of millions, building an Army of fans along the way. As uninitiated listeners, the language and culture barrier left us uncertain about how to approach listening to, let alone breaking down their music. So we sought out the support of Dr, Suk-Young Kim, Professor of Critical Studies and the Director of the Center for Performance Studies at UCLA, and KCON’s Vanessa Augsbach. Dr. Kim’s research on K-pop helps to expand our ears and understand the genre’s history and aesthetics, while Augsbach helps us better appreciate the fandom. Applying […]

Why Does Every Intro Sound Like It’s Underwater? (Live)

Ever notice that wobbly, drunken and underwater sound common in so many contemporary pop songs? In an era of pristine recording quality, music producers are referencing old and impure technologies to add character to their recordings. Digital cassette hiss, tape wobble, and vinyl crackle are intentionally added to productions as a facsimile of “authentic” recording technology. Why the sudden nostalgia? Where does this underwater sound come from? What does it mean? How is it made? Find out on a live episode of Switched On Pop, recorded at Recode’s annual Code conference with guest host Estelle Caswell, creator of Vox’s Earworm video series. Listen to Estelle’s Spotify playlist of underwater intros.