For the past few months, I haven’t been able to start my day properly without listening to one of the many podcasts I have on rotation; a new routine I know hasn’t only been true to me. The podcasting medium, being described by The Atlantic as the new “Talk-Radio,” has been around for almost two decades, but its growth in recent years has been fast and extreme. In 2017, podcasting saw the beginnings of the world’s heightened awareness surrounding the medium and marked the year some of the most famous podcasts began like The Daily, which has garnered the title as the most popular podcast in the world in 2021. In the years that followed, podcasting’s continued success has implemented itself as a fully established medium in the entertainment industry. In 2021, the podcasting craze has reached its latest peak, such that almost every creator, actor and entertainment personality is turning over to this growing medium to generate content for an increasing number of listeners. Forbes reports “an estimated 100 million people listened to a podcast each month [in 2020], and it’s expected to reach 125 million in 2022.” With that big of an audience, why not explore why podcasting has become such a massive success by breaking down the qualities that cause it to continue grabbing our attention.
Breaking down why one of the biggest trends in entertainment is capturing all our attention….
In a time when interactions have become so limited during the lockdown, resorting to podcasts as a source of comfort became common for a lot of people, connecting us through our interests rather than actually in-person. Sometimes they have guests, gags or games individual to each podcast but overall, they all maintain a source of causal viewing for their audience. As a listener, we can easily connect to the format of a podcast from our own experiences because we, as humans, are meant to have conversations, recorded or not. Unlike movies and TV that often push outside of reality, podcasts emphasize the real; the topical and relatable conversations they spark are what makes podcasts so attractive to so many.
The intimate connections that podcasting forms are more psychological than we may have realized. In an article from The Atlantic, Paul Zak, a professor and director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, attributes this to our “need for personal [stories and] someone to empathize with.” He explains that “experiencing tension in a story…releases the hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin” which is known to foster our ability and need to empathize, ultimately solidifying our connection to the story and its storytellers, as in the case of podcasts. In other words, the intimacy podcasts build with us is based on their capabilities of literally hitting us in our ‘feels’. The accumulating research around podcasting continues to build a deeper understanding of why this medium has experienced such massive success through pointing to the effects it has had on us in ways we weren’t even aware of.
Similar to talk shows that have gained most of their popularity with older generations, podcasts are formulated to foster casual viewing while targeting the needs of a more modern audience. Whether driving, walking or lounging in bed, podcasts cater to the audience and their choice of viewing as either a completely audible experience or through its corresponding video format. Given this flexibility, podcasts often feel less distracting than social media platforms, tv shows and movies based on their ability to move seamlessly with us through the events of our day. Rather than our screens separating us from the outside world, a common criticism for many media platforms, podcasts are arguably creating a positive connection between the two. The emphasis on conversation in such an easily accessible and relaxed style creates a social aspect through generating audiences to listen at their own leisure while invoking them to come together and continue the discussions outside of the show.
I mean really, what is there not to like? Even Harry and Meghan are doing it!
In 2021, nearly every popular entertainment personality has either had a podcast of their own or been a guest on someone else’s. In fact, Vanity Fair has reported that during quarantine, “Hollywood’s entertainers were among the most notable figures joining the $1billion industry.” Even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle started one! Although some celebrities’ podcasts had short-lived runs only projected to last for the time spent during the COVID-19 lockdown, such as Staying In with Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, others have seen such wild success that they have continued releasing new episodes as life returns back to normal. For actors Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, Will Arnett and their podcast Smartless, this success rings true as their podcast has become a stable part of their busy schedules.
One of my favourite podcasts of the year was Frenemies, a youtube-based show centered on the messy relationship of its two internet-personality hosts, and soon to be sibling-in-laws, Trisha Paytas and Ethan Klein (H3H3). Tuning into this show every Tuesday left me nervous for what to expect given their clashing personalities, becoming even more evident after the show’s explosive end. Nevertheless, the nature of podcasts and the intimacy and connection sparked from them helped to reshape my own perceptions of both of these entertainers while watching. Although much of the show followed a more comedic path, the moments when Paytas and Klein shared their opinions on serious issues on and off the internet were what I found most impactful, especially seeing them dive into stories about their struggles with mental health and their efforts in bringing awareness to smaller voices in the internet community. Throughout its short-lived run, Frenemies quickly garnered a diehard audience, supporting the notion that podcasts can create a greater understanding and empathy between the audience and entertainers, and in a shorter amount of time than media has been able to before. Since the end of Frenemies, it’s clear that the show did have its controversies and ended for good reason, but nevertheless, highlights how stars even with careers in entertainment already, benefit most from the authentic moments that are shared in podcasts to reshape the sometimes misguided perceptions they receive.
The amount of success podcasting has generated is phenomenal but ultimately well-deserved. The intimate nature it creates, the focus it places on the audience and the ability for reinvention sparked within podcasting work together to push podcasts into the running as one of the most influential mediums in the entertainment industry to-date. As Esquire reports, “the number of new podcasts is now almost doubling every 12 months (in 2017, there were 11,000 new titles, in 2018, 21,000).” Given the diversity of topics ranging from Comedic to Meditational, Political to Scientific and one of the most popular, True Crime, finding one focused on your interests isn’t too hard because of the wide array of options, a quality attracting new listeners every day. To the podcast newbies and the experienced listeners looking for something new that found themselves reading this article, here are some of my favourite shows to check out:
Families – The spinoff from Frenemies that feels like a complete 180° from its former. Lots of wholesome family moments and wild stories starring H3H3 and his parents that are just as, if not more, entertaining than its original dynamic. This is best suited for those looking for an entertainment-based podcast that focuses on topics within the YouTube community and the internet as a whole.
Podcast but Outside – This is one of the funniest podcasts I listen to where two comedians/hosts, Andrew Machaan and Cole Hersch, set up their table at random places around LA (Hollywood Boulevard at midnight, Chase Bank, and LA’s vegan market etc.,) interviewing strangers on the street. Each episode features a diverse mix of people talking about anything and everything. For this show, I highly recommend checking out the video version to get the full experience of its chaos!
Armchair Expert – A true Hollywood podcast and one of the biggest in the world, this series is hosted by actor and comedian, Dax Shepard, and features a new celebrity guest each episode. Interviewees range from his wife Kristen Bell and other close celebrity friends to former president Barack Obama and Prince Harry. Described as a comedy-interview podcast, the show features a good balance of serious and lighthearted discussions centring around the interests and stories of their guest that makes each episode truly captivating.
And if you’re still looking for something more, stay tuned for MUSE’s very own podcast releasing this year…