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The best podcasts of 2024 so far
Culture TV and Radio

The best podcasts of 2024 so far

Here Comes the Guillotine

Why is Voldemort so obsessed with his old school? Would Billy Connolly have been radicalised if he had grown up on the internet? And is it a good idea to have sex with a neo-Nazi? Frankie Boyle’s chat with comedy pals Susie McCabe and Christopher MacArthur-Boyd is exactly the kind of blackly comic delight you’d expect. It’s a no-holds-barred plunge into the oft-surreal that runs the gamut between social commentary and absolute filth.

Serial

What was once the definitive podcast may never recapture the world-altering impact of its first season. But it continues to put out unfailingly compelling shows packed with mind-boggling interviews. Its fourth season goes inside Guantánamo Bay to lift the lid on the fact that staff at “Gitmo” lived a hard-partying lifestyle akin to spring break. It may not be news that the camp was such a mess that Muslim members of staff ended up being accused of espionage, only for the cases to fall apart. But the fact that it led to wild incidents such as public money paying for an entourage of military interrogators to accompany one of the accused on honeymoon? That’s the kind of detail you only get with this series.

The Competition

Shima Oliaee (co-creator of the smash hit Dolly Parton’s America) becomes a “teen girl anthropologist” in this podcast about the Distinguished Young Women programme, which gathers 50 hopefuls to compete for a lucrative college scholarship. But they’re not just judged on their academic talents: it’s a bizarre semi-pageant, semi-bootcamp showdown that judges them on their ability to walk in high heels, complete hours of fitness and stand out from their rivals. Fabulous storyteller Oliaee has a vested interest in the competition, because she failed to win in her teens, and has headed back to Mobile, Alabama, to settle the score – as a judge.

Kicking Back With the Cardiffians

Kicking Back With the CardiffiansView image in fullscreen

Charlotte Church warmly welcomes listeners into her world with a lovely homage to the places and people she calls home. The natural conversationalist chats with the likes of the landlord of her local, the Robin Hood – also known as her “family headquarters” and where she met both her husbands – her oldest friend, who recalls nights out the tabloids were obsessed with, and her 86-year-old Bampy (grandad), who remembers wartime Cardiff. It’s “lush” listening.

The Belgrano Diary

The sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano led to the deaths of 323 crew members – the largest loss in the Falklands war. Margaret Thatcher claimed it was sanctioned due to deadly danger to “our boys”, but did the ship really pose a threat or was the vessel peacefully on its way back to port? Andrew O’Hagan’s far-reaching podcast for the London Review of Books gives a multifaceted view of events, hinged on the diaries of Lt Narendra Sethia, who was on board HMS Conqueror – and whose account didn’t tally with Thatcher’s. It’s a complicated story that’s expertly told over six episodes – and which has the power to move and infuriate.

Queer the Music: Jake Shears on the Songs That Changed Lives

Jake Shears’s music and chat podcast – which veers from close examinations of the likes of Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) to conversations with some of the finest LGBTQ+ artists around – is a triumph. The episode with Cabaret castmate Self Esteem sparkles with an intimate and joyous rapport, as she talks about writing pop belter I Do This All the Time against a backdrop of feeling pressured on sunny days and loneliness at barbecues. If you want to dip in, start with Andy Bell from Erasure’s revealing discussion about the making of A Little Respect and the prejudice he faced in the 1980s. Olly Alexander, Rufus Wainwright and Peaches (who’s a non-stop delight) are among the other artists Shears talks to – and he’s happy to step back and let them take the spotlight.

Blame It on the Fame: Milli Vanilli

Milli VanilliView image in fullscreen

The 80s/90s pop duo Milli Vanilli are often held up as figures of fun for their fakery, after the admission that they didn’t sing on their own album saw them stripped of their best new artist Grammy. But this podcast looks at an even darker side of their scandal, delving into how the handsome, tight-trousered and charismatic Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan were perfect fodder for pop puppeteer Frank Farian. Host Amanda Seales investigates “the cachet of Blackness in pop culture, who really benefits from it … and who gets to walk away with the money”, vividly showing how vulnerable Pilatus was when he was offered a “pact with the devil”, ie Farian, the German producer behind Boney M’s successful formula. Along with evocatively telling the story of Farian’s desperation to find the next big thing and the boys’ fall from grace, Seales asks big questions about exploitation and cancel culture.

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Exposed: The Ashley Madison Hack

“I’m going to tell you a love story about two people who don’t want you to know their real names,” says host Sophie Nélisse. “Eric” is needy, “Maddie” has a high sex drive and their romance started on affair-enabling website Ashley Madison, which, as you’ll know if you’ve watched the jaw-dropping Netflix show on the subject, was hacked. While the couple’s relationship started the same as many others, over a charcuterie board and a trip to a hotel room, they were devastated to find their names and details leaked online. The podcast builds cleverly, teasing out the story of the hack, and skips the usual moral judgment on infidelity. Instead, it brings out the human cost of being exposed – and having your life destroyed.

Who Replaced Avril Lavigne?

What starts as an investigation into pop culture’s biggest conspiracy theory turns into a belly-achingly funny series that proves host Joanne McNally is one of the best voices out there now. She may not be much of an Avril Lavigne fan, but she is determined to get to the bottom of the decade-long internet rumour that the Canadian singer is dead and has been replaced by a doppelganger called Melissa. The presenter immerses herself in the fandom world, speaks to celebrity friends and conspiracy theorists – and though she doesn’t get the result she was hoping for, her journey is hilarious.

Green Wing: Resuscitated

Green WingView image in fullscreen

Getting the whole original cast of a cult classic comedy that ended nearly 20 years ago is quite a feat, but that’s exactly what happened when Green Wing creator Victoria Pile decided to continue the story of the absurdist hospital sitcom in audio form. Olivia Colman, Tamsin Greg, Stephen Mangan et al return as East Hampton hospital’s finest staff, leaving fans barking with laughter at the on-brand bizarre antics – even if it doesn’t quite match the heights of the original TV show.

If I Speak

Their voices cut through the political noise in their excellent work as Novara Media journalists, but Moya Lothian-McLean and Ash Sarkar get a bit more personal in this life dilemma podcast. Should you ever shag a Tory? Should I give my mum an allowance? How do you recover after betrayal? They get stuck into these kinds of listener questions with honesty, nuance and plenty of laughs.

Black Box

The “rebel gynaecologist” who tried to take on the app that creates deepfake nudes. The carpenter turned artificial intelligence expert who ended up hosting a multimillion dollar bidding war for his three-person company, from inside a Lake Tahoe casino. The eight-month pregnant mother mistakenly arrested for carjacking in front of her children due to police misusing facial recognition software. The Guardian’s occasionally troubling, always compelling snapshot of the era when we first had to come to terms with AI is a detail-packed chronicle of modern humanity.

Source: theguardian.com