Talking about pop culture with your pals is one of the easiest things in the world. Making it entertaining for others is one of the hardest things in the world. Everyone believes that their chats on film, celebrities and so on are far more exciting and informative than what anyone else can offer. The podcasting world isn’t short of shows that follow this familiar format: A handful of voices cracking jokes and offering insight into the pop culture goings on of the week. Slugging your way through the hundreds on offer to find one that does exactly what it says on the tin is no mean feat. Fortunately, the good folks at Crooked Media decided to diversify their brand beyond keeping millions of liberals reasonably sane during the political season. Their offering has thankfully kicked the entertainment reporting podcast up a notch.
Keep It is the project of Daily Beast writer Ira Madison III, named after the phrase he popularized on social media (how many hot takes merchants can lay claim to having their own catchphrase?) Joined by fellow writers Kara Brown and Louis Virtel, he dissects the week in pop culture, and the ways it intersects with the ceaselessly fraught world of politics.
LaineyGossip, the hub of the thinking person’s celebrity gossip, is the home of Show Your Work. Co-hosted by Lainey Lui and Duana Taha, the podcast looks at the celebrities and goings-on that define the pop culture landscape, all while dissecting the specific labour that goes into upholding the entertainment business.
What makes Keep It a refreshing addition to this over-saturated field is its strong clear vision of how the frequently frivolous world of pop culture intersects with political relations and the wider media. You can’t talk about something as seemingly silly as reality TV without remembering that a reality TV show judge is in the White House. You can’t talk about the ups and downs of social media and overlook how said most powerful man in the world uses Twitter as his filter-free soapbox to the planet. The downfall of one abusive man in Hollywood is not happening separately from the rest of the world, and shouldn’t be discussed as if it’s unfolding in a bubble.
In the social media age, this all unfolds at record speed, forcing our attention spans to shorter levels than most of us can manage. What was the headline-hogging story of yesterday will be gone by the weekend, with its entire life cycle complete before most of us could even write about it. The weekly podcasting format isn’t necessarily the best way to keep up with that, but Keep It always brings the context and knowledge to the table (and the prosecco). At its best, the show is like a minutely curated Twitter feed - all the thrills, none of the bullshit, unless it’s there to be mercilessly dragged.
Of course, you can’t deal with this tangled ecosystem without laughing at the lunacy of it all either. Therein lies the success of Keep It: How do you go from shit-talking Justin Timberlake to understanding Melania Trump’s disastrous ‘Be Best’ campaign to dissecting the backlash to Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondents Dinner roast and not find the humour along the way? That’s not to say that the show is any less serious for it. These are three hosts who live and breathe pop culture and get its machinations in a way that makes the discussion of it seem effortless. The conversations meld into one another organically, partly because they’ve all become so impossible to separate, which the hosts keenly understand. The sign of a good podcast is when it makes me intrigued by something I have absolutely no knowledge or interest in. I still have no bloody clue what Vanderpump Rules is, but Keep It make discussions of it sound worth listening to.
If Keep It is the analysis of celebrity in action, Show Your Work is the peek behind the curtain of everything it took to get to that moment. What goes into making a celebrity? What is actually being said in those unbearably lightweight glossy profiles full of sponsored fashion and softball questions? Who’s doing the most work to win that Oscar? What are we really talking about when we talk about that A-lister?
It will be no surprise to any of you dear readers who have checked out my work on this site that I’m rather fascinated by celeb studies. This is a multi-billion dollar business that wields a greater influence over the public than it’s ever given credit for, and everything happening now is the build-up of decades of planning, history, and occasionally sheer dumb luck. You can talk about, say, Chris Pratt for a couple of thousand words and not dig into the deeper topics, but that would barely cover half the story. Show Your Work knows the full picture and gives you the knowledge to understand why that celebrity is everywhere, or why you’ve just never been able to gel with that one guy everyone loves.
The sheer breadth of topics covered on Show Your Work, alongside the near encyclopaedic knowledge displayed by its immensely charming hosts, is what makes it essential living for any gossip hound. The show isn’t just about the A-Listers, although it does detail the oft-undiscussed labour of figures like Rihanna and her work as a CEO of Fenty Beauty: The history and future of Vanity Fair is dissected through the prism of Lena Waithe making the cover; the economics of actresses doing fashion partnerships is given context with news of Emma Stone’s campaign for Louis Vuitton; the ‘popstar formula’ is given its due through application to the rise of Shawn Mendes. Occasionally, entire episodes are dedicated to a singular moment that changed the game, like Beychella. Like Keep It, this is a show about context and the lineage of entertainment.
What both these podcasts do is offer potent reminders that pop culture isn’t something to be dismissed out of hand. Even if we weren’t in the bear-pit of political despair we are now, pop culture would still be an important part of our daily diet, and one that shapes so much of how we see the world as well as ourselves. Media literacy matters in every aspect of pop culture, but especially in those oft-dismissed areas that are heavily dominated by women and people of colour (note the total lack of straight white dudes on both podcasts). Understand celebrity and you’ll know more about the world.
Keep It and Show Your Work are both available wherever you get your podcasts.
(Header image from Ira Madison III’s Instagram)