Since Spotify secured the exclusive hosting rights to Joe Rogan’s podcast for $100 million in 2020, the streaming platform has faced ongoing controversy over its most expensive acquisition. While the Rogan deal appears to be a savvy business move, it has raised ethical concerns. In response to what he described as Rogan spreading false information about vaccines, Neil Young pulled his entire music catalog from Spotify, stating, “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both. It seems the days when Spotify could have its cake and eat it too are coming to an end. But with The Joe Rogan Experience topping the platform’s podcast charts in the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia, it’s hard to see if any one controversy will dethrone Spotify’s podcasting king.
Of course, Spotify isn’t the only platform investing in original and exclusive content. Following the lead of streaming giants like Netflix, audio players like Audible and Apple Podcasts started commissioning original content. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Spotify. Spotify’s foray into podcasting has had its share of missteps, with the substantial investment in Harry and Meghan’s podcast being a questionable choice for the platform’s future. So, while things are cooling off at the podcasting department of Spotify HQ, we decided to round up the best Spotify podcasts — while we still can.
Even in the beginning, long before the infamous Cole Sprouse episode with that cigarette, Call Her Daddy was unafraid of controversy. The surprising podcast sensation was not without early drama. After taking the reigns as a solo host, Alex Cooper steered this bad-mouthed advice show into a $60 million deal with Spotify. How? Celebrity guests have certainly helped. What started as a candid show about sex and dating has turned into another trauma dump for restless A-listers. There is real money in vapidity. But even skeptics like us admit the obvious: Call Her Daddy is entertaining. Whether we believe that making sex jokes and interviewing Alexis Ren makes Call Her Daddy a “modern twist on feminism” is neither here nor there. Cooper seems happy with her choices. And let’s face it, we can’t resist a bit of mindless celebrity gossip to take the edge off sometimes.
Anyone who’s anyone has been opposite Dax Shepard’s chair, making the Armchair Expert archive a star-studded affair. Shepard is an actor, comedian, and host of one of the biggest interview podcasts, with over six hundred episodes to date. Armchair Expert signed exclusively with Spotify in early 2021, citing “opportunities that only Spotify can give up.” Star power is what matters on this show. As an actor, Shepard starred in films including Idiocracy and Employee of the Month, but it’s in his role as interviewer that he’s found his niche. Armchair Expert is an interesting case study in the trajectory of Spotify shows. Since squandering all its cash on shows like Archetypes, Spotify has edged away from exclusive licensing deals; as of August 2023, Armchair Expert has transitioned from “Spotify Exclusive” to simply “A Spotify Podcast.”
Part of The Ringer podcast network, 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s has built an impressive listener community around a pretty simple premise: Everyone remembers the 90s. Classics such as “Torn” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” continue to be iconic, but what made those ten years particularly pivotal in shaping our cultural landscape? Each episode of 60 Songs explores a definitive song from this noteworthy decade in music, putting its impact in context. Hosted by Rob Harvilla, the show returned after its first season for sixty more songs that exemplify the distinctive conflict between musical experimentation and Big Label control that made the 90s so compelling. Shania Twain? Blink-182? 60 Songs has them covered.
Investigative journalism isn’t known for its comedy, but Welcome to Your Fantasy takes dark humor center stage. It’s not alone. It shares that stage with male strippers, complete with bowties and rippling abdominals. Have we caught your attention yet? From podcast powerhouses Gimlet and Pineapple Street Media, the story follows The Chippendales, a touring exotic dance troupe who delighted screaming audiences across America in the 1980s. They were buff, they were cheesy, but they were also controversial. Grinding their way through the age of second-wave feminism, The Chippendales were often accused of degrading women rather than empowering them. As with all compelling tales, there isn’t a simple answer. To make things more complicated, the troupe becomes entangled in a murder plot. No, we didn’t see it coming either. Host and historian Natalia Petrzela considers both the crime and the case for male stripping in a show that’s worth revisiting.
Gen Z icon Emma Chamberlain is a confessed introvert, which is why she prefers to communicate with a microphone than with real human beings. Chamberlain is something of a youth whisperer, managing to stay relevant in a rapidly changing social media scene without resorting to click-bait tactics. Put simply, her podcast is good — with or without the upper case. She covers topics that are zeitgeisty but not overdone, including discussions on quitting nicotine, facing rejection, and sharing your life with others. Each episode is accompanied by a video, priming it for syndication across different platforms; anything goes is the perfect example of how to transition from one medium (YouTube) to another (podcasting) without losing the integrity of either your product or brand. Chamberlain has expanded her reach without isolating her audience, demonstrating what a Spotify deal can achieve when it puts its resources in the right place.
Science Vs is one of our favorite science podcasts. It’s easy to hear why. The show examines everything from health trends to UFOs, rigorously testing claims against empirical evidence. We never thought we’d reach an age where we would need to defend the veracity of science. Host Wendy Zukerman and her team didn’t think they’d have to either. Subjects range from silly to serious; personally, we like a show that can discuss the science behind our sex drives right after an episode on affordable housing. And while some reproach Zukerman’s accent and her regular use of puns, this is the sort of critique that’s as baseless as the gluten myth. Science Vs will appeal to fans of You’re Wrong About in tone and commitment to scientific rigor. Can you believe it’s on the same network as Joe Rogan? Now that’s a crossover we’d like to see.
Every episode of Heavyweight begins with a phone call, setting in motion a journey into someone’s past in pursuit of answers to lingering questions. A missed moment. A lost love. A dream that didn’t quite come true. Instead of accepting our regrets, Heavyweight lets us return to the past to see what might have been. Known as “a therapist with a time machine,” the show is hosted by Jonathan Goldstein. He acts as a mediator between his guests and their history, giving them means and permission to go back to the moment they regret. Delving into the past isn’t always a cathartic experience, and closure isn’t always achievable. Yet, by validating the pain we often suppress when life’s threads are left dangling, Heavyweight masterfully navigates the tension between second chances and ultimate disappointment.
Alice Florence Orr is a staff writer and assistant editor for Podcast Review. She is based in Edinburgh. You can connect with her on Twitter or read her work on aliceflorenceorr.com