In more ways than one, Under the Influence with Jo Piazza asks the question us moms have been keeping to ourselves: “Could I be an influencer on Instagram?” And Piazza, an experienced journalist and the best-selling author of The Knockoff, doesn’t stop until she has a complete answer, even if it isn’t the one she wants.
The first episode opens with a scene that Piazza’s listeners know intimately: sleeping kids, snoring partner, and a late-night, Instagram scrolling session. Her hilarious, chaotic life makes her instantly relatable, and the challenges she faces while parenting her young children and trying to avoid the mommy-comparison trap will feel familiar to many other women. But Piazza quickly pivots from these well-worn topics into a frank discussion of how the capitalism inherent in Instagram punctures the fantasy that mom-fluencers market. She has a natural levity – it’s like you’re listening to your best friend rant over happy hour.
Piazza weaves her own narrative of trying to hack it as a mom-fluencer with a deep dive into a complex community, and both are equally compelling. Her play-by-play recap of her attempts to get her toddler to wear and pose for pictures in the now infamous Target water shoes captures a zany, desperate intensity. She then flows seamlessly into her research about the origins and history of mom-fluencing and how much cold, hard cash really goes into creating these social media empires. The quotes she includes from her expert interviews are both ironic and fascinating, and Piazza takes herself just seriously enough to make these interviews work. When her research points her in a different direction, her description of her own participation in this experiment usually devolves in such a hysterical fashion that you almost forget she is trying to prove a point. Piazza frequently uses the voices of her friends, coworkers, and husband as foils to her own, while she works out her often contradictory thoughts and values. Her evolution over the series stands as the kind of story arc that many investigative podcasts never quite build.
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When addressing more intense topics, like the infiltration of QAnon into mom-fluencing circles, Piazza is direct and journalistic, going straight to the source and bringing in guests who balance her energy well, like Jesselyn Cook, who covers online conspiracy theories for HuffPost. In the episode covering the racial pay gap, she manages to tread carefully while still making her political stance abundantly clear.
Her interviews with specific mom-fluencers are also enjoyable. Piazza allows their full humanity to shine when it would be easy to make them entertaining caricatures instead. It is through these conversations that we see Piazza work through the insecurities and self-doubts that many of us share. By the end of the show, something has changed in her, and rather than being ashamed or embarrassed by her previous views she continues to be vulnerable with her listeners, learning alongside of us instead of positioning herself as a lofty, aloof expert.
Binge-worthy, entertaining, and educational, Piazza’s storytelling is stellar. If you’re looking for your next podcast to listen to while pushing a stroller or watching your kids on the playground, Under the Influence will do the job.
Robin Lanehurst grew up in St. Louis, MO and is currently writing from Houston, TX where she lives with her wife, son, and a small menagerie of pets. Her work has appeared in Mic, Re:Fiction, Wanderful, and More Queer Families.