This year took a lot from us: birthdays, holidays, time with friends and family. Too many social interactions took place in tiny pixelated squares, where meetups started with the ceremonial: “Can you hear me? Is the mic on? Oh you’ve frozen. Oh wait, no, I’ve frozen.” Jittery wifi and pregnant pauses caused by weak connections made the steady, comforting flow of conversation more trouble than it was worth in many cases.
Technology slowly became exasperating, trying to catch up with friends a chore. So it’s unsurprising that podcast consumption on Spotify doubled between March and July. During the course of this year’s first pandemic lockdown, podcasts provided an uninterrupted flow of voices and company that helped us feel less lonely. When we really needed them, storytellers and newsmakers were there to accompany us at the touch of a button.
Molly Denton, a film-maker from Oxford, quit her job shortly before the furlough scheme was announced. When she began working at a local supermarket, podcasts helped her through the long night shifts. “Eight hours of podcasts a day from 2am-10am was survival,” she says.
For Mariam Khan, author of It’s Not About the Burqa, podcasts help fill the space where the buzz of daily chatter would usually be. “Part of lockdown has meant enforced isolation for so many people, including myself,” she says. “I don’t miss anything grand, but I miss conversations with everyone from baristas to friends and family.
“I’ve been listening to the Unlocking Us podcast with Brené Brown, which is soothing and gives me space for self-reflection. I’ve also been listening to The Sista Collective. It’s a conversation between a group of friends essentially. There is a sense of informality there, but that doesn’t mean it’s unprofessional! I guess podcasts feel like conversations, which is why they’ve felt so comforting. For me, they’ve become a way to find peace.”
In these hyposocial times, podcast hosts Harry Pinero and Henrie Kwushue are bowled over by how many people have welcomed them into their lives. “The fact that so many people are listening to Who We Be TALKS_ is just incredible,” says Kwushue.
The podcast is a spin off of Spotify’s Who We Be playlist – the UK’s biggest Hip-Hop, Afrobeats, Dancehall and R&B playlist. With interviews from the likes of KSI, Common, Ms Banks and Megan Thee Stallion, as well as deep dive conversations on everything from pineapple pizza to dealing with unfriendly in-laws, Who We Be TALKS_ has kept fans entertained since 2018.
“I know that people’s attention spans are very short,” says Pinero, who took over hosting duties with Kwushue in June. “So to have people hooked on to our show like this says a lot about the work we’re doing.”
Kwushue adds: “I don’t think there has ever been a time in social media history where everyone is going through the exact same thing at the exact same time. We’re all consuming the same content, it’s a thread that ties us together.
“From what I’ve been seeing on Twitter, a lot of people are enjoying the podcast. People will message me on Instagram demanding a video version as well, which is really cute. I enjoy the fact that people like listening to our long-form content.”
The pair came to the podcast after experiencing very different lockdowns. “I was very worried because [lockdown] was the first time I’d ever stopped working,” says Pinero, a presenter and content creator. “I also had a son during the lockdown, so my main thing was how is this boy going to have milk, nappies and stuff?”
Living alone, Kwushue felt the intense isolation she’d soon find herself helping others alleviate. “During the first lockdown, I was playing The Sims [non-stop]. I downloaded it at the beginning and [by the end] it said I’d played for 156 hours!”
They found their new rhythms with a little help from their own favourite podcasts. “When you live alone like me you use podcasts to make it feel as if there are friends in the room,” says Kwushue. “I listen to The Receipts, for example, and they remind me of my friends. Podcasts play an important role in keeping people connected.”
It’s a sentiment that Pinero seconds: “Going through something and hearing other people you admire let you know on their podcasts that they’re going through the same does a lot of wonders.”
Relive the music and sound that got you through 2020 with Spotify Wrapped