Look out, Terry Gross! From brainy discussions about mass pop to illuminating conversations with artists, EW picks the top 12 essential music podcasts to make your daily commute a breeze.
The Premise: Is existential malaise at the root of Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” And why are One Direction our modern-day castrati? Musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding have highbrow discourse on the Top 40.
Best Episode: A fascinating conversation with The New Yorker writer John Seabrook about Swedish pop whiz Max Martin (Katy Perry, Taylor Swift) explains how Swedish culture has influenced the most enduring songs of the past 20 years.
The Premise: That’s soul as in chicken soup — not just the genre. This series explores the emotional resonance that drives works from Beethoven to ELO.
Best Episode: In a particularly powerful episode, Brits from all walks of life are interviewed about what makes the Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” so special.
The Premise: Comedians and U2 superfans Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman fanboy out about their love for the world’s biggest rock group.
Best Episode: The hosts’ holy grail is a two-and-a-half-hour installment where they interview band members Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., and Adam Clayton. Bonus points for getting scoop on U2’s next album!
The Premise: Songwriting buffs will love this series, where the British duo Sodajerker chat with everyone from KT Tunstall to Chromeo about their creative processes.
Best Episode: Loudon Wainwright III opens up about his classic songs and his famed musical family.
The Premise: Indie acts like Wilco and the Arcs get ultraspecific about the recording of a single song on in-depth segments with host Hrishikesh Hirway. You’ll never listen to their music the same way again.
Best Episode: Björk shares the surprising inspirations behind her 2015 song “Stonemilker.”
The Premise: Damian Abraham, the colorful frontman of hardcore group F—ed Up, speaks with entertainment figures like Fred Armisen and Anthony Bourdain about how punk music shaped their lives.
Best Episode: Abraham’s conversation with Meredith Graves, the singer in punk band Perfect Pussy, is an illuminating discussion about sexism within the genre’s insular scene.
The Premise: Terry Gross isn’t the only star interlocutor at NPR. Hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley deliver detailed, no-nonsense interviews with some of hip-hop’s biggest names.
Best Episode: The grim subject matter of Vince Staples’ epic debut, Summertime ’06, warrants deconstruction — and NPR lets the MC address it for 85 minutes.
The Premise: Alex Kapelman tackles quirky musical questions with a This American Life-style tone. How do screaming punk singers avoid vocal injury? And why do so many songwriters say inspiration comes in the form of dreams?
Best Episode: In “Bow Chicka Wow Wow,” Kapelman analyzes the oft-mocked “porno groove” — before revealing the types of music that can actually boost the turn-on factor of smut.
The Premise: Jarvis Cocker, the Pulp frontman and British bon vivant, spins tales of “night people,” which bring him inside posh London clubs and on the road with weary truckers.
Best Episode: Cocker’’ multipart voyage to Iceland is highlighted by his ruminations on enjoying after-hours adventures in a land where the sun doesn’t set in summer.
The Premise: Former hip-hop exec Combat Jack (né Reggie Ossé) proves he’s the Charlie Rose of the rap world, thanks to his insightful conversations with stars, legends, and up-and-comers.
Best Episode: The deep dive into the history of the Ruff Ryders features label cofounder Joaquin “Waah” Dean.
The Premise: Joe Budden, an MC’s MC, breaks down the rap world and amazes pals Marisa Mendez and Rory with road stories and embarrassing tour moments.
Best Episode: The trio’s analysis of the recent Grammy nominations includes whether or not a dis track has ever been nominated for the prize.
The Premise: An extension of the essential Talkhouse website (edited by veteran music journalist Michael Azerrad), the samenamed podcast gets two musicians to discuss songwriting styles and issues of authenticity.
Best Episode: The exchange between upstart Australian rocker Courtney Barnett and indie legend Kim Deal offers fresh perspectives on rocking in a “man’s world.”
A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1399, on newsstands now.