Critics’ Corner Podcast Review: Song Exploder


Graphic by Phillip Dulock

Julian Knapp, Reporter, Freshman

Anyone who likes music might be interested in the podcast “Song Exploder,” where musicians tell the story of how their hit songs were made. The story includes a breakdown of each part of the song, including specific lyrics and instruments and how they all came together. Each episode is just about 15 minutes in length, produced and edited by host Hrishikesh Hirway in Los Angeles. Guests have included musicians from all eras and genres, including today’s top artists such as Selena Gomez, Run The Jewels, Tame Impala, The Killers, Lorde, Hozier, Janelle Monae, and Maggie Rogers, as well as classic artists such as U2, Metallica, Fleetwood Mac, The Cranberries, and more. 

In a recent episode, Hirway interviewed Dua Lipa, who talked about the creation of her song “Levitating” from her new album Future Nostalgia, which was released in March 2020. In the interview, Lipa said she wanted to write about childhood influences relating to the music her parents listened to, like Jamiroquai, Prince, and Blondie, but that she wanted to “create something with a fresh modern twist.” After she wrote some lyrics, she contacted Stephen Kozmeniuk (“Koz”), a producer she had been working with for a long time, to send him notes about the kind of feeling she wanted in the song. 

Koz, who is also on the podcast, says that he had the idea of trying to blend old songs with something new, and that “the best way to make an old sound was to use an old instrument.” The sounds he recorded himself playing on a rare synth called the Roland BP330 became the main loop in the song “Levitating.” 

Dua Lipa then brought together Sarah Hudson and Clarence Coffee, Jr. to collaborate on the song. When they got to the studio and heard Koz’s beats, Dua immediately started humming the melody that came to her. They all worked on the song and finished in one long day, powered by donuts. Dua Lipa decided to just speak the words in one part of the song because she wanted people to hear her British accent. The producers also recorded themselves making fun sounds like shouting and saying “yeah” and “hey” – they did this by each standing a different distance from one  microphone so it would appear like the sounds were coming from all over. 

In another episode Kevin Parker of Tame Impala talked about the making of the song “It Might Be Time” from his new album The Slow Rush, released in February 2020. Parker said he had just finished a lot of collaborations, so he wanted to work alone on this record so he could take his time and not have the pressure of anyone else’s high expectations. He started by messing around on a keyboard and came up with some chords, and then recorded some drums on top of that. To him, the chorus had a teasing quality, so he made the lyrics about how our subconscious teases us, as shown in the lyric “you’re not as fun as you used to be.” 

In an episode with hip hop supergroup Run The Jewels, Producer El-P described the experience of making their song “JU$T” from their new album RTJ4 released in June 2020. He said that they started with the idea of basing a beat around vocals, so they got some inspiration from a soul singer friend who gave them some samples. From those samples, they created a harmonic kind of sound that they then added everything onto. Rapper Killer Mike said that he created the rap based on a stutter pattern from the South that he wanted to use. To add some rage to the message about money and politics in the song, they asked Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against The Machine to do a guest vocal spot. Pharrell stopped by their studio offering to help out with the album – they then had him perform a guest vocal on the track. 

Song Exploder has many more episodes and is available on Spotify. It has been successful as a podcast and is now a series on Netflix, too. I can highly recommend this podcast to anyone with an ear for good music, wanting to know more about the artist and production process behind their favorite tunes.