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The 20 best podcasts on Spotify

Horror and true crime, comedy and celebs, science and politics: These are the very best podcasts streaming exclusively on Spotify

Matthew Singer
Ella Doyle
Written by
Matthew Singer
Contributor
Ella Doyle
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Everyone gets their music from Spotify. Long gone are our days of downloading songs off dodgy websites and finding the album artwork ourselves. Now, we get artists recommended to us. We get playlists curated for us. We even get to see what all our friends are listening to, if we’re really nosy. But parts of Spotify still lay undiscovered for some of us – it’s also really, really great for everyone’s other favourite thing: podcasts. 

And if you haven’t dipped your toes in yet, you’re missing out. Some of the greatest podcasts around can only be found on Spotify, and nowhere else. But with over 3 million pods on the platform, it can be very, very tricky to know where to begin. Fear not, keen listeners, we’ve got you covered. Below are the 20 top podcasts to get your teeth into that are streaming right now, all only available on Spotify. Here, we’ve got everything from true crime and comedy to science and narrative fiction, and from historical podcasts to sex advice. And no, Joe Rogan does not make our list. Happy listening!

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The top podcasts on Spotify, ranked

‘Heavyweight’ caused a storm for a reason. It’s a podcast that many of us have been searching for for years, even if we didn’t know it yet. Ever lay awake at night, wincing about that thing you did five years ago? Podcast host Jonathon Goldstein wants to hear it. The podcast works through listeners’ most painful memories, dissecting and working through them. In 2023, Heavyweight is currently on its seventh season, and the stories range from the harrowing to the absurd, from family feuds to niggling unsolved mysteries, and it will have you hooked. 

‘Reply All’ is a tech podcast, but it’s not just for the tech vultures. Anyone with an interest in the internet (which is pretty much all of us at this point), will find this podcast fascinating, as it explores how our digital life blends into our offline everyday. Some of its episodes have really rocked the digital world, like ‘The Snapchat Thief’, which dove into a world of hacking and investigations, and ‘At World’s End’, in which a listener tracked down an old expired video game. 

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Musically speaking, the ‘90s were an odd time: it started with grunge and gangsta rap and ended with boy bands, nu-metal and pop-rap, with brief detours into ska and swing revivals. In this podcast, critic Rob Harvilla tries to make sense of it all, taking informative, analytical and sometimes very personal deep-dives into the tunes that, for better or worse, defined a generation, from ‘Juicy’ to ‘Nookie’. Turns out, figuring out just what the hell was up with this decade requires a lot more than 60 songs — 30 more episodes are coming soon.

Formerly known as ‘that guy who’s married to Veronica Mars,’ actor Dax Shepard is now a bonafide superstar in the podcast arena. His interview show is one of Spotify’s most popular, and he’s pulling guests as massive as Barack Obama and Prince Harry. No wonder: In the tradition of Marc Maron’s WTF, Shepard pushes aside the banality and self-promotion of the late-night circuit and simply follows his own curiosity, usually arriving at a place that makes the monumentally famous seem almost relatable. 

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A sex advice podcast with links to Barstool Sports is typically a major red flag, but host Alex Cooper’s unrestrained brand of girl talk swiftly transcended Dave Portnoy’s meathead empire and became a phenomenon all its own. Since going exclusive with Spotify, Cooper has moved, in the words of Vulture, ‘toward something resembling a kind of neo-girlboss Howard Stern for the next generation’, scoring buzz-generating interviews with Jamie Lynn Spears and Julia Fox. It’s a movement, bitches.

Music fandom is a form of zealotry, and this podcast offers devotees a pulpit from which to preach the gospel of everyone from Pavement to Insane Clown Posse. Each week, host Yasi Salek invites guests to expound — at length — on their favorite artists, and the best episodes often focus on acts that rarely receive detailed critical consideration. A two-and-a-half-hour deep-dive into the career of the Red Hot Chili Peppers might seem like a steep hill to climb, but by the end you’re likely to start walking around in public wearing nothing but a delicately placed sock. 

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Not all good true crime stories involve a body dumped in the woods, nor do they all require 10 hours to tell. Each 40-or-so-minute episode of Crime Show hones in on a single wrongdoing, with special attention paid to the lives affected on either side of it — and while murder certainly factors in, there’s just as much twisty intrigue in tales involving telephone scammers, fradulent doctors, paranormal activity and Judy Garland.

The outspoken ex-ESPN anchor has always refused to just ‘stick to sports’, a trait that’s often gotten her in trouble — she became an ‘ex-anchor’ after referring to Donald Trump as a white supremacist on Twitter. Obviously, it didn’t stress her much. Now on Spotify, Hill is free to speak her mind on any topic she pleases, whether it’s the NFL’s racist hiring practices, the Jeopardy hosting controversy or her platform-mate, Joe Rogan.

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Best friends Zakiya Whatley and Titi Shodiya are Duke grads with backgrounds in molecular biology and materials science, respectively, who enjoy putting pop-culture under the literal microscope. What is the science behind ‘cuffing season’? What is it about the human brain that makes us vulnerable to catfishing and other Digital Era scams? In what ways is Beyonce’s starpower related to the power of the actual stars in the sky? What’s up with Nicki Minaj’s ex-boyfriend’s hairline? Think of it as a fresher take on Radiolab, both in the ‘youthful’ and ‘hip-hop-flavored’ senses of the term. 

Plain English
Image: Spotify

10. Plain English

It’s called the Information Age, but having all the knowledge of human history at our fingertips has not made the world any easier to understand. Thankfully, tech writer Derek Thompson is here to help. Each week, he takes complex subjects dominating the news – the debate over student loan forgiveness, the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago – and breaks them down to their basics. Now you can impress your friends by pretending you know why carbon removal technology is so important!

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When Comedy Central abruptly dropped Larry Wilmore in 2015, television’s loss was podcasting’s gain. (Although Wilmore never really left TV: He executive produced Black-ish and co-created Insecure, two of the standout shows of the last decade.) With Black on the Air, the veteran comic effectively picked up where he left off with The Nightly Show, delivering hilarious yet piercing commentary on being Black in America and leading insightful conversations with the likes of Barry Jenkins, Stacey Abrams and even David Copperfield — yes, the magician.

The Big Hit Show
Image: Spotify

12. The Big Hit Show

Think all pop culture is a frivolous distraction? Sure, plenty of cultural phenomenons roll off the content assembly line, entertain the masses, then disappear without a trace. Every once in a while, though, something becomes so popular, it shifts the world as we know it. In this new podcast from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, journalist Alex Pappademas traces the impact of some of the most significant music, movies and products ever made, from Twilight to Pokemon to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, examining their lasting influence on society at large.

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Stuck with Damon Young
Image: Spotify

13. Stuck with Damon Young

Why are we the way we are? That’s the big question at the heart of this podcast, which author Damon Young approaches by looking at everyday anxieties – from sex to religion to consumerism – and detangling their roots, with an assist from a variety of smart, funny guests, including writer-poet Hanif Abdurraqib, Jemele Hill and comedian Roy Wood Jr.

Like Nextdoor come to life, Chinedu Unaka and Candice Thompson peek through the blinds of the internet and gossip about what they see: a man giving a face tattoo to a child in a McDonald’s; a domestic dispute involving ninja stars; a lion roaming the streets of Chicago. Using local news reports, apps and listener submissions, the L.A.-based comedians survey the week in bizarre behavior and invite guests such as Tiffany Haddish and Damon Wayans Jr. to share their own stories of neighborly insanity. After all, they don’t call them ‘strangers’ for nothing. 

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The past isn’t even past, and this podcast aims to prove just how not far away from it we are. On each episode, writer Simone Polanen selects an event from that week in history and draws a throughline back to the present day. But this ain’t the Smithsonian Channel: As a dedicated non-scholar, Polanen is less interested in antiquity than popular history and answering such burning questions as, ‘How did green M&Ms get associated with sex?’ and ‘Who really invented emojis?’

FOGO: Fear of Going Outside
Image: Spotify

16. FOGO: Fear of Going Outside

For much of her life, Ivy Le has avoided communing with nature. As a mother with severe allergies, the great outdoors frightened her. But it’s never too late to get in touch with the outside world. On this podcast, Le steadily builds up the courage and knowledge to go on her first camping trip. It doesn’t sound like much, but Le’s good humour and genuine desire to get out of her house and face her fear make it a highly entertaining listen. Plus, a nature show not hosted by an overeager white dude? What a concept!

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It’s Springsteen! It’s Obama! It’s your dad’s favorite podcast! For real, though, it’s two of the world’s most famous people, just hanging out and discussing fatherhood, race, economic injustice and the American Dream — y’know, the kind of light stuff you and your own buddies surely talk about when sitting around the barbecue having a pint. What’s not to love?

Every Little Thing
Image: Spotify

18. Every Little Thing

How do we identify the cause of wildfires? When and why did we genderize colours? Why do courtroom sketch artists exist? If you have a random query – the kind that pops into your head in the middle of the night and continues to bug you the next day – this podcast will attempt to answer it. Think of it like the adult version of a curious kid wondering how the world works who won’t stop asking questions, except there’s a cadre of experts on call to tell you, say, what is inside a kangaroo’s pouch, or why cats are such jerks.

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Fun fact: The father of the guy who played Woody on Cheers allegedly killed, like, a lot of people. Charles Harrelson died in prison while serving a life sentence for shooting a federal judge in 1978 — one of three murders he was charged with during his lifetime, and among the dozens he claimed to have committed while working as a professional hitman. But there are those who believe he didn’t do all the things he said he did or was convicted of doing, including his sons. In this 10-part series, journalist Jason Cavanagh takes a wild ride into one of the crazier true Hollywood-adjacent stories, which is even more bizarre than it seems on the surface. Did we mention the theory that Harrelson was involved in the Kennedy assassination?

Fiction represents a still-developing niche of the podcasting world, but with shows like Homecoming getting adapted to television, expect to see more of them. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to find this one coming to some sort of screen in the near future. An astronaut, voiced by GLOW’s Betty Gilpin, is on a solo mission to colonize Mars after her entire crew dies from a mysterious illness. When she arrives, however, she discovers she’s not alone.

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