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28 September 2022

Mind-reading for TikTok teens

The podcast Influenced with Joel M pulls off an impossible trick: an illusionist show in an audio format.

By Rachel Cunliffe

Joel M and his team are not being subtle about what they’re trying to do: “This is Derren Brown for the podcast generation,” reads the strapline for his new show, Influenced with Joel M. The 25-year-old has gained more than 16 million TikTok followers and two million YouTube subscribers with his 21st-century take on magic. But a 40-minute podcast is a very different offering to a 20-second video clip. There’s no smoke and mirrors here, no trick packs of cards, optical illusions, or option to cut the video at the crucial moment. Joel is going to have to perform magic with his voice alone. How on Earth does that work?

The clue’s in the name: this is a show about influencing – “a podcast that will get inside your mind”, as he puts it. More mentalist than magician, Joel interviews a celebrity guest each week and uses his subliminal messaging skills to both read their mind and guide the answers they give. Episode one features the Scottish singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt. Joel plays games with her – two truths and a lie, guessing the name of her first pet – with asides to listeners explaining (or pretending to explain) how he’s doing it. It’s light-hearted and engaging (“Is this a reptile?” “Yeah.” “No it’s not.”), but the aim is to prime Nina for the real trick at the end.  

Yes, you’ve probably seen this sort of thing done by Derren Brown and other illusionists over the years, but there’s something very different about experiencing it in a format that relies on audio alone. It’s less showy and more intimate – in fact, much of the podcast feels more like a cosy chat show than a spectacular performance. For podcast listeners, that’s a definite plus – I was just as interested by Nina’s story of accidentally almost joining a cult in Oregon than whether Joel’s mind-bending would be successful. I’m just not sure his TikTok followers, used to watching him produce coffee beans out of empty mugs or balloon animals out of his brother’s mouth, will feel the same way.

Influenced with Joel M

[See also: From Jeffrey Dahmer to Adnan Syed: can true crime as entertainment ever be ethical?]

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This article appears in the 28 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Truss Delusion