A friend tells me that podcasts are ruining her life. She can’t go anywhere without plugging into one, and when she does unplug everybody sounds monochromatic and unfocused. She no longer enjoys her own conversations.
The great lie of the podcast is that it is just people shooting the breeze – unmediated, unstoppable. It’s a fallacy: really, these are broadcasters on their mettle, blood up, performing as “super-relaxed” or “massively passionate”. Putting forward their case.
So real shifts in tone within an established podcast are actually quite rare. It’s one of the many things that makes Unexpected Fluids (a Radio 1 podcast now bowling into its third series) rare and loveable. “Real-life, embarrassingly honest stories about sex” is the unpromisingly sniggering pitch. Forget that – it’s full of heart. And reasonable advice (“Don’t position your fanny over the flume of a jacuzzi”), depthless encouragement (“My nipples never gave me anything. Nothing. Then… recently!”), tub-thumping (“I hate the ads for ‘discreet’ sex toys”), and incidents of studio guests unwittingly oversharing (“Anyway, so that was my sister, a different bearded man every night, let me tell y… shit. Oh well. She won’t be listening. She’s in Spain”). The tone shifts all the time, as people write or call in with aghast anecdotes (“I farted in my boyfriend’s mouth”) and unimaginably varied problems, from the euphoric to the near-grudging to the genuinely amazed, and often with an underlying pulse of despair. Like love. Like life!
Presenters Alix Fox and Riyadh Khalaf seem wisely to believe that “good in bed” is a meaningless, vicious phrase imposed upon us by a public discourse that revels in encouraging total neurosis. Fox in particular is a talent – able to go on long, unrehearsed Edward Lear-ish riffs about unrealistic love objects, such as fauns and minotaurs, or shuddering at rubber “dongs the colour of an OAP’s support stocking”. (Someone in the studio once marvelled, “it’s freaking me out that you’re talking in rhyming couplets”.)
This is a sheltering presence of a show: smart and kind, compulsive and explicit. And there’s absolutely no way I’m telling my friend about it.
BBC Radio 1
This article appears in the 22 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit earthquake