Keeping much of the magic of the podcast series, very little is added to Song Exploder by becoming a Netflix show other than it is now essential TV for music fans instead of being essential listening.
Song Exploder (Netflix) was released on October 2, 2020.
Unpacking creativity, penetrating the process that takes us from a blank piece of paper to a finished piece of work, remains an enigma despite the considerable energy and thought put into the pursuit by practitioners and critics alike. Just what exactly is it that brings to life a great piece of art? What is that burst of inspiration and where does it come from?
Song Exploder, now streaming on Netflix, is the TV adaptation of the outstanding podcast of the same name that seeks to try and answer the above question, one pop song at a time. As a fan of the podcast series I was a little nervous to watch the TV version of a podcast favorite. What would the new platform add to the familiar format? Is there a risk that the extra budget and attention might ruin what made the podcast such a reliably fascinating listen? Thankfully the answer to the latter question is no, and the former very little.
For the uninitiated, each episode of Song Exploder takes a different song (this series includes REM’s Losing my Religion and Alicia Keys’ 3 Hour Drive) and spends some time with the creators of that song telling the story of its creation. What was happening in the lives of the writers and performers that brought it to life? What were they trying to say? How do they feel about it today? Each episode runs for 20-30 minutes and finishes with an uninterrupted play of the song being featured. Consistently the effect is to leave the viewer with a closer connection to a song that may or may not be familiar prior to watching, providing a far richer listening experience. Regardless of whether it is an existing favorite or something totally new to you, you will leave each episode with a better appreciation of the song in question.
With the move to a TV format from podcast very little is lost; the sound production is just as good, the detailed research and the penetrating interviews with creators are still as fascinating. The main question to answer I suppose is how much is gained? The answer, at least from this reviewer’s perspective, is not loads. It is nice to see the artists in interview and there is some pleasure to be taken from the way that Lin Manuel Miranda lights up when discussing Wait for It, for example, but the brilliance of Song Exploder still comes from the passion and intensity with which great pop songs are dissected, something that comes across in either format. The key advantage of moving to Netflix is the possibility of a larger audience and for a show that has been consistently strong and illuminating, that is probably good enough.