Gen Z-ers talk candidly about modern pressures. And a search for missing people that also helps those left behind
Lots of new shows and podcasts are springing up, which is jolly: too many to fit in one column, so I’ll come to some over the next few weeks. Here are a couple for you to wrap your ears around…
You Don’t Know Me is a new series about the younger end of Generation Z – those teenagers and young adults born between 1996 and 2008. Hosted by journalist Chloe Combi, who published a 2015 book of interviews with the same age group, each programme in this 12-part podcast is built around a theme: body image, popularity, pornography, race and others. Combi talks to one or two teenagers who have had experience in each topic and then brings in an expert (a politician, a behaviour advisor, a school head, a writer) for their insight. A simple structure, but an effective one: Combi is a great interviewer, especially of young people, and the show’s punch comes from their candid testimonies.
Cancel Culture, the show’s first episode, released last Monday, featured a 19-year-old American woman, Laura (not her real name), whose story is particularly resonant right now. It begins in 2016, when Trump was elected president. Though Laura wasn’t particularly pro-Trump, she found herself alienated from her liberal schoolfriends, many of whom were almost hysterical over the election result. Finding a more sympathetic community on Reddit, Laura gradually became involved with people who held some far-right views. A few years later, at university, one of these friends exposed her and she was publicly shamed and forced to leave. Now, she said, she is “constantly terrified that people will find out … Nothing ever really goes away. I don’t even have a desire to make friends or have a boyfriend in case more people find out. I basically have managed to fuck up my life with some dumb shit I said when I was 15.”
You’d have to be very hard-hearted not to feel sorry for the misguided, lonely Laura. Combi struck the right tone between shock at some of Laura’s views and sympathy for her current plight. Her interview with the author/politician Claire Fox, with whom I don’t always agree, was interesting and enlightening too.
In forthcoming episodes we meet the happy-go-lucky Adam in the School episode, who has a life that he thinks is fine. Still, his story is hard to hear: clearly bright, the UK’s education system has failed him, and his aims are barely above ground level. School-leaver Ray, in the same episode, has turned to drug dealing as he can’t find any other way to make money. (And yes, he’s tried to get other jobs.) Sometimes, thankfully, the outcomes are more cheering: in the Popularity episode (which features some good advice for parents), Kayley, terribly treated by other pupils at her secondary school, is now happy and settled.
Although it’s usual for older adults to insist that the younger generation has an easier life, it doesn’t seem that way when you listen to these tales. Today the wealth gap is ever-widening, cancel culture is rife, and social media and online porn are the source of immense peer pressures on teens. Still, just listening to these articulate Gen Z-ers gives me hope. It would be nice to aim for a society that doesn’t keep letting them down.
Pandora Sykes. Photograph: Dave Benett/Getty Images
You Don’t Know Me is part of the stable at new-ish podcast host Podimo (yet another “Netflix for podcasters”), which also brings us The Missing. This podcast came out at the end of last month and went straight to the top of the iTunes chart. Unsurprising, really, as The Missing puts a spin on one of podcasting’s most popular topics: the unsolved mystery. The Missing tells the real-life stories of people who have disappeared, and asks listeners if they can help. Vitally, the show has the approval and involvement of those left behind: otherwise such a podcast would be a holiday in other people’s misery. The Missing’s website gives links to Missing People and Locate International and provides an easy way for anyone to submit useful information.
Pandora Sykes, of The High Low podcast fame, is an excellent host, her script and presentation striking the right balance between intrigue and empathy. In the four episodes so far, each case has been completely different, though the reactions of the missing person’s family and loved ones share similarities. Panic is the main emotion, a panic that continues on and on, a heart-racing hum in the background of your ordinary life. It’s hard to hold out much hope of any of these cases being solved, but The Missing is doing a good, sober, moral job of highlighting them.
Three interesting new series
How the Irish Shaped Britain
BBC Radio 4
Fergal Keane presents this three-part programme about the complicated relationship between Ireland and what one interviewee calls “the smaller landmass” nearby. It’s interesting stuff, and Keane is a great presenter, but, God, it’s a whizz-through. There are some lovely moments and revelations, but we move from pre-Roman times right through to contemporary theatre in the first episode. You might find yourself, as I did, stopping and replaying certain parts, simply to make sure you’re taking it all in. A nod and a wave at the interwoven histories of the Irish and the British: a more in-depth series must be made.
Joz Norris- A Small Talk on Small Talk
BBC Radio 4
The beauty of these new-one-every-week comedy half-hours lies in their idiosyncrasies. Each show is, ostensibly, just a straightforward standup show, in front of a digital audience, but, as is the way with comedy, every show is completely different. Some episodes play with form – Joz Norris took us on a tour of his head in his anti-small talk chat a couple of weeks ago – some adopt different characters – hello cricketing legend Dave Podmore, played by Christopher Douglas – but each show is suffused with the energy and wit of the comedic person involved. So if you don’t like the one you pick, there are plenty of others to try.
Hip Hop Raised Me
DJ Semtex has been one of the UK’s greatest hip-hop experts for more than two decades, with a high-profile show on 1Xtra for 15 years before he jumped ship in 2018 to Capital Xtra. A man who rarely sits still, he already has a podcast on Spotify, Who We Be, and, this week, relaunches his Hip Hop Raised Me podcast. The first interview is with (who else?) Chuck D, who wrote the book’s foreword. D is typically forthright and interesting, relaxed in Semtex’s company, and there are other influential names to come: Busta Rhymes, French Montana, J.I. the Prince of NY and more.