How Rap Became The Soundtrack To Polish Nationalism

KRAKOW, Poland — Tadek spent his teens scouring record stores for albums by the Wu-Tang Clan and other hip-hop artists in Poland’s medieval center, Krakow.

Tadek, whose full name is Tadeusz Polkowski, discovered rap in the ’90s when it was still a new import to Poland; communism kept the country closed to Western pop culture until 1989. He started recording his own tracks at 16 under his nickname and became nationally known in his twenties as part of a wannabe gangsta rap–style group that recorded songs with names like “The Hard Life of a Street Rapper.”

So there was an outcry from the mainstream press when Tadek was invited to perform at the presidential palace in 2017 to mark the National Day for the Polish Language, a day historically used to honor Poland’s greatest writers.

The performance looked awkward for everyone involved. Tadek had traded the hoodie he often wore in his videos for a pair of chinos and a mustard V-neck sweater, both of which looked several sizes too large for his willowy frame. He kept his eyes tightly shut, as if trying to block out the rows of dignitaries in suits stiffly watching on.

But Tadek was given this platform precisely because he was no longer the man who’d tossed around phrases like “fuck the police” in his youth. That day he performed a song addressed to his wife — but it turned out to have a surprise message.

“We are getting stronger, the family is getting bigger, without man and woman — the final extinction. Our sons are so great that I want another child,” he rapped, before apologizing at the song’s end, “You have one rival, forgive me — it’s Poland!”

“Everyone who wants to control Poland … wants us to be weaker, wants us to be not proud of ourselves.”

Rappers like Tadek reflect just how deeply the past divides Poland today. He’s reinvented himself in recent years as part of a booming nationalist rap scene. His songs pay homage to the Poles who fought the Nazis in World War II and the communist government that followed, while taking jabs at the mainstream media, liberal politicians, and the European Union. His videos sometimes rack up millions of views on YouTube, and he plans to put out three new albums this year, now supported with a fellowship from the Ministry of Culture.

His trajectory reflects just how much nationalism has transformed Poland in recent years. The 2015 elections were won by an aggressive far-right faction, the Law and Justice Party, known as PiS for short. The PiS government has undermined the courts, refused to accept the refugees required under EU rules, and opened a culture war by claiming Poles have long been fed lies about their history.

Earlier this week, the president enacted a law that makes it illegal to say Poland shared any responsibility for the Holocaust. In World War II, the country lost 6 million people, half of whom were Jews. Lawmakers want Poland to be recognized as a victim of the Nazi invasion, but critics say the law would silence discussion of the way some Poles contributed to the Jews’ deaths.

One of the biggest tests of democracy in Europe is now playing out in Poland — and a drive to rewrite history is at its heart.

“Everyone who wants to control Poland … wants us to be weaker, wants us to be not proud of ourselves,” Tadek said in an interview with BuzzFeed News last month at his apartment overlooking the industrial valley that keeps Krakow smothered in a blanket of smog. “Pride gives people power to do something for your country.”

Anna Liminowicz for BuzzFeed News

Tadek at home with his two sons.

The night that Tadek’s parents brought him home from the hospital in 1982, he slept through riots outside their front door in which pro-democracy activists clashed with communist paramilitaries.

Shortly before Tadek was born, his father, a poet named Jan Polkowski, was imprisoned for seven months for his role in the pro-democracy Solidarity movement. After communism fell, Polkowski went on to serve in Poland’s newly democratic government and then a right-wing party that ultimately became part of PiS.

Tadek grew up surrounded by the memories of ancestors who’d fought for Poland. His parents hung a portrait of an ancestor who fought in a failed 1863 uprising against imperial rule by Russia. Tadek was told stories about his great-grandfather, who fought the Soviet Union after Poland became independent in 1918. He heard about his grandfather, one of thousands of Polish soldiers who fought the Nazis only to be sent to Soviet gulags by the Red Army as it established a communist puppet government at the end of the war.

So, Polkowski told BuzzFeed News, he was dismayed when Tadek grew into a rebellious adolescent drawn to “the way of expression that was used by black people in slums.” The music “did not talk about the reality he lived in,” he complained, and it seemed like a foreign subculture that “cuts you off from your roots.”

“It was also a rejection of my past,” Polkowski said.

Within a few years Tadek had started a group called Firma, rapping about weed and vodka and girls.

He saw Tadek as emblematic of a generation of young Poles raised under the liberal governments that ran Poland in the ’90s and brought it into the EU in 2004. He said Poland’s liberals only wanted to speak about the dark side of the country’s past and believed that “Polish identity should be dissolved into an EU identity.”

While his father wanted him to learn about Poland’s history, Tadek dedicated himself to mastering the audio equipment he’d inherited from an uncle. He recorded songs to cassette using samples from his PlayStation, recordings for children, and classical composers like Brahms and Beethoven. He was still in high school when he began performing live shows.

“I was fucking scared,” he said when recalling his first performance. “Everyone told me that I was really white in the face onstage.”

Within a few years Tadek had started a group called Firma, rapping about weed and vodka and girls. By the mid-2000s, they were playing around 50 concerts a year.

But everything changed for Tadek as he approached his thirties, when he decided to go on a self-improvement kick — to fight “not to be an idiot,” he said. His father had a library of more than 10,000 volumes, so he asked for some recommendations. And his father gave him books about Polish history.

Recounting this moment in his living room, which is decorated with the emblem of the uprising of Polish rebels that expelled Nazi troops from Warsaw at the end of World War II, Tadek grew angry about how much he hadn’t known about Polish history.

“Jewish people use the Holocaust for a lot of business.”

He discovered a past full of heroes who fought for the country’s independence — and decided their memory should be a resource for Poland today, not something to be ashamed of.

“What’s wrong? Why don’t we use it?” he said. Poland could have followed the model of the Jews, he said, who “built a lot of success on tragical history from years of war.”

“Jewish people use the Holocaust for a lot of business,” he said, like how “when you say something wrong about some Jewish people, it’s [called] anti-Semitism.”

For Tadek and many others, an example of the distortion of Polish history concerns the 1941 massacre of Jews in a village called Jedwabne. That July, a group of Poles herded the town’s Jewish residents into a barn and set it on fire as Nazi soldiers looked on.

Jedwabne was one of dozens of pogroms that broke out as the Nazis marched east across Poland, but a 2001 book by American historian Jan Tomasz Gross about the incident forced the first widespread discussion about how some Poles contributed to the death of Jews. A monument was built in Jedwabne, and two presidents apologized at commemorations a decade apart. But a government examination of the incident concluded in 2003 that Gross overstated the number who died and how many Poles participated. Many nationalists have since dismissed the book as a hit job designed to make Poland look bad.

Tadek claimed that Gross said, “Poles were the biggest killers of Jewish people during the war … that Polish people only wanted Jewish blood during the war.” In reality, Tadek said, thousands of Poles risked a death sentence by helping Jews escape the Nazis.

World War II wasn’t just a Jewish tragedy, he said. Around 2 million of the 6 million people believed to have been killed in Poland were ethnic Poles, and both Hitler and Stalin sought to destroy the Polish state. The Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis in 1944 was the largest underground revolt against German forces in any country during the war — there were plenty of stories of heroism, too.

“We were fighting during the Second World War,” Tadek said. “We were the biggest losers.”

Tadek came to believe that powerful interests were trying to keep the truth of the past from Polish citizens.

He pointed to members of the old Communist Party who’d become part of the center-left party that led Poland into the EU, who he believed were trying to keep the party’s crimes buried. Other former communists have become powerful in the media, like Jerzy Urban, who was the press secretary for Poland’s last communist leader and now edits a weekly paper. Many foreign companies are now big players in the Polish economy, including German firms that profited during the Nazi era, such as Allianz insurance.

“If you want someone to be your slave, you don’t want him to be intelligent, smart,” he said. “How the fuck did it happen — people don’t know about the biggest World War II heroes?”

Anna Liminowicz for BuzzFeed News

It’s not just the memory of World War II and communism that divides the Poles.

In 2010, President Lech Kaczyński and several other top officials died when a plane crashed in the Russian city of Smolensk as they were traveling to the site where the Soviet army massacred Polish officers at the end of WWII. Competing accounts of what happened that day are so far apart that they exist in entirely separate universes.

The official investigation by aviation experts and the government of liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk established that it was an accident caused by a rushed landing attempt in bad weather. But the leader of PiS — the dead president’s identical twin brother, Jarosław Kaczyński — was convinced it had been an assassination by Russia and that Tusk was covering it up.

PiS hammered on the claim, organizing monthly vigils calling for the “truth” about Smolensk, while a new network of right-wing media outlets spread the conspiracy allegations. They claimed Tusk was a pawn of a hostile power, and charged him with treason when he later left Poland to become president of the European Council. By 2015 nearly a quarter of Poles believed there was a cover-up of Smolensk.

That’s the year PiS won a majority in Parliament promising to restore Poland’s pride and to keep out Muslim refugees. And it solidified its power with what opponents say is sustained assault on the media and the historical record.

If you think that the previous government covered up a Russian assassination of Poland’s president, then it’s not a stretch to believe that authorities will lie about anything. And there was a new network of right-wing news sites and social media accounts to convince the public they had long been duped.

“We were fighting during the Second World War. … We were the biggest losers.”

For PiS members, the Smolensk cover-up was part of a much wider conspiracy by pro-European governments to lie about Poland’s history so the country would be ripe for foreign exploitation. They claimed liberals wanted Poles to be ashamed of their past so they would not fight back.

PiS’s Andrzej Duda, who is now Poland’s president, said his liberal predecessor’s apology for the Jedwabne pogrom “destroys historical memory.” A former PiS parliamentary candidate organized a nationwide hunger strike when the education ministry rolled out a more flexible curriculum in 2012 that required fewer hours of history.

Tadek’s first historically themed album came out at the height of this furor. He called it An Inconvenient Truth, because, he said in the title song, it carries a message for “those scumbags that destroy this country from the inside.”

“There is no consent to rob young Poles of knowledge of their ancestors,” he said in lyrics addressed to then–prime minister Tusk in a song about the curriculum overhaul. “Maybe he forgot that he is the prime minister? … Do they love their country or Brussels more?”

The album’s biggest single was about the so-called Cursed Soldiers, Polish units who fought the Nazis and hid in the forests when the Soviets occupied Poland in 1945; they fought until the Red Army finally wiped them all out. It immediately racked up thousands of views on YouTube, and today it has been watched more than 4 million times in various versions. That number is more than one-tenth of Poland’s entire population.

One track told the story of Danuta Siedzikówna, who joined the Polish resistance as a nurse and supported the Cursed Soldiers with medical supplies until she was arrested and executed by communist forces. Another told the story of Witold Pilecki, a soldier during World War II who spent two years organizing a secret resistance inside the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. He escaped in 1943 and fought with Polish forces during the 1944 uprising in Warsaw, before being arrested and executed in 1948 as a Western spy by the communist regime.

“Why did they not teach me about you in school?” Tadek lamented. “Today, the media and political elites — as if they are Polish — are constantly striving to deceive history.”

Anna Liminowicz for BuzzFeed News

Tadek Polkowski in his the apartment where he grew up in Krakow, Poland.

This led to the busiest time of Tadek’s career, when he was playing around 100 concerts a year. He also began working with a Krakow museum dedicated to Poland’s homegrown World War II resistance, and the city’s symphony orchestra organized a concert of classical arrangements of his music. Then came government honors.

Promotional copies of Tadek’s An Inconvenient Truth were distributed by Magna Polonia, a publication that is now a Breitbart-esque online portal run by a group called the National Radical Camp. Known by its Polish initials ONR, it takes its name from a right-wing group that sought an ethnically pure Poland in the 1930s.

ONR members have been convicted under Poland’s anti-fascism law for making Hitler salutes. But in 2010, a procession the ONR co-organized in Warsaw to mark Poland’s Independence Day became the focal point for the growing nationalist fervor and drew thousands.

“You have one rival, forgive me — it’s Poland!”

Tadek endorsed the march in 2012, and said he believed that mainstream media coverage of the event was propaganda by left-leaning stations to make nationalists look bad. Last year’s march saw organizers describe themselves as “racial separatists,” openly use banners with slogans like “All Different, All White,” and give prominent speaking spots to self-proclaimed fascist leaders from other countries.

Tadek distances himself from the overtly racist parts of the movement but seems unaware of its reach. He said he’s never attended the march, but was certain that “most of the people who go … are just normal people.” He seemed surprised when told that its organizers described themselves as “authoritarian” and that some marchers had used racist slogans and banners with a Nazi emblem. These “are things that should never happen,” he said.

The country’s right-wing media, which now includes the state-owned public television network as well as a broadcast empire owned by a powerful Catholic priest, seems to ignore or denies these facts. These details are emphasized by Poland’s major independent broadcaster, TVN, which is owned by a US company and dismissed by the right as a foreign agent.

Some nationalist rappers have zealously embraced their role as propagandists; some even call for violence. A group of rappers from the industrial city of Łódź were reportedly arrested in 2016 with a cache of weapons after releasing a video calling for a “Polish jihad” against Muslim immigrants.

Despite Tadek’s disavowal of the nationalist rap scene’s racist elements, he can’t escape them. When you watch Tadek’s videos on YouTube, the site algorithm quickly suggests tracks by one of the more extreme right-wing rappers, Basti, whose songs include “Stop Islamizing Europe” and who titled one of his albums Hate Speech.

“Our main role is to build good feelings about Poland, not bad feelings about the others,” Tadek said.

But the transformation of history into a weapon by the nationalist movement has helped Poland’s far right radicalize faster than seemed possible even a few years ago, said Dariusz Stola, director of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

When the museum opened five years ago, he said, “I didn’t expect that you would see neo-fascists … marching in the main street of several cities or present in church with their flags.”

Nationalists were very shrewd to turn every discussion of history into a test of patriotism, he said.

“It’s horrible and it will bring violence sooner or later,” he said. “Someone will die.” ●





J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211

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Country Music Has Found Its Weinstein Scandal. So Why Hasn’t There Been A Reckoning?

It had been seven weeks since Austin Rick started telling his story, and he was angry. In October 2017, Rick posted on Facebook that in 2008 Kirt Webster, who represented some of country music’s biggest stars, repeatedly coerced him into sexual acts. Rick said this continued until one day the 21-year-old singer woke up naked in bed next to Webster with no memory of how he’d gotten there.

When Rick posted his story on Facebook Oct. 27, in the midst of #MeToo, he wanted to make sure the prominent publicist never abused anyone again. Although Webster, 43, claimed through a representative that his former client’s story was “untrue,” he stepped away from his firm almost instantly after it hit the local press. In the weeks that followed, more than 20 former employees came forward with stories of workplace sexual harassment and unwanted touching. Speaking with BuzzFeed News, three more described a hellish work life with a boss who constantly made crude jokes and talked about his employees’ bodies, pantomimed masturbation in the office, and bragged about trading access to his biggest client, Dolly Parton, for nude photos; one said Webster invited him and another man to a “sleepover.” The total number of people who have come forward with stories of Webster’s workplace sexual harassment is now well over two dozen.

Courtesy of Austin Rick

Austin Rick (going by stage name Austin Cody) in 2006.

Webster retreated from his firm, but his representative released a statement saying he had done so “to focus on combating the egregious and untrue allegations made against him.” He did not respond to multiple requests for comment on a detailed summary of this story, and has stayed out of the public eye since November.

As the number of voices swelled, Rick hoped that the national reckoning with sexual assault and harassment would hit country music too.

He’s still waiting. Rick said one thing distinguished Nashville’s sidestep from the eruptions in Hollywood, media, and government: A vast majority of country artists and executives have refused to even acknowledge anything is wrong.

Former employees said they wanted Webster roundly condemned, and what they got was a sprinkle of tepid disapproval. Many simply wanted Webster’s former clients to say “I believe you.” “Dolly Parton hopes that we’re all lying,” Rick said with a scoff, referring to the statement she put out following Rick’s allegations, that she was “hoping” the stories weren’t true. “Thanks, Dolly, that’s great.” Parton did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Parton and Kid Rock, among others, dropped Webster as their representative. Kid Rock released a more sharply worded statement than Parton’s, but nonetheless said that he too hoped the allegations were false. Most people associated with Webster said nothing about the allegations, including his firm’s second-in-command, Jeremy Westby, who was announced as Webster’s successor before leaving to start an independent firm on Nov. 2. Westby is Webster’s long-term romantic partner, 12 former employees told BuzzFeed News; public records show the men living at the same address from 2013 through November 2017. Westby did not comment on the allegations against Webster or whether they were still a couple. “Kirt has not been and is not involved in my new company,” he said.

There was no pronounced support for the people who said Webster hurt them, and thus, unlike in other industries, there was no signal to other victims that now was the time to start naming names.

“I’m afraid it’s all gonna go away.”

Victims saw this hush as a sign that sexual misconduct was not taken seriously in Nashville, and that Webster might catch himself midfall. Some also said this sent a chilling message to other victims on Music Row: If they came forward, no one would take up their cause. In Hollywood, hundreds of women signed on to the Time’s Up initiative to combat sexual abuse, whereas country had a smattering of critical voices that never quite became a chorus. After a DJ sued Taylor Swift for saying he groped her, she won her countersuit and later donated to Time’s Up, and artists like Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris have criticized harassment in the industry. But Rick and the former employees, for the most part, felt utterly alone.

And as Webster dropped out of headlines and local police determined that the allegations were too old to pursue a case, it was unclear what the actual consequences for the publicist would be. A former employee said, “I’m afraid it’s all gonna go away.” It’s a strain of unease that’s sinking in all across the country. The question of what happens after #MeToo haunts Rick and the dozen former employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News.

“Anyone who wants to see legitimate change, this is our window of opportunity right here,” Rick said. “If no one else will stand up and help me, then I will just keep at it.”

Rick Diamond / Getty Images

From left: Jeremy Westby, Kirt Webster, Dolly Parton and Danny Nozell in 2012.

Nearly all of the 23 artists, writers, and workers at publicity firms, a record company, and an agency interviewed for this story said country music remains a small, insulated industry where reputation is everything and there are more whistleblowers on the blacklist than predators. And while Webster may be gone, women and men in Nashville say a culture of silence remains. One former Webster PR employee said that her current boss approached her after the allegations against Webster broke and told her to stay out of it. “He kept repeating, ‘You have nothing to gain by coming forward,’” she said.

There’s ample evidence that sexual harassment in Nashville is not up for discussion. Reached this week, Danny Nozell, Parton’s manager and Webster’s longtime friend and associate, said he did not know about any sexual harassment allegations before they became public and declined to comment further on the allegations against his colleague. When BuzzFeed News asked 12 firms that previously worked with Webster or his clients whether they would work with him in the future, only two, Kicker Country Stampede and Reviver Entertainment Group, said they would not work with him again. “We have no plans to work with him again in the future, despite this matter, and certainly now wouldn’t consider working with him again because of this matter,” said Reviver’s president and CEO, David Ross.

“He kept repeating, ‘You have nothing to gain by coming forward.’”

Time Life and the Country Music Association answered indirectly, both saying they were not currently planning to work with him, while Big Machine Label Group, which worked with Webster through his clients, said, “It’s not the culture of the Big Machine Label Group to condone this type of behavior at any level from anyone we associate with.” The other seven entities — Sony, the Academy of Country Music, L3 Management, Vector Management, Outback Concerts, Neste Entertainment, and Country Thunder Music Festivals — did not respond at all or declined to comment.

On Feb. 5, Country Radio Seminar revoked press credentials for NewsChannel 5 reporter Jesse Knutson and asked him to leave the premises after he told the event’s public relations representative that he planned to ask questions about how CRS was addressing the sexual harassment and misconduct in radio recently documented by Rolling Stone. On Wednesday, after NewsChannel 5 reported on the debacle, CRS officials agreed to an interview with Knutson. CRS did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ multiple requests for comment.

It was reported just last week that the disgraced country music DJ David Mueller — who a jury decided groped Taylor Swift — was hired at a radio station in Mississippi. And as a parade of men in film and TV were being outed as harassers and publicly castigated, one of the only people in the country music industry to speak openly about sexual misconduct found herself embroiled in a lawsuit. In October, singer Katie Armiger said she was groped by radio DJs multiple times throughout her career — and was blacklisted for openly complaining about it. Two weeks later, Armiger was sued by her former label, Cold River Records, for allegedly breaching her nondisclosure agreement.

Jason Kempin / Getty Images

Recording artist Katie Armiger attends the Dial Global Radio Remotes in 2013.

Armiger declined to comment directly on the ongoing lawsuit against her, but said that in country music, victims are still expected to keep quiet about sexual harassment. “If you’re a female artist and you speak out, that could limit your chances of being played [on the radio] when they’re already slim to none,” she told BuzzFeed News.

And if women are expected to endure objectification, the rules are even less clear for men who report abuse by other men.

“If you’re a female artist and you speak out, that could limit your chances of being played.”

Alex Caress, the lead singer of Little Bandit and one of the few out musicians in country, rattled off a list of queer artists that was so short he said it made him feel sad. Caress thinks the industry by and large refused to address the allegations against Webster because “in order to do that, you sort of have to acknowledge that gay people exist, and that doesn’t seem to be something that they’re interested in.”

And Music Row’s squeamishness was evidenced by the way Webster conducted his own life.

Former employees told BuzzFeed News that Webster lived with one foot still in the closet; several said that the publicist expressed surprise when people ascertained that he was gay. When he worked for especially conservative clients — one source remembered Mitt Romney, another remembered the Academy of Country Music Awards — Webster would actively conceal his sexuality, booking two hotel rooms for himself and his boyfriend, Westby, on a business trip instead of one.

When Rick was still trying to make it as a country music artist, fear that Webster could destroy his fledgling career kept him quiet. After he left the industry, he stayed quiet in part because of shame, enhanced by the stigma of being a male victim. “I felt like a disgusting excuse for life, and so I didn’t tell anybody,” he said.

“I felt like a disgusting excuse for life, and so I didn’t tell anybody.”

Shame kept Webster’s male staff feeling trapped too. One former Webster PR employee said he would only speak to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity, in large part because most of his family doesn’t know he’s gay, and he hasn’t told them that Webster pinched his nipples in the office and repeatedly showed him a dildo he kept in his desk and talked about another employee “sitting on it.”

That shame, mixed with fear of retaliation, has kept people who say they were harassed by Webster from identifying themselves even after his name has become synonymous with abuse allegations. And that, in turn, has made it easier for Nashville to follow its impulse to ignore a potential controversy until it goes away, without any serious reckoning.

Rick Diamond / Getty Images

Kirt Webster in 2015.

Webster himself relied on a system of explicit intimidation, sources told BuzzFeed News, counting on the small size of the industry — and his stature within it — to motivate people to stay in his good graces. Two former employees recalled an incident from around 2015 where a job posting appeared in an industry newsletter, Country Aircheck, without listing the firm; several days later, Webster informed his staff that he himself had written the ad, calling it a loyalty test. It made one woman who worked there think any job posting could be a trap.

“If no one else will stand up and help me, then I will just keep at it.”

And Rick said when he was still trying to make it as a country star, Webster would gesture in his office to the many photos of himself with powerful people and suggest that he could give Rick that kind of career. Rick believed him. He also believed that Webster could take that career away. In a small industry, those in Webster’s circle were convinced the word of one powerful man who felt wronged could derail your Nashville hopes. Now, watching people like Armiger publicly flail makes them think they were right.

But the mechanisms that keep people quiet don’t apply to Rick anymore: “The problem with Kirt is he picked on someone, he victimized someone … who has nothing to lose,” he said. He was determined, and strengthened by the supportive emails and messages he’s received from other victims — both men and women— in the industry. Rick continued, “If no one else will stand up and help me, then I will just keep at it. I will keep at it so that every time [Webster] shows his head, that he is going to be confronted about it. I represent a lot of people now.”

Because he said so many were still silent or nameless, Rick added the inverse of #MeToo: “It’s not just me.” ●




Ariane Lange is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

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27 Podcasts You Need To Start Listening To In 2018

Anthony Peters for BuzzFeed

We asked the BuzzFeed Community and BuzzFeed staff to tell us about underrated podcasts they absolutely love. We received thousands and thousands of submissions this year. (Thank you if you sent one in.) Here are just some of the best suggestions we received:

Broaden your mind

1. The Butterfly Effect – One of the best audio storytellers out there? Jon Ronson. The author crafts these fantastically addictive stories. His latest, which was for paying Audible subscribers but is now available on iTunes, is all about pornography. “It’s a relatively unbiased look at how free internet porn came about and what effect it has had on different portions of society,” said a reader. “Ronson’s interview technique is really good. It’s definitely worth a listen if you’re a fan of his books.” – Rachael, Facebook

2. The Secret Room Dahlia Beta and Ben Hamm present a show full of confessions. “Each episode is exciting, fun, and deeply personal,” a reader told us. “It raises the fascinating question of why we keep secrets from those closest to us, yet will choose to share with an public audience of interested human strangers.” – Stella, Facebook

3. Museum Archipelago Ian Elsner presents a podcast about a different museum each episode. “I love how it questions what we call a museum and what it means to display something in a museum,” said a fan. One of the latest episodes features an interview with the director of the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas, a topic that actually is way more high-brow than you might first expect. – Ashira, email

4. The Gender Knot Nastaran Tavakoli-Far and Jonathan Freeman present this well-thought-out podcast looking into the role of masculinity and femininity in the modern era, with a different question posed at the start of each episode. A reader told us: “They do a great job of breaking down modern female/male issues, which is super helpful for us white guys trying to be better humans.” – Daniel, email

5. Slow Burn: A Podcast About Watergate You might hear the word “Watergate” in the news these days, or just the suffix “-gate” shoved on to a scandal of any sense, but do you know all the ins and outs of the incident itself? This Slate podcast, presented by Leon Neyfakh, breaks it all down in eight episodes. A reader said: “They don’t really say it, but the unspoken theme is the eerie parallels to today. Hooked.” – phebeh2

6. Ministry of Ideas This great little podcast, from Harvard Divinity School, tries to work out the ideas that shape our world. A reader told us: “From race issues to selfies to meritocracy – beautifully produced and presented, and only 20 minutes long.” Recent guests have included Emily Nussbaum from the New Yorker and writer Tom Hodgkinson. – Nastaran, email

Just great advice

7. Group This is such a great podcast on mental health, led by Rebecca Lee Douglas, and keeps things light and breezy even when tackling serious subjects. There’s a lot to be learned here, from how to deal with negativity to how to get to sleep and how to find a therapist. “The hosts are warm and funny,” a listener said, “and they are doing such powerful and important work in de-stigmatising conversations about mental health and mental illness.” – Faith, email

8. Hilarious Humanitarians Deanna Silverman, a clinical social worker, and Frances Echeverria, a marriage and family therapist, talk about topics we all face – like anger, failure, whether or not to say or be sorry, and how to survive the holidays. “It is an awesome, hilarious podcast on everyday issues we all deal with, run by two mental health facilitators, and it’s bloody brilliant,” said one fan. “I genuinely look forward to Fridays when the new one comes out.” – Linda, email

9. Griefcast This is a podcast about death, but it hasn’t got the tone you would expect for such a topic. Cariad Lloyd talks to fellow comedians about people they have lost. “I stumbled across this after recently losing someone and found it very comforting to listen to what others had gone through,” a reader said. “All make me feel more normal, less alone in what I’m going through, and make me laugh and cry. It’s made grieving my first big loss a lot easier.” – Susie, Facebook.

10. Seek the Joy Podcast – The best way to get through a tough spot in your life is to hear solid advice from somebody else about how they got through it. Sydney Weiss asks people how they find joy in difficult times. A suggestion sent through to us said: “This podcast is a breath of fresh air, and I look forward to new episodes every week.” – Kathryn, email

11. A Therapist Walks Into a Bar – Lily Sloane, a marriage and family therapist, listens to people’s issues at her practice. In this show, seeking to connect with people and their problems, she literally heads to bars and asks them what they are going through. In this well-produced podcast, you realise that everyone is fighting their own demons. – Allie, email

Toby Leigh for BuzzFeed

Film, television, and culture

12. The Upside Down Podcast Yep, that’s right: a podcast all about Stranger Things. Hosts Ash and Tori have an enthusiasm for the Netflix series that’s utterly infectious from the moment you first listen, and you’ll quickly appreciate the lengths they go to in cataloguing as much as they can about it. For the most recent episode, they recorded a field trip to the location that became Hawkins High School. – Alex, email

13. Buffering the Vampire Slayer – Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still quoted, discussed, and beloved by so many people years after it was last on the air. Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo break down the series episode by episode, one podcast at a time. Better still, said a reader: “[They] have character jingles, a fashion watch, and sexual tension awards.” – Meral, Facebook

14. The Bechdel Cast The Bechdel test, as you may already know, determines how well women are represented in a film by whether it features two women who speak to each other without the subject being a man. Jamie Loftus and Caitlin Durante use this test as a starting point in a podcast discussing the portrayal of women on film. It’s a lighthearted audio delight. Recent discussions have included movies such as The Post, Mrs Doubtfire, and Blade Runner.Caroline, Facebook

15. Rock Talk – This is a podcast about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Jordan and Charlie review each of his films and drop the latest news about The Rock each week. It’s simply wonderful that the internet provides gifts like this. – Rachel, Facebook

Just great chat

16. Punch up the Jam This comedy podcast, hosted by Demi Adejuyigbe and Miel Bredouw, has a great concept: finding and rewriting popular songs to make them even better. But the best bit is the chemistry between the two hosts throughout. It is quite simply electric. – Michele, Facebook

17. Ethnically Ambiguous – This is a good listen. A reader told us: “It’s hosted by Shereen, a Syrian-American woman, and Anna, an Iranian-American woman, who give fresh insights on current events in the Middle East, humorous commentary, and observations on life as first-generation immigrants in America (especially in the Trump age).” – JZ, email

18. Off Book Podcast This is an improvised musical podcast. The entire thing is accompanied by a keyboard and the interviews are followed up with an improvised song. Even the sponsored advert at the very start is a song! And yes, it works. “Zach and Jess, the hosts, are fantastic together,” a reader said. “Together they’ve created one of the best podcasts out there. Dana, the producer, is extremely interactive with the fans. If you’re not listening, you’re missing out on something great.” – Patrick, Facebook

19. Brown About Town LDN Jay, Kneemah, and Stacey share their experiences of living in London: “What I really enjoy about this show is the different angles each host brings to the wide variety of topics they discuss due to their backgrounds yet similar interests.” – David, email.

20. Hip Hop Saved My Life with Romesh Ranganathan If you like hip-hop, listen to this podcast. If you don’t like hip-hop, listen to this podcast. Comedian Romesh Ranganathan is an utter delight. His conversations with comedians and other well-known figures never feel stuffy or pretentious. – Charlie, email

21. Bitter Brown Femmes – It’s where the intellectual chisme happens. Cassandra and Ruben break down life, activism, struggle, and Twitter beef from where they’re at. Their tagline is “We dismantle -isms while running our mouths”, which is a perfect way to put it. Expect to come away with context and ready to join the fight. – Julia, BuzzFeed

Tim Lane / Getty / BuzzFeed

News and current affairs

22. The Europeans At first glance, you might think that this is a podcast all about Brexit, considering that this dominates most European news. It isn’t. A reader told us: “They discuss continental politics in a very approachable way, along with matters of language, culture, economics, food, and really anything that helps to shed light on the European experience. In one they interviewed a German interpreter about the difficulties of translating Donald Trump’s offensive rhetoric, and it was both funny and extremely enlightening.” It’s presented by Katy Lee, a reporter in Paris, and Dominic Kraemer in Amsterdam. – Kit, email

23. Hellbent “It’s a feminist politics podcast hosted by two brilliant women who break down the news, analyzing the current political issues we’re facing. They have fantastic interviews and connect really well with their audience. They’re fearless, outspoken, and unapologetic about their beliefs. Their FB community is such a sanity-saver too. It’s the most supportive place on the internet for liberal, politically engaged women.” – Monique, Facebook.

Realise your dreams

24. Proof to Product – Ever have an idea for a side-hustle but you have no idea how to make that idea into an actual thing? This podcast interviews people who have gone along that journey and have made a success of it, whatever they do. Each episode is full of advice from gaining confidence and creativity to the more practical stuff like working out your brand, sorting out pricing, and locking down. – Nicole, email

25. Deeper Than Work Dorianne St Fleur presents this careers podcast full of advice you’ll wish you’d got a long time ago. “There are range of topics to help navigate the workplace, such as how to deal with a layoff, why you’re not getting a promotion, how to create a career strategy, what to do to make a career switch, and dealing with sexual harassment at work, to name a few.” – Erica, email

26. The Bestseller Experiment – At one time or another, most of us have thought about writing our own book, but actually doing it feels more punishment than pleasure. This podcast, presented by Mark Desvaux and Mark Stay, guides you through doing it the right way, from finding the creative sparks to dealing with the word that strikes fear into every writer: deadlines. – @SwaffordBethany

27. Journey to Launch – Jamila Souffrant presents this handy podcast about how to sort your finances out, full of advice such as maximising income, building your savings, and breezing through your expenses. “Jamila has a way of feeding information to her listeners with her subtle voice, patience, and great explanation.” – Shaleia, email

Alessandra Genualdo for BuzzFeed

Disagree with any of the picks or have any great suggestions of your own? Let us know in the comments below!






The Spice Girls Are Reportedly Reuniting Because It's What Fans Really, Really Want

“The Time’s Up and #MeToo movements have shone a light on how powerful we can be when we work together to bring about change,” she told the Mirror. “That is incredibly inspiring. My career has always focused on empowering and celebrating women, so the momentum that these movements brought only makes me even more determined and passionate in my beliefs.”

The last time she performed with the iconic ’90s group was for the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.