The Quarantine Stream: 'Song Exploder' Takes You Inside the Creation of Catchy Tunes

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Show: Song Exploder

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: Ever wonder how R.E.M.‘s “Losing My Religion” was made? How about Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s “Wait For It,” arguably the best song in Hamilton? Based on the popular podcast, Song Exploder follows host Hrishikesh Hirway through a series of interviews with bands or singer/songwriters, tracking the origin, production, and reception of one of their most popular or interesting songs. It’s a piece-by-piece breakdown of the music, and through the use of isolated tracks, you may hear these songs like never before.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: I grew up watching VH1’s Behind the Music and being mesmerized by the stories behind the songs I was hearing on the radio. And while that show frequently took a macro perspective which covered a band’s entire history, this one takes a micro approach by zeroing in on a single, specific song and getting the people responsible for it to talk us through how it came together. Song Exploder‘s nitty gritty approach is not something Behind the Music really had the time to adopt, but the results are equally mesmerizing.

I’ve only listened to a handful of episodes of the Song Exploder podcast that inspired this series, but in the podcast, host Hrishikesh Hirway edits out his questions to create the illusion that the subjects are having a one-sided conversation with the audience, telling them all about how their songs came to be. But in the show, we see Hirway asking questions on camera and shaping the conversation. He’s…fine as a host, but I couldn’t help but wish that he edit himself out of the show as well.

There are only four episodes of Song Exploder out right now, and one of the great things about the show is that you can dip in and out based solely on your interests. Each episode is basically just a thirty-minute stylized interview, complete with animations, snatches of isolated tracks for several instruments/vocals, and directors like Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) behind the camera.

There’s an inspirational quality to the show, and by demystifying the process of creation, it made me want to go back and listen to my favorite songs with new ears, searching for all of the tiny elements which might have blended into the background but which nonetheless contribute to a song’s overall success.

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