Spotify has doubled down on podcasts for 2021 and there are now more than 2 million podcasts on the streaming platform. So how do you choose which Spotify podcast to listen to? Allow us to offer some tips, with our round-up of the best podcasts on Spotify for music, true crime, history, sport, entertainment, comedy and more.
Podcasts are a great way to expand your mind, from history to politics, parenting to football, there really is a podcast on just about everything. And probably with a celebrity host. Spotify has bought podcasting production companies and created a slew of exclusive series for its 'Spotify Originals' platform, while also hosting many of the most popular podcasts on the planet.
Our best podcasts on Spotify list includes a mix of both Originals and podcasts which you can find elsewhere. It's packed with recent podcast sensations as well as podcast gold from the past few years and, of course, there's plenty of true crime. If you're after something more hi-fi orientated, then take a look at our choice of the best podcasts for music lovers.
Got a better suggestion? Let us know in the comments below.
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Wind of Change
We challenge you to read the synopsis to this one and not want to listen all eight episodes immediately. "It’s 1990. The Berlin Wall just fell. The Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse. And the soundtrack to the revolution is one of the best selling songs of all time, the metal ballad “Wind of Change,” by the Scorpions. Decades later, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe heard a rumor: the song wasn’t written by the Scorpions. It was written by the CIA. This is his journey to find the truth." We're happy to report, the podcast is every bit as good as it sounds.
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Dolly Parton's America
Is Dolly Parton the only thing holding America together? In these sadly divided times, this podcast answers that question with... maybe. Jad Abumrad, a US radio host, explores Parton's ability to unify this divided nation, not only by exploring her fascinating life but also by delving deep into his own past growing up as an "Arab kid in a southern Baptist universe". Much like the artist herself, this podcast delivers more than may first meet the eye.
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The Lazarus Heist
Almost a perfect crime... From hackers to Hollywood, North Korea to counterfeit money, this web of intrigue is weaved artfully by the BBC World Service production team. True crime meets international espionage in a tale for our times.
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Tech supremo Kara Swisher tackles big issues and big cheeses in her trademark no-nonsense style, guiding us through the world of technology's talking points, at once explaining complex ideas simply while diving deep into the detail. From Alan Rusbridger to Evan Spiegel, Sway draws some high profile guests – and they're spared no punches.
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Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen
Welcome to the world of one of the oldest and strangest cons out there. Jobbers looking for their big break in LA get a phone call from a bigwig female exec telling them that their dream job is waiting for them. All they need to do is get on a plane to Jakarta. Except, when they do, not all is as promised. A crazy story, well told.
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Today in Focus
From the Guardian, Anushka Asthana and Rachel Humphreys deliver a daily dose of news analysis that makes the noisy news cycle easier to absorb. It's also worth checking out Freshwater, produced by the same team and focusing on the five fishermen who were sentenced to a total of 104 years in prison after £53m of cocaine was discovered in Freshwater Bay off the Isle of Wight. All five men have always maintained their innocence and the five-part series takes an extended look at the case and features interviews with some of the people involved.
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Making Sense with Sam Harris
No need to listen from the beginning, dip in and out of more than 250 episodes as neuroscientist, philosopher and best-selling author Sam Harris explores the human mind, society and current events. Topics include how technology is affecting our attention spans, the science of psychedelics, a discussion on life with Richard Dawkins and what it's like to escape a Christian cult. We guarantee you'll feel smarter after every episode.
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Where is George Gibney?
This is an incredibly sensitive subject handled with great skill by Mark Horgan of Irish production company Second Captains. The podcast follows an investigation into the sexual abuse allegations against famous Olympic swimming coach George Gibney, who terrorised generations of young swimmers and is now living life on the run in the US. The podcast takes in stories from the survivors as well as the hunt for Gibney himself.
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Deep Cover: The Drug Wars
One from Pushkin Industries, Deep Cover: The Drug Wars is like one of those brilliant Hollywood drug crime biopics. FBI agent Ned Timmons goes undercover as Ed Thomas, infiltrates a Michigan biker gang and follows the money all the way until he reaches the very top of the narcotics tree. Enjoyed Blow, Goodfellas or Sons of Anarchy? This one's for you.
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Malcolm Gladwell heads for a second and closer look at events, people, ideas and even songs from the past, which might not have been fully understood at the time. This is another great series from Pushkin Industries with episodes covering, well, all sorts of strange and hard to pin down stuff. Just try it.
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Son of a Hitman
Produced by Spotify Studios, this is a multi-part limited series hosted by journalist Jason Cavanagh. He conducts a real-time investigation into the murders, crimes, and conspiracies of hitman, Charles Harrelson, father to actor Woody Harrelson. It's not exactly your everyday yarn. There aren't many episodes, so make sure you savour them.
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Produced by Mundial Magazine, Giant is a short series Spotify Original podcast taking an in-depth look at the heart-warming and more honest stories of football, at a time when the game has become all too obsessed with money. Each episode is fairly weighty at about an hour long, and they cover topics such as the Nigeria national team's golden generation, the birth of the MLS and the damage Covid-19 has caused non-league and semi-professional football.
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You're Dead to Me
Greg Jenner, the self-titled Chief Nerd from the BBC's children's TV show Horrible Histories, has created a set of history podcasts for adults. Now into its second season, it covers topics including the infamous pirate Blackbeard, Boudica, the Spartans and the richest person to have ever lived, Mansa Musa. Jenner is joined by historians and comedians along the way to ensure the result is a funny, informative and often corrective romp through time.
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Crimetown is more than just another excellent true crime podcast. It has a structural flavour that's not too dissimilar to TV show The Wire, with each season focusing on a particular and corrupt city in the States. The episodes then provide a zoomed-in reportage with stories of individuals all forming a fascinating collage of that town. Season one is about Providence, Rhode Island. Spotify's exclusive Season two heads to the heart of the Rust Belt – Detroit.
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Another superb series from the BBC, Soul Music is an uplifting look at the power of songs. Each host-less, half-hour episode centres on a single track and the set of differing emotional impacts and connections it made for a string of famous and non-famous people. What you hear is a set of wonderful and different stories about the same piece of music with each speaker passing the baton to the next so smoothly that it almost feels dreamlike. Have a listen and feel good.
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Another Spotify Original, Football Legends is, as the name suggests, focused on the great, or at least well remembered and cult players, of the beautiful game. It's hosted by a mixture of football broadcasters, writers and even an ex-player or two, who examine the lesser-known stories from footballers' biographies. Episodes are at around the ten-minute mark and have involved players such as Adebayo Akinfenwa, Carlton Palmer and Andrea Pirlo.
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Who the hell is Hamish?
Hamish Watson was sentenced to jail in 2019 for swindling victims out of more than $7m, but that was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this Syndey-born surf-dude-cum-conman got up to. This brilliant podcast unravels the methodology behind Hamish's litany of crimes and the cheek with which he got away with it, across so many countries, for so long.
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Unexplained is a haunting and unsettling bi-weekly podcast about strange and mysterious real-life events that continue to evade explanation. The host, London-based Richard Maclean Smith, brings a refreshingly different style compared to the slew of US investigative podcasts. The constant, disturbing soundtrack in the background also helps to add to that sense of folklore horror. There are five seasons to be scared by.
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In the Dark
Investigative journalism has found a new home in podcasting and can even adapt when the crime being investigated ends up getting solved just before the first episode is aired. In the case of season one of In the Dark, it provides a fascinating insight into the failures of a law enforcement system that took 27 years to solve a murder that could have had its case closed on the night of the crime.
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Forget about Train Guy, quiz shows and the Big Night Out: it turns out that the real genius of English comedian Bob Mortimer, is his impressions of Newcastle United legend Peter Beardsley and his hen-pecking wife with a poached egg obsession. Loosely based on football, it also features a very amusing caricature of one-time England manager Roy Hodgson and his love of Warhammer. Of course it does. British humour at its best.
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Slow Burn takes famous incidents – Watergate, Clinton's impeachment and, less predictably, the murders of Biggie and Tupac – and unfolds the details until it becomes something far, far larger than you had ever imagined. If you want to know just how powerful and pervasive politics is, then prepare to take a peep behind the curtain. Now into its fifth season.
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Love a prison drama? How about the real thing? Ear Hustle brings everyday stories from the day-to-day lives of inmates at California's San Quentin State Prison. The show itself is recorded in the correctional facility and hosted by one of its inmates. The title of the show is prison slang for eavesdropping – and now we can have a listen to what they heard.
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The Adam Buxton Podcast
He's been at it since 2015 but somehow The Adam Buxton Podcast just keeps getting better and better. If you've not yet tuned in, it's a rambling chat between Buxton and a celebrity guest, normally from the world of comedy or the arts. That being said, the highlight might just be his opening monologues as he walks through the countryside with his dog Rosie. Or even the self-made advertising jingles. Yes, really.
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WTF with Marc Maron
To say that stand-up comedian Marc Maron is the Adam Buxton of America is in no way accurate, but their podcasts do occupy a similar niche. The format is more or less the same – Maron interviews famous celebs, they chat, we laugh – but, not being unfair to Buxton, the celebs are bigger and the podcast is even more long-standing. Glance through the list of over 1000 episodes and let rip.
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Man in the Window
If you want a particularly brilliant and terrifying true crime story, then this one's definitely for you. This eight-parter from the Los Angeles Times is a tale of the Golden State Killer, 12 years of horror and his more than 150 victims. Try Dirty John from the same makers once you've managed to get over this one.
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NPR's race and identity remix has been running since 2016 and is still going strong. It's hosted by two US journalists of colour who tackle the tricky issues and stories about race and ethnicity, the answers to which they're often not too sure about themselves. It's an interesting, intelligent, highly informative and always political 45 minutes, or thereabouts. This is one where you're probably best off starting at the beginning. Enjoy the ride.
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This Gimlet show is a tech podcast without the heavy nerdiness. Each episode, hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman investigate issues and annoyances of the internet age. Through the show's tech support hotline, the pair examine memes, connected pop culture, scammers, the extent to which Facebook is spying on you, and much more. All troubles of the modern age are addressed and, sometimes, solved.
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Stuff You Should Know
Practically as old as podcasting itself, SYSK has racked up over 1400 episodes since birth in 2008. Hosted by two writers from infotainment website HowStuffWorks, each listen is an in-depth look at a varied range of subjects, from narcolepsy to heroin, the Tiananmen Square massacre to what causes inflation. No need to start at the beginning, just flick through and download a few topics of interest.
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If you haven't heard about it already, this podcast from This American Life is one of the best series out there. It's something of a tour de force of journalism because, really, it's the most fascinating story about nothing at all. The seven episodes cover sympathetic host Brian Reed on his journeys down to Woodstock, Alabama – a nowheresville of America – with some incredible characters and stories. It's from the makers of Serial. You should listen to that one too.
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The Missing Cryptoqueen
This investigative series from the BBC uncovers what could go down as the biggest con of all time. Combine the lawless, get-rich-quick mentality of the cryptocurrency rush, the evils of multi-level marketing and one seriously impressive front lady, and what arises is a billion dollar fraud that's sadly still hooking people to this day.
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