The Five Spot: Hrishikesh Hirway, Host and Executive Producer, ‘Song Exploder’

Alicia Keys in Netflix's Song Exploder
On Song Exploder, Hrishikesh Hirway and guests like Alicia Keys break down the meaning of hit songs. (Image credit: Netflix)

New episodes of Song Exploder, a series that sees musicians break down how their hit song came together, begin on Netflix Dec. 15. Dua Lipa, Nine Inch Nails, The Killers and Natalia Lafourcade are featured. 

Well before the series premiered in October, Song Exploder was — and still is — a podcast. Hrishikesh Hirway hosts both. He spoke with B+C senior content producer, programming Michael Malone about the new episodes and his reluctance to appear on screen. An edited transcript follows.  

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TV shows on your watch list? The Great British Baking Show, Ted Lasso, Travel Man, Pen15, The Mandalorian

All-time top TV show? The Wire

Favorite app? New York Times crosswords

Destinations on your bucket list? Reykjavik, Tokyo, the Aegean Sea

Books on your nightstand or e-reader? Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Was it always the plan to be a TV series? Definitely not. Companies started emailing me in 2016, asking if I had considered adapting to something visual. I was not that excited. A friend said, instead of people trying to convince you to make Song Exploder with them, what if you do your own version? That was when I changed my mind. I met with Morgan Neville, who is for me the premiere music documentarian of our time. He said he would love to do the show. 

You’re mostly not heard on the podcast but appear in the TV series. Tell me about that. The pitch I brought to Morgan, I was gonna be mostly, if not entirely, invisible. I had gotten that idea from watching documentaries: the way a proper nonfiction story is done is, you don’t hear the interviewer. Morgan pointed out that some of the things that made Song Exploder feel special as a podcast would feel less special in the visual format.

How do you select your guests? We want to have a wide range of artists. We put together a wish list in conjunction with Netflix. We wanted people who are fascinating in terms of their art and can articulate themselves well, and are representative of different backgrounds and genres and eras.

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What’s something a guest said that sticks with you today? Natalia Lafourcade talked about being kicked in the head by a horse when she was a girl. She was hospitalized and went through intensive therapy. Her mom, a music educator, incorporated music education as one of the therapies. That made her into the musician that she is. She wrote “Hasta La Raiz” about how it is both the good and bad things in life that make you who you are, and you need to honor all those things. 

What are you doing to get your live music fix? I’m not getting that fix at all. It’s just one of the things I am grieving this year. To be in the same room as a drummer playing the drums, hitting the snare, and have the air actually move around you, that’s something I miss a lot. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.