Earworms: The best of 2023

The most popular podcasts, as selected by the industry

One of the biggest challenges for podcast fans is filtering through the countless available shows to find the ones that are most worth listening to. That’s why we launched Earworms at the start of this year, to bring you personal podcast recommendations from industry figures at the cutting edge of audio.

Since then, we’ve had more than 200 recommendations from across the sector, and analysing the full list presents some interesting trends. For example, while certain podcasts regularly tend to dominate the headlines (and the charts) one of the most notable insights was that out of 224 total recommendations, 197 of the podcasts nominated were unique and hadn’t been selected by anyone else, representing 88% of the full list.

There were some, however, that came up multiple times. Below, we’ve rounded up the top six podcasts - as selected by contributors to our weekly Earworms recommendation feature - that represent the podcast industry’s favourite shows.

Heavyweight

Confirming its credentials as an industry darling, Heavyweight received three separate nominations for Earmworms over the course of the year. While its current tenure at Spotify may be coming to an end, its beloved status within the community means it’s unlikely to find itself short of options for finding a new home.

“The scale and ambition of each episode is breathtaking, but the heart at the centre of each episode is why I keep coming back” - Andy Gaffney, host, Promenade

“Warm-hearted, deeply human, occasionally tragic but always mesmerising” - Dominic Nicholls, associate defence editor, The Telegraph

“I love it because it always speaks to some sort of human truth at the end, no matter where the story starts” - Tye Comer, senior production manager, Spotify

The Girlfriends

Despite launching halfway through the year, Novel’s true crime podcast The Girlfriends nevertheless managed to rack up an impressive three recommendations this year (as well as an adaptation deal with A24), further cementing the production company’s reputation as one of the most effective production companies in the UK.

“Funny, intriguing, [and] beautifully told” - Henrietta Harrison, senior podcast producer, Bauer Media

“It's very well produced and I found the host really captivating. I couldn't stop listening” - Ellie Clifford, development producer, Persephonica 

“Even though it was about one particular case, it was looking a bit more deeply into domestic abuse and women who have been harmed by their partners” - Hanna Adan, producer and founder, Gabay Productions 

The Blindboy Podcast 

Raising the bar for podcasts as an artistic medium, The Blindboy Podcast is a captivating exploration of long-form storytelling, full of left-field digressions and unexpected anecdotes, pulled together into a cohesive whole with subtlety and nuance. It was recommended by three people this year.

“It became essential therapy for me in early 2020… It's thought-provoking, comforting and funny AF” - Graham Hodge, co-founder, Cup and Nuzzle

“This podcast will move you, make you laugh, think and question what you thought you knew” - Aiwan Obinyan, CEO and founder, AiAi Studios

“How [The Blindboy Podcast] weaves his unique humour with storytelling, strong opinions and political outlook is a masterpiece” - Nic Redman, host, Voiceover Social Podcast

Huberman Lab

Helmed by neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, Huberman Lab explores the ways that brain chemistry can affect our daily lives, and how we can rewire our minds to be happier and more productive. His podcast is among the most popular in the world, and was recommended no less than three times this year by various industry figures. 

“Inspiring, motivating and so insightful” - Rahmon Agbaje, co-founder, Loud Parade

“I sometimes have to listen to each episode two or three times as he takes a deep dive into some complex subjects but I always feel so inspired by what I’ve learnt” - Pandora Morris, host, Hurt to Healing 

“The science of alcohol and the body is mind-blowing. Listen for the advice on hangovers if nothing else” - Kirk Flash, host, This Is Gay

The Rest Is Politics

With the UK government continuing to provide a rich supply of questionable decisions to dissect and discuss, little wonder that The Rest Is Politics was one of the year’s breakout successes, with three separate nominations for Earworms this year. Campbell and Stewart’s unlikely chemistry fired the starting pistol for a fresh wave of political commentary podcasts, and their podcast remains among the most successful examples.

“One of the most fascinating, surprising, and engaging pieces of content I've probably ever heard… for me, it really personifies why podcasting is special” - Neil Cowling, CEO, Fresh Air Production

“So clever, so well pitched, and so counter to the general political discourse” - Richard Innes, head of content, BrewDog

“I always come out thinking ‘Wow, this country is going to shit’ - but I will be listening next week!” - Andrew Spence, co-founder, Unedited

Tape Notes

Of all the podcasts that came up this year, however, the clear winner was Tape Notes; a show dedicated to the art of music production, hosted by radio legend John Kennedy and featuring a laundry list of talent including Blur, Royal Blood and The Japanese House. The podcast was recommended four times this year - more than any other show - by luminaries including IAB UK CMO James Chandler and Crowd Network heard of finance Christie Cremin.

“For creativity and inspiration, I absolutely love Tape Notes” - Giulia Ciccolella, marketing executive, Mags Creative 

“An hour and half of fascinating insights into the studio recording and dog-walk writing sessions” - James Chandler, chief marketing officer, IAB UK 

“Expertly crafted, mixing gloriously technical chat with funny anecdotes” - Christie Cremin, head of finance, Crowd Network 

“A prime example of engaging, long form audio content that sits perfectly in podcast form” - Roger Gowdy, director, Castmastery

Honourable mentions

While the podcasts above were the standouts from this year, there were several shows that were nominated twice, putting them ahead of the majority of other shows that appeared in Earworms this year.

Diary of a CEO

Dua Lipa: At Your Service

Empire

How I Built This

I’m Not A Monster - The Shamima Begum Story

My First Million

My Therapist Ghosted Me

Pivot

The Colin & Samir show

The News Agents

The Receipts Podcast

The Rest is History

Three Bean Salad

You're Dead to Me


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