Going Behind the Scenes of ‘Popcast (Deluxe)’


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When you walk into the “Popcast (Deluxe)” recording studio on the second floor of the New York Times office in Manhattan, the first thing you notice is two colorful chairs in the center of the room with black microphones perched on the seat backs.

“We were thinking ‘elevated basement,’” said Jon Caramanica, a pop music critic for The New York Times and a host of the show, a weekly culture review on YouTube. “It’s a little ‘Wayne’s World.’”

Mr. Caramanica and his co-host, the Times pop music reporter Joe Coscarelli, picked out the furniture for their studio at Horseman Antiques on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The chairs are among many quirky personal touches they’ve added to the space — books, photography from their work at The Times, lots of junk food — that, like the show, blend a highbrow and lowbrow aesthetic.

Both Mr. Caramanica and Mr. Coscarelli were treading new ground when they began hosting “Popcast (Deluxe),” The Times’s first video podcast, together one year ago. The show is a spinoff of “Popcast,” a weekly pop music podcast that Mr. Caramanica has hosted since 2016. For the “deluxe” version with a broader view of pop culture, the idea was to take something that was already working — the easy and playful rapport between Mr. Caramanica and Mr. Coscarelli, a frequent “Popcast” guest — and adapt it for YouTube, a video platform that podcasts were increasingly moving into.

“We want to go where smart, curious, pop-culture-interested people are living,” Mr. Coscarelli said. “YouTube was the obvious next place.”

The pair records on Mondays and releases segments of the conversation throughout the week on YouTube, as well as a full audio episode on Wednesdays. For the week of May 13, Mr. Caramanica and Mr. Coscarelli had decided to cover the feud between the hip-hop giants and rivals Drake and Kendrick Lamar, as well as Zendaya’s star turn in the tennis film “Challengers,” and they allowed a Times Insider reporter to observe.

They had a planning meeting the previous Friday to discuss what they wanted to cover and decide which new songs they should listen to over the weekend. Then they checked in over a video call on Sunday to discuss their thoughts and review the topics trending on social media. Around 12:30 p.m. on Monday, they arrived at the studio to tape the episode.

“We always have at least two prep conversations,” Mr. Coscarelli said. “Nothing’s scripted, but we don’t want to hit the ground cold.”

As Mr. Caramanica and Mr. Coscarelli went over some last-minute notes, Sawyer Roque, the senior producer for “Popcast (Deluxe),” flitted between three cameras mounted on tripods in a semicircle around the two chairs, checking the angles on a monitor to the left of the set. Each camera displayed a different perspective — a zoomed-out view of the full set, a close-up on Mr. Coscarelli or a close-up on Mr. Caramanica — and Ms. Roque would toggle between them on the monitor during recording.

The 30-minute segment on Drake and Kendrick Lamar was recorded almost all in one take. Immediately afterward, Ms. Roque sent the footage to their editor, Jamie Hefetz, aiming to post it to YouTube by 7 p.m. that night.

“We used to tape straight through and drop all the segments at once, but we’ve been experimenting with posting segments throughout the week because YouTube rewards consistency,” Mr. Coscarelli said.

“Plus, it’s timely,” Mr. Caramanica said of the diss tracks exchanged between the two rappers. “The news on this is changing by the hour.” (The show also posts shorter clips to TikTok, Instagram and X to reach viewers on those platforms.)

While Ms. Roque uploaded the footage, Mr. Caramanica and Mr. Coscarelli pulled out their laptops and began brainstorming headlines for the segment. This process — casual, chaotic and collaborative — is how they make many decisions about the show.

“What about ‘The Kendrick-Drake beef is over — or is it?’” Mr. Caramanica said, grabbing a bag of chips off the snack table.

“Maybe ‘Why the Kendrick-Drake beef won’t die,’ or something like that,” Mr. Coscarelli said.

“I think it should be a question,” Mr. Caramanica said. “Ultimately, we’re asking it — we’re not saying we know the answer.” The eventual consensus: “Is the Kendrick-Drake beef really over?”

Mr. Coscarelli had to duck out for a quick meeting before taping the next segment, so Mr. Caramanica took the opportunity to survey the options for Snack of the Week, a recurring segment that is popular with listeners. Mr. Caramanica and Mr. Coscarelli share a passion for junk food — “though my taste is a little more extreme,” Mr. Coscarelli said — and their candid reviews of the weird and wild snacks they find at bodegas around New York serve as an entertaining send-off to each episode.

The show has welcomed guests like Lil Jon, Jelly Roll and Maren Morris, who also participate in the snack review.

“We keep a running pantry,” Mr. Caramanica said. “Any time we see something exotic, we buy it.”

Mr. Coscarelli soon returned, and around 5 p.m., they recorded the second of their two main segments, on Zendaya and “Challengers.”

Then it was time for the grand finale: Snack of the Week. They tapped a bag of Buckin’ Ranch Takis for the taste test.

Upon smelling the inside of the bag, Mr. Caramanica proclaimed, “Oh, that’s gross.” Mr. Coscarelli was more forgiving: “Oh, there’s so much flavor, though. Look at all that dust!”

With the recording wrapped, all that remained was to edit the rest of the footage, which Ms. Roque said would take until the end of the day on Tuesday.

While there are many hours of behind-the-scenes preparation that go into putting out a weekly video podcast — even an unscripted one like “Popcast (Deluxe)” — Mr. Caramanica said it was worth it to engage with an audience that might not otherwise find their work.

“Lots of our listeners are younger and don’t pay for The New York Times,” he added, “but they’re interested to know a place like The New York Times covers these subjects seriously.”



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