Intimacy is the podcast medium’s uncontested edge. The immediacy of a host susurrating in one’s ears is a primary reason, and the most frequently observed one. But there’s also the absence of visual signifiers—a lack that facilitates a one-sided bond between speaker and audience via the latter’s projection—and the rapidity with which a listener can absorb a host’s thought patterns, verbal tics, recurring obsessions, and/or prosaic yet specific details about their personal lives—everything they put out, consciously or unconsciously. And yet few professionally produced podcasts feature hosts as gleefully and wondrously open as Thirst Aid Kit, the 7-month-old BuzzFeed crowd-pleaser fronted by Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins. It takes genuine bravery to reveal one’s erotic and emotional desires, as Adewunmi and Perkins do on a weekly basis, alongside insightful cultural commentary. Their favorite mode of self-exposure, which happens to give Thirst Aid Kit its signature fizz? That most potentially humiliating genre of all: romantic fan fiction.
Each segment of Thirst Aid Kit is designed to feel like a slumber party, but for adult girlfriends. (The podcast is queer-embracing, but decidedly straight.) The majority of episodes are devoted to a single actor, like Chris Evans, Oscar Isaac, Tom Hiddleston, or Tom Hardy. In the June 7 episode, about Hardy, the black hosts quasi-apologize for discussing yet “another pasty British white boy.” White men are certainly overrepresented on the podcast—an uncomfortable fact Adewunmi and Perkins readily acknowledge is a reflection of whom Hollywood tends to anoint as its stars, which informs whom we’re taught to lust after. The podcast’s most consistently rewarding section is the middle, where the hosts breezily but thoroughly dissect a celebrity’s persona. The Hardy hour, for example, flits through his roles in Bronson, This Means War, and Mad Max: Fury Road, while touching on his love of dogs, his alcoholic past, his brief rap career (his nom de disque: Tommy No 1), and the male privilege inherent in any actor’s bad-boy image. He’s like a “really scuzzy, incredibly hot rent boy,” they conclude. On other episodes, they sympathize with John Cho’s struggle against racial obstacles in Hollywood, acknowledge why Oscar Isaac and Keanu Reeves felt the necessity to pass as white in their early careers, praise director Ryan Coogler’s history of substantive female roles, and appreciate Mahershala Ali’s Islam-inflected opposition to appearing nude on screen. (Adewunmi identifies as Muslim.) At the very least, Thirst Aid Kit represents a model of wokeness that welcomes giggles and sensuality.
But the podcast’s most unique feature is its “sexy drabbles,” short stories comprising about 100 words that bookend each episode and feature the celeb of the week in romantic situations with the hosts. As writers attuned to political dynamics in pop culture, Adewunmi and Perkins help correct the racial imbalances in the love stories we’re usually fed by centering female black desire and framing black women as romantic leads, something Hollywood doesn’t do enough. They also often profess their affection for physical qualities outside stereotypical male beauty: great eyebrows, shortness, and slimness. Perkins, for example, considers her dream guy “a French fry of a man.”
Such earnest responses to the entertainment industry are worthwhile projects in themselves, but the real fun comes in the “Fanfic Wars” that end each episode, where the hosts read their own drabbles, then open up the tales to listeners for ranking: Whose story did you like better this week? Thirst Aid Kit is thus that rare showcase of vulnerability and sportmanship, a mini-Moth frequently punctuated by friendly gasps of “Bitch!” whenever one of the hosts reads an especially good line. In the most memorable drabble to date, Perkins evidently struck a nerve among listeners by autobiographically focusing on her insecurities about her teeth and her kissing technique in her fictional romance with Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s a pampered prince in the hosts’ cultural analysis, the son of Hollywood insiders, not the kind of guy they think of themselves as generally being attracted to. But in their sexual imagination, his innate sensitivity counts more than his upbringing. Their Jake Gyllenhaal understands the fictional Perkins’ anxieties about her “overbite and crowded teeth.” He’ll kiss her wherever she is comfortable.
The brasher yet primmer Adewunmi speaks in a cosmopolitan London accent, while the quieter but more moan-prone Perkins drawls in a slight Tennessee twang. The contrast in their voices and backgrounds adds to the sense that these are disparate women who have come together through the irresistible force of horniness, and who willingly crack themselves open for each other (and the listeners) to partake in the pleasure of lusting out loud and sharing one’s desires, especially when the objects of one’s longing don’t always line up with one’s politics. Thirst Aid Kit shows how much delight, even gratification, there can be in exhibiting vulnerability. After more than 20 episodes, each one still feels like a risk—and I say that as a listener who doesn’t have to say a thing about my own desires, but does have to ensure that she won’t let out a nervous shriek-laugh in the middle of the street when she hears an enthusiastic remark or just a back-of-the-throat rumble that sends a surprisingly intense tingle down her spine.
Correction, June 18, 2018: Due to a photo-provider error, the photographer of the image on this page, Sylvie Rosokoff, was misidentified as Sophie Rosokoff.