The Musician TikTok Hostage Crisis

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: We want to sign people with a viral hit on Tik Tok only. Yeah. Then I’m like, really?

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: So embarrassing. It’s real.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: That’s so embarrassing.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Hi. I’m Maddison Malone Kircher.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: And I’m Rachel Hampton and you’re listening to I feel I’m.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: In Case You Missed.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: It Flip podcast about internet culture. And we have the most important news of the century. Maybe the queen’s not dead. Shocking. Literally everyone, including me. She made an appearance over the weekend, just in time for her platinum jubilee, which is the celebration of her 70th anniversary of ascending to the throne. For those who don’t keep up with royals, which you shouldn’t, but I’m not going to lie. Her appearance mostly just reminded me that she can literally just disappear for months.

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: She’s very old. Well, we grant her that.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: I mean, if she’s so old, she should retire.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: She should retire. The institution itself should retire. Who can say?

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: You’re not wrong. There was a importantly, there was also a hologram at this platinum jubilee.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Well, it wasn’t a hologram. It wasn’t a real hologram.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: What do you mean, it wasn’t a real hologram?

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Holograms are three dimensional. You can walk around them and see their, you know, faces and their butts.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Wow. Not the Samantha Queen.

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: This was more akin to, like, if you’ve ever been to the haunted mansion at Disneyland, there’s this vignette of all these waltzing, creepy little ghosts. Which cool trick? Not a hologram.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: So what you’re saying is the queen is not a ghost?

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: No, actually, she is. Oh, my God. That’s so funny that you say that because it wasn’t a hologram. It was pretty likely a thing known as Pepper’s Ghost, which is like a hundreds of years old technology that dates back to like the stage. It’s just a bit of trickery of the eye.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: No, no, no. That’s all. The time we have to mention was an.

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Academic quiz ball team in high school. We didn’t even talk about the only thing I want to talk about. One of us has to say it. We have to wish our listeners across the pond a happy party. Jujubes.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Oh, okay. That is all the time we have for party jujubes for platinum jubilee. Not least because the only royals we care about in this house ever died approximately like 400 years ago. Or are Amelia? Leona Thermopolis for now. The Queen of Genovia cute Genovia Theme Song Journo.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: We Are The Land I Call My Home. Here’s where I pivot to the Canadian National Anthem True North Star. I love that movie, man.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: It’s so good.

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Okay. If I can’t complain about the platitudes anymore, I do have a complaint I’d like to lodge with tick tock again.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Shocking. No one.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: They changed around where all my little icons are and it’s messing with my for you page experience.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: This is kind of giving when my mother is like Microsoft Word change, this archaic thing it’s giving. Get off my lawn.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Did you just like in meeting your mother?

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: That’s a cool. Do you think I am? I mean, this complaint is giving it’s giving middle aged. But what exactly is going on?

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: All right. On my middle age for you, Page, there is now an icon between the comments bubble and the share era. It’s a bookmark when you click it, it adds whatever video you’re watching to your favorites collection. So in theory, it’s to help us organize our favorites into separate collections. But instead, it’s just messing with my TikTok experience because every time I go to read the comments, which are a critical part of getting the full ticktalk experience, I just keep hitting bookmark instead and then being like, What I’ve learned though is because I’ve been talking to people about this, not everyone has this. Our producer Daniel and I were chatting about it and he doesn’t have the feature. And then we looked on Reddit and there’s a user over there who’s been deleting and re downloading the app over the last few months.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Why?

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Because sometimes they have this feature and sometimes they don’t.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Huh? I’ll be honest. I have this feature and I really like it. I am constantly bookmarking things for this show, for my general life. And before I used to have to go click the three little dots and then find the bookmark button on that little menu. And now it’s just right there. I like you, Picasso.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Professionally. I also like it as someone who’s constantly saving Tiktoks for this job. Although I have learned the hard way, the only true way to save a TikTok is to download the video or screen record. It lets you return and find the just heartbreaking video not available.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: R.I.P. All the times we should have saved videos and did not.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: R.I.P. the storage space on my phone.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: You got to get a hard drive for that shit.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: I guess if you are listening to this and have curated any collections you think I’ll enjoy or will enjoy. Please send them our way. But this is all I guess for the old man yells at cloud section of today’s episode of I see. Why Am I? But in my defense, I’m not the only one complaining about Tik Tok right now. And that’s actually what we’re going to talk about on the show today.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Yes, we are talking about other people complaining about Tik Tok. It’s an audible breath of complaining. Yes, I did learn that word a month ago. And yes, I will be continuing to use it every single episode on the show today. We’re talking about a recent trend of musicians taking to the Cork app to promote their music, but not in the way that you would expect. Instead of the typical, Here’s this new song I have and I’d love you to listen. They’re saying my record label is forcing me to be here. Is this just a craven marketing ploy? Or are these musicians really being oppressed by their record labels?

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: More on that after the break.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: And we’re back on TikTok, an app that all of us apparently are sick of, including musicians.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Over the last few months. Musicians have been posting Tiktoks supposedly to promote their new music, but kind of with what we could best describe as hostage situation vibes.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Mm hmm. That’s a that’s a great description.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Yeah. It’s basically like, you know, Florence blink twice if you need help kind of thing. And when I say Florence, I mean Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, who in March released this video of just herself singing to the camera.

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Speaker 3: I was always able to write my own song. Always made sense to me. Now I find that when I look down, every page is empty. There is nothing to describe.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: That sounds lovely, right?

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Yeah. The caption not so lovely.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: So that says the label are begging me for, quote, lo fi tik tok. So here you go. Please send help. Skull and crossbones emoji.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: This doesn’t quite surprise me from Florence in that she’s kind of notoriously private. I think of her as one of those musicians who writes an album, goes on a tour, and then disappears into the woods for a few years.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Oh, for sure. And like, if you’ve seen her on one of those tours, the only time I saw her perform, I distinctly remember her just begging the audience to put their phones away, to like join a community of people in a place and not be online. So it wasn’t surprising to me to see this. It was also not surprising when I went to the comments and they were full of people being like, Sorry, Florence, we like this. Give us more. This is good. Like we want more from you. But the thing is, it didn’t stop in March with that. Florence Tick tock. Right? So in the same month we get this from the band Tokio Hotel.

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Speaker 3: Butterfly in the sky. I can.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: In case you can’t tell. That is not, in fact, Tokyo Hotel singing. That is the Reading Rainbow theme, which is a recent trend that has been on TikTok, where the Reading Rainbow theme plays, and then the head of the people recording the videos kind of floats around in space. So while the song is going, the onscreen caption reads us trying to figure out Tik Tok after the label forced us to be on here.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: The thing is, this isn’t even a new argument. Back in October of last year, Charli XCX posted this video.

Speaker 4: Well, I didn’t really want to be here, so I was made to be here. So obviously I’m just like wanting to get this over with and get on with my life. This is a big inconvenience for me.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Charli’s lip syncing to an audio of Naomi Campbell testifying during a war crimes trial. Fun little Madlib and the screen reads when the label asked me to make my eighth tik tok of the week.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Did I know Naomi Campbell testified during a war crimes trial? No.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Yeah, I didn’t. You didn’t picture Naomi Campbell just strutting at The Hague?

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: No.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Fast forward to this year, though. We’ve got at least two more videos in this, what we’ll now call a trend from the one, the only, Ed Sheeran. Ed Sheeran is playing his new song, which Rachel doesn’t think is very good. And I immediately started bopping to. And in the video, he’s eating chips with the on screen caption when you were supposed to be making promos for your song, but you really just want to eat a snack and you decide that eating a snack can be promo for a song because everyone loves snacks.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: He’s not wrong there, and he’s also not the only one making these tiktoks because there are more, including one from my biracial queen Ozzy.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: So as her song is playing, Josey is looking at the camera and the text goes by on screen. It reads, Basically, I have a song that I love that I want to release ASAP, but my record label won’t let me. I’ve been in this industry for eight years. I’ve sold over 165 million records, and my record company is saying that I can’t release it until they can fake a viral moment on Tik Tok. Everything is marketing and they’re doing this to basically every artist these days. I just want to release music man. I deserve better tbh. I’m tired.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Not great.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: It sucks.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: It sucks. It’s it’s not exactly. I don’t say fair cause like is anything really fair, but like, it doesn’t make me feel great to know that artists are expected to not only create the music that is their primary product, but there are also expected to engineer their own virality. It just feels not great.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Not everybody has the capabilities.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: And they shouldn’t have.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: To. Trying to think who here is a good example of an artist with the range.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: I would probably say. I mean, we’ve talked about Lil Nas X so many times on this fucking show and also Lizzo. Yes, there are a few artists who have the abilities to make these moments and to have these moments seem organic, which is really important because nothing is worse than a musician trying to make something go viral and it flopping. It’s it’s like watching someone belly flop in a pool. It’s really fucking painful.

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: The bigger question here, though, is, of course, are these celebrities being real or is this also a marketing act? Within a marketing act? People have since begun accusing Halsey of just that. After her TikTok went viral, she tweeted on May 23rd, At this point, I don’t know what to do because I told the truth about what’s happening. And now I still don’t have a release date. And some of you think I’m lying about this whole fiasco, so I’m double fucked lol. If you have questions I have answers. I have nothing to hide.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: So she’s theoretically not lying. This is apparently not all part of a grand marketing packet that all new artists get where they’re like, If you want to go viral, just say that you hate your record label. But another twist comes in this whole saga when an account by the name of Halsey’s cardigan on Twitter holds Halsey’s cardigan replies. But some artists also told the truth, not just you, with screenshots of Florence’s tik tok, charli’s tik tok and a now deleted one that we haven’t mentioned yet from F-k twigs.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Q Charli XCX quote tweeting Halsey’s cardigan saying, not me. I was just lying for fun.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Which I think is obviously sarcastic, not least because in a 2021 podcast appearance, Charli noted that record labels have been demanding this like performed authenticity online for forever.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: This is obviously no one’s fault. But I do think about when we talk about artists who are really good at performing Internet authenticity, often because it starts out genuinely, authentically Taylor Swift, Lil Nas X, how the trickle down does affect their peers in the industry. You know, record labels here have obviously taken note of the fact that tiktok’s virality. Is a boon for record sales if you do it right. And that, you know, having an artist present on the app can give you that driver’s license moment.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: But still, it’s like a really fine line, as we were saying earlier, between this veneer of authenticity and watching someone just belly flop into a pool of artifice.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Hey, Rachel, I’m going to play you a new Maggie Rogers song I really like.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Oh, I love Maggie Rogers.

Speaker 3: Me do not me drunk end to end in the East Village. Remembering someone is going to yell at me in the morning to post on because neither do I seem to stand on it.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: All right. So she’s in a grungy bathroom looking at the mirror with the robot voice. And underneath that is a snippet of That’s where I am, which is now a single that’s out. This was back in March. Okay, here’s the thing. For weeks, that little opening lick haunted my dreams because every time I open TikTok, there would be a new didn’t, did it? Did it did. And you would only get the same number of seconds because Maggie was teasing this song, this single as a marketing hack. Look, I can’t say completely backfired because I’ve listened to it a million times. I’ve listened to the second single from this forthcoming album a million times. But by the time they came out, I was so annoyed. You know, these artists who I’m genuinely excited about, what their labels, ostensibly their labels are making them do, is making me hate them.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: And yet it’s not working because you still listen to the single.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: I know, I know. I’m trying. Think of another example where it didn’t work. Oh, do you know what Maisie Peters is?

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: No.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: I’ve definitely tried to make you listen to her music before I got Daniel, our producer, hooked. I’ll come for you next. She’s actually this is very apropos. She’s currently opening for Ed Sheeran’s tour. Oh, she for weeks now has been like, I have this song is called Kate’s Brother. And it’s all about how she, like, dated her friends brother and she teased like line by line for weeks. And then it became my record label says if I get to so many faves or views like it just was right, that old chestnut.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: I fucking hate that specific group hack even though I know that it works. But the it’s so annoying. It just makes me not want to engage in any of it. I mean, next thing you know, we’re going to get musicians saying, if my record label Gibson tweets from me all about how angry you are at them, then I’ll release my new music.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: So the question we’re coming up against here is, has complaining about record labels become a new way to reach that all desired virality point? And how does the demand for more social media affect up and coming artists? After the break, we’re going to come back and talk about all of that. And I think Rachel and I are going to fight a little about whether we should feel bad for musicians at all.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Hey there. If you love our podcast, then please consider subscribing to Slate. Plus, it means you’ll get no ads on any Slate podcast and you’ll be supporting our show. I see. Why am I would not be possible without your support? Slate Plus really helps us keep this wild show going, and we’d like that to continue. You’ll also get bonus segments or extra episodes of shows like Anarchist, Political Gabfest, Hit Parade and the excellent new season of Slow Burn. Plus unlimited reading on the Slate website. Access to every article and advice column we have to offer without ever hitting the paywall. Just head to Slate.com Slash. I see. Why am I plus two sign up that Slate.com slash?

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: I see. Why am I plus.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: We are back making tiktoks about how Slate wants us to make tik tok against our will.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: If you’re our boss and you’re listening to this, we refuse. We actually don’t know what Tik Tok is. Never heard of it.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Who is she?

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: In a lot of ways, there aren’t many surprises in what we’ve been talking about on the show so far. We all know how much success Tik Tok can bring the music industry and every brand is desperate to go viral on there at this point.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: At this point, Tiktok’s are not included in the charts. YouTube streams are. But it doesn’t even matter because Tik Tok runs Billboard. Tik Tok owns Billboard. Tik Tok is Billboard for lunch every single fucking day. There are so many songs that exist and are popular simply because of the clock app.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: I mean, tell it to that one song that ripped off Miley Cyrus is seven things. A classic that I feel like I cannot escape on TikTok right now.

Speaker 5: Early start on 27.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: You’re taking all this is to say is that it makes so much sense that Tick Tock is very clearly at the front of mind for music labels, for producers, for industry plants, which is the new insult that every single person calls anyone who promotes music on Tick Tock now. And I have to say, I don’t feel bad for like Ed Sheeran. I’m going to choose him specifically because that man is richer than God.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: And there are very few big names that I feel any kind of pity for in that this is really just an extension of any promo plan that exists. Like if you put out an album and you’re at like halls these level or Lizzo’s level or like Harry Styles level, you are expected to do x mini interviews, x mini pose with X mini brands. It’s like whenever an actor is promoting a new movie, you see them do press junkets and you can clearly tell which interviewer had them at the end of the day because they are just so fucking tired. And as a human I feel bad for them. I’m like, Goddamn, that sucks. As a person who will never make as much money of them. I’m like, You signed up for it.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: You know? I don’t know how close these relationship to their record label, but I am thinking about all the things we do know about how record labels have treated artists historically.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: I mean, even Taylor Swift, who’s now rerecording her music, like we have heard for years and years, that record labels have fucked over their artists. And so I can’t help but feel, you know, a twinge of sympathy whenever I see these tiktoks. But then I also, as the savvy, media literate person that I am, I’m also wondering if I’m just feeling pity for what is basically just the new way to generate virality. It’s to the musician and labels benefit to generate this kind of sympathy in that if you are a fan of Halsey and you see their video, you’re like, I’m going to go listen to their music. And it encourages fans to rally around this artist who is supposedly sticking it to the man, but the man is also off screen signing all these checks. So I don’t you know, it’s complicated.

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Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: It is. And you have to walk right up to that line. The artists I like best are the ones who feel like they have lived inside of my head, even though they know nothing about me. And as a stable adult, I know that on a good day. But other days I think, wow, wow. They read my diary. They are me. And that helps make the music you’re listening to that much more enjoyable. It’s that much more of a sensation to feel really seen or heard or understood on an emotional, a spiritual, even just to like, Damn, this is what I like to bop to add you get me kind of level. I think what I’m saying is there’s a point up into which I really want to believe that I have a special relationship with an artist, even though I know it’s not real. But I get something out of believing that. But once they cross the, the threshold, which I think we’re seeing with these tiktoks of like, oh, wait, can I not trust you? Suddenly you question all of those other things that made you feel good and made you buy albums and buy sweatshirts and concert tickets and more sweatshirts and Christmas ornaments.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: I mean, no one wants to see the strings of marketing. They exist. We know they’re there. We know that artists encourage this parasocial relationship. But I don’t want to see the effort happening. But the people I keep thinking about throughout this are not like Halsey or Ed Sheeran or even Florence Welch, my queen. And the people I’m thinking about are the people I don’t know. They’re the artists who are coming up who don’t even have the built in audience where a tick tock about their record label is going to go viral. And most importantly, artists who don’t have any desire to be on social media.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: If you’re a musician who wants to sell out stadiums, you are already fully invested in the machinery of pop stardom. But if you’re just a regular, regular musician who wants to make your music and reach maybe 10,000 people, does it really make sense for your label to ask you to invite fans into your life with authentic Tiktoks?

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: I don’t think so. Stars being forced to be accessible on the Internet. What a concept.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: But also importantly. Yeah, this is a new. This cat has been out of the bag for years, decades at this point. But the artists we’re talking about also have more power than artists we don’t really know about in that they can say no to certain demands like Ed Sheeran can eat crisp fried potatoes on camera and count it as promo. The smaller other artists don’t. They actually have to divulge some secrets or personal tidbits that maybe they don’t fucking want to. So. Yeah. Importantly, I’m sorry, Ed Sheeran. I keep saying I don’t feel sorry for you because I really fucking don’t.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: But he’s the straight white guy in the mix here. It was always going to be the obvious.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: It was always going to be him. But I just I don’t necessarily think that feeling sympathy for these artists means that we’re being taken in by the marketing campaign. I think that it means that we’re thinking critically about what record labels are demanding of artists. And we should always do that because it’s getting weird in here. And not least because as I see these demands being put onto stars, which yes, these demands for publicity have always existed, but not in the kind of authentic quote way that they now exist.

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Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: I can’t help thinking of stars like Ari Linux or a no name artists for whom social media has largely been a toxic experience. And they have been very vocal about that. They have both said they’re taking a break from music quite literally because of the demands of social media. And I just don’t think that record labels are ever going to give a single shit about the mental or emotional health of their stars, because all press is good press even when your star is melting down on Twitter. So, Ed, maybe we should maybe maybe I should feel sorry for Ed Sheeran. Maybe that’s where I’m coming to.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: He tried to tell us. And now, Ed, we’re listening.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: But all right. That is a show. We’ll be back in your feet on Saturday, so please subscribe. It is the best way to never miss an episode. So never miss Madison singing the Jovian theme song and then transitioning into the Canadian theme song. Please leave a rating and a five star review and app player Spotify. It really does help grow the show. And please tell your friends about us. You can follow us on Twitter. I see why my underscore pod, which is all three, can be a must for questions like should I feel sorry for Ed Sheeran? And you can also always drop us a note. I see. I might have Slate.com.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: I see. My email is produced by Daniel Schrader, Rachel Hampton and me. Madison, Malone Kircher. Alisha Montgomery is Slate’s VP of Audio. See you online.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Or in the recording studio.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: Let’s go, girls.

Rachel Hampton, Rachel Martin: Man, I feel like a woman. I just know.

Madison Malone, Maddison Malone: What that song sounds like to you.