Deez Interviews: Kara Swisher on pandemic-era interview dynamics + her newest podcast

This week’s interview is with the one and only Kara Swisher. (If you don’t know, now you know).  We talked about what she’s been up to over the past few months; “Sway,” the new interview show she’s hosting with New York Times Opinion; and finding the right medium for your message. Enjoy!

I read in the interview for The Cut you did last year that you’re used to keeping your own schedule and working from anywhere. So I’m very curious how the past few months have been for you. Has the pandemic changed the way you work at all?

I am the original social distancer, having worked from home for decades. I have long abandoned the office and really hate being in one since nothing ever happens there, in my long experience, except newsroom intrigue. I have been staying in DC since my kids are here, and I was already going between there and SF, where I still have a house too. But I now live in DC. I really miss California, but it is easier and safer to be here for now. 

Since I always worked remotely, it is not a lot different, except more people are home now. That’s made it different, but it also means more time with family. Perhaps one of the few silver linings of the pandemic.

Your new podcast, “Sway,” launched this week, and I’m curious about what interested you in bringing the classic ~Kara Swisher grilling power players~ format to the NYT.

Do you feel like you have to code-switch at all when you’re addressing the Times audience versus say, New York Mag people with Pivot or the old Recode crowd?

I hope not. I’m aware that I don’t want to change my style — intelligent loudmouth and persistent irritant with a side of humor — at the Times. So far I haven’t with the column since I started two years ago, and they welcome my voice. 

There’s no question that I cut loose on “Pivot” with Scott Galloway more. We definitely curse 100 percent more than I will on the Times podcast. But they hired me to be me, so I am going to be me.

Has the phone/Zoom changed the interviewing dynamic for you? 

You know, I was really worried that it would be awful remotely since I have done nearly all of my 539 Recode Decode interviews in person. I am definitely an in-person, in-your-face type. I like to establish analog rapport. Plus the chit-chatting ahead of the interview is always useful. 

That said, the interviews over Squadcast have been great and surprisingly intimate. People pay attention and lean in and are quickly getting used to the medium. It creates a weird pandemic bond, and you see into their homes, which is kind of cool.

Sway will be your third major audio project, after “Recode Decode” and “Pivot;” would you say that podcasting is your preferred medium now?

I love podcasting and have a million more ideas. I think I have always done interviews in public — first All Things Digital and then The Code Conference — for 18 years now, so podcasting is not unlike that. I do like the live journalism aspect of it, and after several thousand interviews, you get kind of good. I saw the podcasting medium earlier than most — much like I did the blogging space online — and I will say it has reinvigorated me. 

That said, people were surprised when it was announced I was doing a column with the Times and wondered if I was being retro. That’s the wrong way of looking at it. You use whatever medium works to get your content out there. I am multifaceted when it comes to media, but not in the careless way the word suggests. I think we need to reach audiences where they are and be willing to morph and change for them. It keeps you creative too.

And finally, with this election cycle nearly (nearly!!!) finished, I’m wondering if you’ve given more thought to running for office one day? 

The mayor bid is out since SF elected a great one since. Also, I had another kid at my advanced age and might have another. So that takes attention and time too. But I miss SF and care a great deal for my adopted city. My prediction: when I am 90 I might run.

Don’t forget to follow @karaswisher on Twitter, and give her latest interview with Gavin Newsom on “Sway” a listen. 

Deez Links is a dailyish newsletter written by delia cai

anne helen petersen's book deprogrammed me

Do you remember taking U.S. history class in high school or whatever and how it always seemed like A) we’d run out of time at the end of the semester and have to rush through everything that happened after the sixties real fast, and B) topics like economic history, general cultural change, the labor movement were treated mostly as footnotes to the much sexier narratives around The Cold War and like, space exploration, and not as crucial context for the way we’d live on a day-to-day basis??

Maybe your APUSH class did a better job than mine, but I didn’t realize just how cheated I felt for not having a broader understanding of actual modern economic and cultural history until I started reading Anne Helen Petersen’s new book, Can’t Even: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation. By applying her hallmark combo of academic rigor, deep reporting, and the same relatable internet voice that got you and seven million others to read her internet-breaking piece from 2019, How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation, Petersen explains Why Millennial Life Is Like This by first dissecting questions around Why Boomers Are Like This, Why Families Are Like This, Why College Was Like That, Why Work Is Like This, Why The Modern Middle Class Is Like This, and honestly, Why You And I Are Like This. 

I don’t blame anyone for hesitating to read a book about burnout; it’s such a buzzword now and implies a kind of self-help-y, naval gaze-y energy that often focuses only on the experiences of like, a very specific kind of white collar (or just plain white) millennial experience. 

But if you’ve been a fan of Petersen’s very good journalism before all this, you will love this book. And if you’re an AHP fan club newcomer, let me just say that after reading it, I feel fucking deprogrammed. By pulling back the curtain on the system of pulleys and levers that influence everything from modern middle class anxiety, “the hope labor industrial complex” (aka, Why This Industry Is Like This), and the fatal blurring of work and passion, Can’t Even delivered this education I didn’t even know I needed, and I think it will do the same for you. It’s already one of my favorite books of the year. 

(ANYWAY, if you’re still not convinced, I’ll be on the panel for the virtual Book People event on Friday night to talk about it more. You should dial in! I’ll be the one sipping a frozen margarita ‘cause I think it’s gonna be 8 pm ny time so like why not right. )

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Just thinking about commodified interaction how about you

The Naomi Fry treatment on Cameo is so good, if not just for the parallel drawn between an app that lets celebs charge for minutes-long increments of their persona vs. the traditional journalistic interview process, itself a Rumpelstiltskinean spinning of famous people’s time into value; but also for one extremely eyeball-widening quote that High Maintenance’s Ben Sinclair drops midway through:

One day, we won’t even need any social media, because they’ll just be able to brand actual, real-life engagement between human beings.

You just gotta laugh ‘cause we all know it’s true!!!!!! 

There’s also great analysis on what sets Cameo influencer culture apart from what you see on other social platforms:

The pandemic, in a sense, has only accelerated a process that was already in motion. On apps like Instagram and Twitter, celebrities have always acted as laborers in an atomized, precarious economy, exchanging nuggets of seeming love and attention for money. That exchange, though, is circuitous. You might stream a new single by an artist who posts a picture of herself at the beach, or buy the sweatshirt she poses in and tags, but use of the platform remains free, so our sense of “celebrity influence” hovers fuzzily, eliding the monetary and highlighting the social. Cameo strips away the illusion: celebrity content is always a product. 

Anyway, if thinking about the commodification of human interaction happens to be your jam today, might I also recommend the iconic New Yorker piece on Japan's Rent-a-Family Industry from Elif Batuman? It’s been like 2.5 years since this piece came out and I’m like, still rewiring my brain in its aftermath…

(h/t Matt!)

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Deez Interviews: Hannah Ewens on the state of modern fangirling + the work of documenting 00’s internet culture

This week’s interview is with Hannah Ewens, author of Fangirls: Scenes From Modern Music Culture (which we published an excerpt of yesterday) and features editor at Vice UK. We talked about what it was like to source interviews for her book from hundreds of fans all over the world, report on the largely intangible Myspace culture, and her own major “fangirl” moment from working on the book. Enjoy!

In the preface for Fangirls, you talk about getting the idea to put together this book after attending a Frank Iero show and observing the younger generation of fangirls who were present. I'd love to know more about what that moment of inspiration was like. 

I felt familiarity – like, I was shocked by remembering that I’d been that emotional when I was a teenager – but also felt, as I did a lot while researching and writing the book, that I was a million years old. 

It was strange in that moment that nothing had changed for girls in 10, 15 years. All the emotions and the presentation of those emotions were the same, the fact that old school meet-and-greets still happened in the same way and were so important, the fact they were bringing records, posters and physical things to be signed or had brought huge things they’d made by hand. 

I knew I’d never read anything of substance about these girls and why they act this way and what they do. I also felt like, as a woman in my twenties, I was positioned really well to embed myself back into this culture. I didn’t want a man or a much older woman, for example, to write this book. I wanted to write it while all of it was a not-so-distant memory.

Each chapter roughly centers around one artist — Lady Gaga, Ariana, Harry Styles, Amy Winehouse, etc. How did you go about picking which fandoms to focus on?

Everything presented itself to me very naturally having done a lot of research and interviews before finalising the idea for each chapter. Some chapters I picked artist first, but for the most part I picked a theme first and worked out which artist was appropriate for which theme. 

For example, after speaking with a bunch of Gaga fans, it was clear that her physical body and aura is so important to them and that meeting her is a particularly massive part of being a Gaga fan – so that chapter is about meet and greets. A couple are very specific to me though – I’m a big fan of Amy for example, and seeing as I live in London and have access to all her history and fans who grew up alongside her locally, it was important to me to have her in there.

What was it like sourcing all those hundreds of interviews all over the world for this book?

For the Japan and Harry Styles chapter, I flew there to voxpop fans outside a show and got an interpreter, which was very fun. For the Courtney Love/Hole and New York chapter, I went to America to meet a bunch of older female fans I’d already spent some time building a bit of a relationship with online. 

Obviously a lot of interviews had to be done via Skype or phone call – all the interviews for the Beyonce and Black womxn fans chapter were done that way. But the best connections I made were always in person. Some of the British fangirls I met when they were 14 or 15 at a show and I ended up speaking to them on and off until they went to university! It was quite emotional to see them through a big chunk of their story so far.

I couldn't help but notice how so much of this book doubles as a primer on the Myspace culture of the late '00s. Were there any unique challenges that came with reporting around that — like, how do you research this digital platform and culture that kind of disappeared and didn't leave behind a physical trace? 

Yes! I’m so glad you noted that. I had to take interviewees seriously and a lot of the history of this period is either made up of what girls – now women – have to say about it or their own personal achievement. Which proved the point of the book: that these girls are extremely important in creating mainstream music cultures and documenting them. 

For the My Chemical Romance chapter, I was lucky enough to speak with some of the biggest fans of the time who ran clubs etc and actually have their own enormous private archives of press clippings, videos, diaries, and everything you could need as a researcher. The internet and the British Library and all these other places we go to to learn about pop culture were drawing a blank. I’m really happy that now this book can serve as research on this period now.

Finally, are there any scenes that didn't make it into this book that you'd like to share?

I thought I’d really grown out of being a fangirl or even loving music that earnestly, honestly, and then a couple of months before the book came out in the U.S., I interviewed Hayley Williams during lockdown and didn’t hold it together. I think she casually expressed that she’d enjoyed our chat and I blurted something weird about having an amazing time and tried to rein it back. An embarrassing final scene that thankfully never made it into the book. 

Don’t forget to follow @hannahrosewens and check out Fangirls for your next read! 

Deez Links is a dailyish newsletter written by delia cai

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