Many of pop culture's most memorable moments are events that the masses know nothing about. Entertainment tidbits—including the cultural significance of Mariah Carey's Glitter, Beyoncé's subtle and secret shadiness, and Tyra Banks's brow-raising helm as host of America's Next Top Model—are all memories that are discussed within our inner circles, families, or our Internet homescape of Black Twitter. They also serve as a handful of the leading conversations that kick off the new Back Issue podcast, hosted by Tracy Clayton and Josh Gwynn.
Describing Back Issue as niche is an understatement—and that's precisely the point of the podcast. According to one half of the hosting duo, writer and comedian Clayton, she and Gwynn want to reach and connect with fellow pop culture aficionados who obsess over the hilarious, petty, and over-the-top moments that have helped define and shape Black contemporary culture as we know it.
BAZAAR.com catches up with Clayton to discuss the show's conception, how to carefully tread mess celebrity territory, and how she and her cohost hope to continue building community within the podcasting world.
Back Issue covers a very niche subject matter that I feel like a very specific group of people get—but if they do, they're very passionate about it. Explain the concept behind Back Issue and how you decided to take this direction for this new podcast.
The idea from Back Issue actually came from Josh, who is the other cohost. He has one of the most encyclopedic, mental Rolodexes where the most random pop culture quotes and songs and everything live. Like, he can instantly remember Episode 3 of Season 2 of Flavor of Love, and he'll just quote something so random.
It just so happened that once we got together and started working on shows together, we realized that we share the same pop culture language. I also can recall the same episode of Flavor of Love. When you find that kind of connection with somebody, all of our conversations are just peppered with just random sayings. And saying to each other, "Oh, you remember that time when, so-and-so wore this dress on the red carpet?" And I'm just like, "Yep, sure do, sure do."
When you meet somebody who speaks your same pop culture language, you can just have whole conversations that you always wanted to have with somebody. Like, who else has seen and loved Glitter that you know? Who can I talk to about my obsession? I think that I have learned that there's always somebody else on this planet—you may never meet them in your life, but there's always somebody else who is obsessed with the same thing, from the same moment, and the same quote that you are.
Back Issue was a chance for us to have a conversation on the microphone that we were having also in the production booth on the other shows we've been working on together. We were just like, "I know that there are other people out there like this."
Also, nostalgia's having a great year, unfortunately, because it's a terrible year. I feel like everybody is just looking for something similar to a break in the content they consume. Don't you want to go back to the days where our biggest drama was, like, Britney and Justin wearing all denim on the red carpet? That was the scandal back then! Don't you miss it?
It's kind of twofold: This is the way that we get to just yell about our obsessions. And also, hopefully, this content can find people who are also obsessed with the same obsessions. Many of them are moments or aspects of moments that weren't particularly picked up by the mainstream media. So we finally want to just tell those stories and also give listeners a break. Just come on back to 1999 for a second. Kick off your shoes and get comfortable for about 45 minutes to an hour. Try to spread some joy somewhere. It's a bleak landscape that we're currently in.
The events featured on the podcast are so specific and weren't really picked up by mainstream media but were definitely recognized in the Black community. How did you narrow down these moments where you were like, "We think people are going to want to hear this"?
We had a brainstorm session, and we were basically like, "Okay, what do we want to talk about? What are you obsessed with? What do you think about all the time?" We just wrote out everything that we're interested in. Glitter came from Josh, and In Living Color came from me. I think both of us said America's Next Top Model. And we went down the list. Like, "Of the things on this list, what are the 10 that you can't wait to get on the microphone and scream and yell and have friendly fights about?" We narrowed them down that way. That list is always changing and keeps getting longer and longer.
We really did just lean with our guts, and our hearts, and went with what we actually enjoyed. It's not like we're only going to share what's considered the best, and what's going to get the most listens. What will we be passionate about speaking about? Because it's always those frenzied moments, talking about your obsessions, that you get the best take.
You two were very unafraid to critique. You talk about some very prominent figures in Hollywood and in the community. The season starts off talking about Tyra Banks and the America's Next Top Model era. You also discuss Beyoncé being the secret queen of shade. You go there. Were there any reservations where you thought, "Maybe we can't go there."
Absolutely. I am obsessed with everybody liking me and the whole entire world. And everybody liking everything that I've put out, which, of course, is a fool's errand. Which I talk to my therapist about all the time.
In every culture, in every generation, there are people who are impactful for one reason or another that are not so perfect. We never want to just trash somebody and highlight a terrible, horrible thing that they've done. Because, I mean, there's terrible, horrible conversations happening everywhere.
But with the Tyra episode, we love Tyra Banks, and we love America's Next Top Model. And Josh really does want to go to Modelland as soon as it opens up. I think it's kind of a tightrope. How do we appreciate somebody or something that may be problematic? And I think that answer is to do it honestly. That can be helpful because it reminds us that situations and things are rarely 100 percent bad or 100 percent good. You can accept the good and the bad in something or someone, and still love it, still like it. I know we're all obsessed with cancel culture, but we don't have to be. Not every conversation about every person, a moment, will include critiques. It's just a fun time. Sometimes there is stuff that you just have to point out.
Why do you think these under-the-radar moments and events have become so culturally defining for us? We're decades past when they've happened, but they're still part of the conversation.
I think one reason is that history is always down to repeat itself. It's the same way that fashion recycles. We see certain trends reemerge in the current day, or even certain political thoughts and theories reemerging—it's this ebb and flow. I think that's what gets people thinking about the past in this new age, where social media exists and you have podcasts.
Now, storytelling is not just the job of the gatekeepers of media, or the gatekeepers of journalism. We're at a point where I'm just like, "You know what? I do remember how Black TV shows were in the '90s." And the Wall Street Journal didn't write about that when I was growing up. The New York Times didn't write about that when I was growing up. But now I'm in a position where I can podcast about it.
In a perfect world, there would be enough space for stories like these in the mainstream media. And I know that a very big frustration of Black people who work in media, and people who consume media, is that it's taken so long for us to see our own stories and our own heroes and our own people that we were completely obsessed with growing up. Our stories didn't get that same sort of coverage and dissection.
But now, you get to create the stories, and you get to provide the voice that has been missing for so long. It feels so good to not have to wait on white folks to know, or love, or approve of somebody before we get to see them get the flowers, and the recognition, and the time and consideration that they deserve. It just feels so nice.
You've dedicated your career to analyzing and talking about pop culture. Why is that important to you?
If you can see yourself in the world, as you move through it, I'm not a scientist, but chances are, you're probably going to have better health, better mental health. A better sense of self and just validation that you exist in the world, you know?
It's so funny. One of my favorite jokes that was told, probably by some of kind of psychotic view, was about how depressing both the Flintstones and the Jetsons are. "You mean to tell me there's no Black people in prehistoric ages or in the future?" Imagine watching these shows and you're just like, "At what point did we go extinct?"
I think it's as important to insert ourselves and include representation. Even when looking back at times that have already passed. Something that you want people to know when they're reading history books about this time is that we were here and we existed. It feels as fulfilling to me to increase representation in, like, 1995, as it is to increase representation now in 2020. We need to know that we exist today, but we also need to know that we've always been here. And that we've always existed, and that our stories and our interests have always been important. You know, it's never gotten the attention that it deserved, but it deserves that attention. And I think that giving it that attention, even today, even posthumously—if that's the word that fits here—is worth it.
What type of community are you hoping to build around Back Issue?
I think back to what we did with [my previous podcast] Another Round that was very important and that worked out phenomenally, which was to just be ourselves and to center ourselves and make content for people like us. Sure, we were Black girls, but we were also human beings. We recognized that if we made a show that catered to Black people, and Black women, it wouldn't preclude anyone else from listening.
I think we would love to do the same thing here. You don't have to focus on being exclusive. You don't have to mention the word Black every other word, because it will be Black, because we are Black.
Even though, yes, [Back Issue] is made for Black people, there really is something for everybody. And in not censoring ourselves and not explaining all our references, you get different content that way. You get content that just hits differently. It just rings true of who you are. White people, men, they get to come in and be a fly on the wall, too, and actually learn something while they're having fun.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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