I’ve wanted to write about Todd in the Shadows, ever since this website was called Crossfader, and he has finally given me an excuse by starting a podcast like everyone else on the internet. Todd is one of the biggest “independent” YouTubers to review music aside from Dead End Hip Hop or the Needle Drop. He started out primarily as a comedian who poked fun at contemporary pop music buffoons, especially Maroon 5, Chris Brown, and Jason Derulo, but he slowly gained a more critical eye even as pop music became less interesting and more monotone. I’ve spent the past five years or so watching him tear his hair out in frustration at the increasing dourness of his potential material, so he slowly started introducing new shows like the self-explanatory One-Hit Wonderland and my personal favorite, Trainwreckords. Here he digs into infamous album flops from beloved artists like Styx’s pretentious, Japanaphobic KILROY WAS HERE, Oasis’s bloated BE HERE NOW, and Lauryn Hill’s agonizing MTV UNPLUGGED SESSION 2.0.
His newest show, which features a little help from podcast veteran Dany Roth of Syfy Wire, is based on a format that Todd used in previous videos: it pits two songs that are similar in some regards against one another and discuss them for about 25-to-30 minutes before Todd reveals some Patreon poll results. Now, if you are expecting a dragged Siskel and Ebert-style brawl over their disagreement, that is not what you are getting here. The show is a lot more free-form and loose, with opinions evolving and eureka moments like their choice of instruments (Todd plays a piano cover before every pop song review, Dany has played guitar for decades) affecting their opinion on their “Space Oddity” vs. “Rocketman” or THE TITANIC being a secret MCU movie. I certainly went into the podcast for Todd, but Dany holds his own and dominates the discussion just as much as Todd does, which is certainly to the podcast’s benefit.
Todd admits he is not the most in-the-know critic: some of his best jokes poke fun at people’s impression of his musical taste versus the reality of him only really listening to pop music. However, he is very good at explaining his own lenses to justify his opinions, placing songs in an artist’s larger discography, and making smart comparisons such as using THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS as an allegory for cultural appropriation or comparing pop stars to superheroes to explain his enjoyment of pop music. On the other hand, Dany is more open about what the songs might mean to him even at his own expense, and it’s fascinating to hear him confess how “Material Girl” helped him discover his sexuality or how he listened to Celine Dion to get over bad breakups in college. Even if you are not familiar with these two men like I was before listening, the show still offers plenty of interesting trivia about the process behind songs that have almost transcended said process and feel like they’ve been with us since the Big Bang.
It’s weird to hear about “All Star” being on the soundtrack to MYSTERY MAN, or the fact that “Since U Been Gone” was handed to P!nk before Clarkson was chosen to sing it, but they are important reminders that these larger-than-life cultural treasures or infamous punching bags have history like any other song. The societal perception of them and the artist’s relationship with them can radically change over time for good or ill, and that should be discussed without deifying or dismissing them outright. SONG VS. SONG is mostly just an extension of Todd’s Youtube series, but it frees him from the limits of the present to apply his wit and knack for persuasive arguments and narrative constructions to all of music with more than welcome contributions from someone who easily holds their own in terms of energy and insight. Check it out on their website, Patreon,or Spotify: I’d recommend “All Star” vs. “Smooth” or “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” vs. “Material Girl” to get things started.