Each week on Sounds Like A Cult, hosts Amanda Montell and Isa Medina analyze the modern-day ?cults? we all follow. From essential oils to The Royal Family, Isa and Amanda break down fanatical fringe groups from the cultural zeitgeist and try to answer the big question: This sounds like a cult, but is it really?
Breaking news! Sounds Like A Cult has joined the Exactly Right network, home of My Favorite Murder. Every Tuesday, Amanda and Isa will continue to analyze the modern-day "cults" we all follow, to answer the big question: This group sounds like a cult, but is it really?
Remember the Juniper Latte? Wasn't it just about the strangest thing you ever tasted? Yet, you still came back. Some might say you couldn't help yourself. This week, Amanda and Isa *roast* Starbucks?s ?cult following??the coffee religion with a church on every street corner?from its savvy marketing tactics and insider-y vocabulary to its addictive beverages and behind-the-scenes corporate ~vibes~. With a Starbucks cup in hand, comedian Jade Catta-Preta adds an extra shot of espresso to this episode as our very special guest.
A cabal of black-robed elites who preside, unquestioned, over all our rights and freedoms? hmmm? sounds like a dang cult to us! Isa and Amanda are getting *judicial* this week to analyze the ?cult? of The Supreme Court with NYU law professor and host of the Strict Scrutiny podcast, Melissa Murray. Just in time for voting season! Check out voting resources below for this year's upcoming midterm elections.
Register to vote, learn about your local elections, and make a plan ? resources below! Midterms cheat sheet: https://www.generatorcollective.com/
Vote Save America: https://votesaveamerica.com/be-a-voter/
Happy Cultyweeeeeeen! Our favorite holiday at Sounds Like A Cult is here, and to celebrate the spooky season, we?re asking: What could be more frightful than a haunted house dedicated to pushing an oppressive right-wing religious agenda onto high school kids just trying to have a good time? That?s the topic on Amanda and Isa?s minds this week for our very festive ?sode on the ?cult? of Hell Houses, a phenomenon that is somehow even scarier than it sounds?.
The "cult" of country-pop sensation Taylor Swift is not just about the music. It's about the Swiftie community, the rituals, the beliefs, the aesthetic, and (of course) Taylor's cult of personality. This extreme fandom definitely seems classically culty, but is it dangerous just because it's fanatical? That's the question on Amanda and Isa's agenda today, and they've solicited pop culture connoisseur Jill Gutowitz, author of the essay collection GIRLS CAN KISS NOW, to help them figure it out.
Summer 2022, it seemed like everyone and their cult leader was *devouring* the TV show The Bear: an inside look at the hierarchical, co-dependent, misfit-ridden, sometimes downright abusive?but also totally transcendent??cult? of restaurant kitchen culture. This week, Amanda and Isa are chatting with Matty Matheson, a big-time chef and cast member of the show, for a no holds barred analysis of the culty power dynamics and rituals found in the world of knives, remoulades, shift drinks, ?family meal,? and everyone screaming ?behind!!!!?
Get Tickets to Isa's Live Comedy Shows Here: https://linktr.ee/isaamedinaa
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Cults tend to thrive during times of broader cultural questioning and turmoil, when institutional support seems to be failing so alternative groups swoop in to offer solutions to the world?s most urgent problems. War, famine, healthcare crisis. Hmmm? sounds not unlike the nonprofit industry, no? This week, Amanda and Isa look into the language, background, and structure of the nonprofit industry to try and figure out how cultishly sus it might be.
We've all joked about Gwyneth Paltrow's *candle.* But does this boho Hollywood elitist girlboss ever go too far? (As in, cult leader far?) This week, Amanda and Isa unpack the charismatic movie star?s ever-roastable wellness empire, Goop, and how its "cult" status may be a cause for concern, with extremely special guests Kirbie Johnson and Sara Tan, hosts of the Gloss Angeles podcast (glossangelespod.com / @glossangelespod).
If you don?t worship at the altar of this week?s ?cult,? then simply sashay away! One of the most intense, vicious, fabulous reality TV fandoms in history is that of the competition show that put drag queens on the mainstream map: RuPaul?s Drag Race. Season 6 and All-Star queen BenDeLaCreme joins Isa and Amanda to offer an inside look at the most cult-like aspects of Drag Race, from the time she was physically stalked by a fan to the way the producers run the show. The tea is piping hot!!!
Did you know Dr. Phil is not actually a medical doctor?? When ?physicians? like Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Dr. Drew are elevated to TV star status, followers flock to their ?wisdom? to feel safe in a society whose healthcare system is seriously lacking. But should doctors really be treated like rock stars? In pursuit of fame and fortune, these famous medical professionals def find themselves in a borderline cult leader-ish role. This week, Isa and Amanda chat with Buzzfeed culture reporter and host of the Scamfluencers podcast Scaachi Koul to figure out just how sus these docs really are.
Weddings: Filled to the brim with ritualistic ceremonies, patriarchal traditions, power abuse, bank-breaking costs, conformist uniforms, and false promises galore...sound familiar? Sounds like a freakin CULT to us. This week: Amanda and Isa discuss wedding ceremonies and the lengths people will go to for the "best day of their life" with writer, author of "Trick Mirror," and professional wedding critic, Jia Tolentino.
Welcome to our life-changing, missional, intentional ministry for young people from all walks of life to strengthen their faith in Christ while having soooo much fun!! Evangelical youth groups (think: Young Life, Teen Mania Ministries, etc.) love-bomb vulnerable adolescent recruits into joining the Christian ?cool? kids?a place where they?re promised to find both earthly acceptance and heavenly salvation?only to manipulate and indoctrinate them with oppressive, homophobic, legitimately terrifying dogma and providing zero exit strategy. Sounds. Like. A. Damn. Cult!!! This week, Amanda and Isa chat with former youth group kid turned TikTok comedy sensation Kevin James Thornton to unpack the cult-like tactics and ideology of Christian youth organizations. (Don?t worry, culties, a Jewish youth groups episode is coming l8er!!)
The Kardashians: a harmlessly entertaining reality TV family or a dynastic conformist controlling cabal of K-named cult leaders? In this ~intense~ episode, Isa and Amanda chat with comedian and New Yorker writer Meg Indurti to unpack the cult-like influence of America?s most (in)famous family. Major Devil?s Avocado energy this week!
We?re in for a shocking one this week: The Troubled Teen Industry has for decades promised parents to reform their ?problem-causing? kids through 8-12 week ?wilderness therapy? and other military-style schools. But kidnappings, isolation, punishment, secrecy, and abuse are all a part of the equation, resulting in the separation of families and years of trauma. Yikes doesn?t even begin to describe this unregulated cult-like industry, which was originally inspired by the destructive cult Amanda?s dad grew up in, Synanon, and somehow hasn?t been shut down yet. Many disturbing stories await you this week!!
For the last week of Cult Girl Summer, another juicy bonus episode: This time, Isa and Amanda are listening and reacting to unaired voice messages from our loyalest listeners?our beloved ?culties??who called into the show to comment on our Season 2 cults of the week (from Disney Adults to theatre kids). We?ll be back with regularly slated episodes next week, but in the meantime, check out Isa?s live comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (details on Instagram @isaamedinaa) and Amanda?s book CULTISH: The Language of Fanaticism (available in hardback, ebook, and audiobook wherever you buy books)!
A much-requested Part 2 to continue Cult Girl Summer. Our 12-Step Program episode sparked much debate, and we quickly determined we?d need to continue the conversation about how ?culty? these addiction recovery groups can be. Inspired by our most engaged culties, here is our first-ever follow-up episode. Many thanks to the listeners who generously called in for this one! For further reading on this subject, check out the study, ?Exiting Alcoholics Anonymous disappointed: A qualitative analysis of the experiences of ex-members of AA? (there?s a free PDF version on ResearchGate) and the 2018 Vox article, ?Why some people swear by Alcoholics Anonymous ? and others despise it.?
How much would you risk in pursuit of perfection? It?s another installment of ?Cult Girl Summer? bonus content. This week, Amanda and Isa speak candidly (like reallllllly candidly) about a glamorous and life-threatening industry that sucks you in with promises of beauty and never lets you out: Plastic surgery?featuring very special guest, Emmy-nominated comedian/actress, Sydnee Washington!
A flirty little topic for another installment of Cult Girl Summer: five weeks of bonus episodes where Isa and Amanda are airing unfiltered cult conversations, behind the scenes tidbits, much-requested Part 2s, and more. This week, Emma Gray and Claire Fallon, co-hosts of the bachelor recap podcast Love to See It, are joining for a truly *cathartic* conversation about a group that reels in its members with the promise of love and human connection, only to deceive them and make it next to impossible to leave. The cult of dating apps, of course!
Welcome to Cult Girl Summer, five weeks of bonus episodes where Isa and Amanda are sharing unfiltered cult convos, footage from the cutting room floor, much-requested Part 2s, and more. Kicking off this juicy summer vibe is an episode to help listeners get to know the ?cult? of Sounds Like A Cult a little bit better: This week, Amanda and Isa are answering your most frequently asked questions: Who we are, how we make the show, what ?cults? to expect in future episodes, and beyond.
Known to her loyalists as the ?spiritual catalyst? but to her critics as the ?suicide catalyst,? New Age influencer Teal Swan is a controversial 30-something self-help guru who some say has saved lives and others say has ended them. Having launched a social media career in the mid-2000s (and still going strong), Swan doesn?t post about beauty products and travel inspo but rather spiritual-meets-?scientific? teachings on a wide range of topics from addiction to chakras to vaccines to suicide. Some of her most committed adherents follow her down to Costa Rica to experience her shady self-actualization techniques IRL. Swan is the subject of the new Hulu docuseries The Deep End, based on the fascinating 2018 podcast The Gateway, which was created and hosted by this week?s guest, Jennings Brown, who?s here to talk with Amanda and Isa about the fanatical ?cult? Swan has built online.
From his Jesus-like hair, erratic on-set antics, and fanatical 30 Seconds to Mars music fandom to his literal in-person compound, we examine Jared Leto against every possible meaning of the word ?cult,? from the cheeky to the gravely serious. He may have Hollywood?s support in the way of an Oscar and desirable roles like the Joker, and many of his music stans worship him enough to follow him off the grid, but is Jared Leto inching from ?cult-followed? celebrity closer to full-blown cult leader? This week, with the help of listener tips, Isa and Amanda are here to untangle the story.
From The Yale Whiffenpoofs to Pitch Perfect?s Barden Bellas, a cappella groups are not just your average band, they are a *family*, like a cross between fraternities and theatre kids. Crooning Top 40 covers in tight harmonies might sound like the most innocent way to commune... but can these seemingly wholesome, aggressively punny groups be sketchier than they seem? Amanda and Isa chat with an aca-mazing guest, Dani Calleiro?ex-member of the cult-followed YouTube a cappella band, Cimorelli?to get to the base note (sorry) of this week?s ?cult.?
Anonymity, prayers, sitting in a circle and sharing your deepest secrets and traumas, an intimate mentor program? is it a cult or a 12-step program? This week, Isa and Amanda are joined by comedian JF Harris to discuss groups like AA, NA, and OA whose ritualistic approach to addiction recovery is definitely culty? but is it a LYL, a WYB, or a GTFO?
From voraciously consuming gruesome podcasts by the dozen to amateur sleuthing gone wrong to fetishizing dangerous killers, the world of true crime definitely has a cult following? but does it ever go too far? This episode was chosen by our listener giveaway winner and features New York Times true crime columnist and author Sarah Weinman to discuss the good, bad, and the culty of fanatical true crime fandom. (P.S. Amanda and Isa have newfound respect for true crime podcasters? turns out, violent butcherings are easy enough to listen to, but almost impossible to talk about in public without wanting to puke a wee bit.)
Fast Fashion (think: brands like Forever21, Zara, and Shein) could be described as an industry that takes high-end clothing designs and makes them quick and cheap for the masses. Or, if you look at it from a cult angle, it could be described as an international conspiracy that preys on the dreams, insecurities, and pleasure-seeking brain chemistry of mostly young women, while weaponizing social media to create a bottomless sense of co-dependence in order to make as much money as possible and will stop at nothing?worker exploitation, environmental destruction?in order to keep people in that profitable vicious cycle. Which one is closer to the truth? This week, Isa and Amanda interview Leah Thomas, the founder and author of The Intersectional Environmentalist, to find out?
Co-host Isa joined the ?cult? of stand-up comedy four years ago in LA but didn?t realize until we started this podcast how culty it really was. Recorded live at the first-ever Netflix Is A Joke comedy festival, this week?s long-awaited episode features Isa and Amanda interviewing a very special guest?comedian and creator/star of ?Feel Good? on Netflix, Mae Martin?about the hidden hierarchies, secret due-paying, exclusion, delusion, silencing, in-group lingo and rituals, AND (of course) the hilarity, magic, and close community of stand-up comedy.
The New York Times described him as ?at once a capitalist hero, a glossy magazine celebrity and a bomb-throwing troll.? Multi-billionaire tech tycoon Elon Musk, best known for his high-stakes investments in companies from PayPal to Tesla to SpaceX to Neurolink, is seen as not just a businessman to his nearly 90 million Twitter followers, but as a rockstar, influencer, and Christlike savior sent from the heavens to save the world. On the heels of his fancy new purchase of Twitter, Amanda and Isa discuss Musk?s cult-like charisma, his army of Musketeers, and what his rise to cult-leader-ish power says about our culture at large. Thanks to all our loyal culties who called in to lend their insight to this episode!
POV: You work at Denny's. It's 12 AM. You want to go home. And from outside you hear it... your worst nightmare: 40 pairs of hungry footsteps and an acapella intro to Grease's Summer Nights. In this episode, with the help of stage actor and Tik Tok sensation Tyler Joseph Ellis, Isa and Amanda dig into Theatre Kid (yes, spelled ?re?) culture?the rituals and superstitions, the cliques and power structures?to see just how far a teenager will go to live out their High School Musical dream.
Lavender can cure headaches and tea tree oil can clear your acne (and heal Covid/your whole life)? The cult of essential oils blurs the line between fact and fiction and this week, Amanda and Isa team up with a special guest, Buzzfeed reporter Stephanie McNeal, to learn about these controversial little potions, their ?cult following,? and the snake oil salespeople who weaponize them.
The life-changing magic of tidying up gave a shiny new rebrand to age-old ideas that owning less stuff can be connected to enlightenment... but are there people taking the "cult" of *minimalism* too far? Can stripping down your material possessions actually cure the sorrow and ennui of contemporary existence? Isa and Amanda chat with Joshua & Ryan, "cult leaders" of The Minimalists website, podcast, and documentary, and more to find out...
Did you know PhD actually stands for ?Probably Heavily in Debt? and ?Pretty Heavily Depressed?? Jk (or are we?). This week, Isa and Amanda delve into the mahogany-walled ?cult? academia, where hierarchies, elitism, financial exploitation, hidden crimes, false promises, and weird robes are just part of the gig. Comedian, writer, and PhD adjunct professor Amy Silverberg joins us to discuss her experience being both a leader and a follower of this prestigious ?cult.?
Blackout dates, Genie lines, Magic Keys, Storyliving, DCP, D23... If any of these terms got you feeling some kind of way, you're likely in "cult" of Disney Adults. Grownups who worship an iconic mouse have established themselves as one of the most fanatical fandoms out there, but how dangerously culty are these Disney-inspired behaviors and rituals, *really*? To find out, co-hosts Amanda and Isa solicit the help of many passionate listener call-ins and special guest, cheeky Disney influencer Francis Dominic @francisdominiic.
Serums, lasers, influencer skincare routines, oh my! There seems to be no end to how many expensive products and techniques are promised to keep us looking ?eternally youthful?... but are these products *really* the miracles they claim to be? Do we *need* skincare at all? And isn?t the promise of aesthetic immortality kinda culty in the first place? This week, co-hosts Amanda (recovering beauty editor) and Isa (often forgets to wash her face) are joined by skincare critic Jessica DeFino and celebrity skincare expert Renée Rouleau to discuss the pros and cons of skincare?s ?cult following.?
Veganism isn?t just a diet, it?s not just a lifestyle, it?s a whole identity, aesthetic, community, religion, and even a career for some people? like our special guest, Lauren Toyota, creator of ?hot for food,? a vegan blog, YouTube channel, and series of cookbooks. Veganism has a cultish reputation, but with Lauren?s help, Amanda and Isa unpack all the upsides and downsides of this seemingly ?extreme? way of life to determine what the cultiest aspects of veganism really are (especially in the age of social media) and what they say about us all.
Check out Lauren's Blog: https://www.hotforfoodblog.com/
Defrauded Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes has become the subject of countless books, podcasts, documentaries, and now the brand new scripted Hulu series, The Dropout, starring Amanda Seyfried. Holmes's cult of personality?everything from her sociopath-chic Steve Jobs cosplay to her roster of Star Wars quotes (delivered in that mysteriously affected low voice) to her tyrannical lying and exploitation?has made her more than just your dime-a-dozen tech bro scammer. How did Holmes cultivate such a cult following among Silicon Valley investors, and now, why are true crime junkies so inordinately obsessed with her case? This week, with the help of listener call-ins, Amanda and Isa unpack the notorious grifter's zealous qualities to determine whether she really was more of a cult leader than a con artist, and if so, was her ?cult? a Live Your Life, a Watch Your Back, or a Get the Fuck Out?
This week, with the help of special guest Dan Savage (relationships advice columnist and host of the Savage Lovecast), Isa and Amanda are talking about cults of one: toxic relationships. How are toxic lovers (and friends and bosses) similar to cult leaders? What cult-like tactics do these ?charismatic? abusers use to lure people in and make them stay? This illuminating episode proves all you need to understand followers of groups like NXIVM and Scientology, is what it feels like to fall in love?
Follow Dan on Instagram: @dansavage
A 2015 Harvard Divinity School study reported that among many young people, CrossFit has become a bonafide new religion. So much more than a gym, these dark-walled ?boxes? full of jacked Paleo dieters flipping tires have become sites of community and transcendence (and a source of billions in revenue). But... how did CrossFit gain such a ?cult? following? And what are the dangers? This week, Amanda and Isa discuss the fitness phenomenon?s hulking appeal.
A pseudo-family dynamic, decades-long commitments, physical peril, members who "would literally die for" their leader (coach): Competitive cheerleading is not just an off-the-beaten-path sport, it's a *lifestyle*... and this week, co-hosts Amanda and Isa get the inside scoop from special guest Morgan Simianer, star of CHEER, Netflix?s the smash-hit documentary series about the top college cheer program in the USA.
If you have an Instagram account, you’ve probably seen those beautifully curated infographics explaining "trauma,” “attachment theory,” and "boundaries" in 100 words or less... but when does mass-disseminating parasocial mental health advice on social media become cultish? This juicy episode dives into the world of Instagram therapists: mental health experts (and self-proclaimed “experts”) who have taken our era’s desperate need for accessible therapy and spun it into an influencer career.
Trader Joe's, the most beloved "neighborhood grocery store" in America, has a super-loyal "cult following"... a sentiment that needs no explanation. The limited-edition niche products (like cookie butter and lemon ricotta), kitschy nautical aesthetic, and ridiculously friendly employees have spawned a generation of obsessed customers, who will wait in the rain, sleet, and snow to shop at TJs and spend hours connecting with other fanatics in TJ lovers Facebook groups. But is there a more sinister side to the "cult" of Trader Joe's? Are their corporate practices shady? Why *are* their employees so nice? With the help of sooo many Reddit forums and even more listener call-ins, Isa and Amanda investigate...
Follow us on Instagram: @soundslikeacultpod, and hosts @isaamedinaa and @amanda_montell
Super-wealthy motivational speaker Tony Robbins physically towers over his thousands of adoring acolytes, boasting a booming voice and omniscient life advice about everything from love to business to trauma, which he espouses at his world-famous conferences? but in light of recent abuse allegations, his cult status is starting to look a lot more predatory to us than inspiring. Special guest Kate Kennedy of the Be There In Five podcast joins us this week to unpack the cult of motivational speaking and Tony Robbins, discussing peer pressure and forced vulnerability, the connection between Robbins and disgraced self-improvement star Rachel Hollis, and so much more.
One of our favorite topics to date: In this can?t-miss episode, we?re unpacking the wave of trendy evangelical church groups (like Hillsong, Mosaic, and Churchome), which use Silicon Valley-savvy marketing, celebrity endorsements, charismatic pastors, and a slew of allegedly culty recruitment techniques and power structures in an attempt to make Christ ?cool? for masses of modern young people. Here to help us understand this brand of hipster Christianity is special guest Grace Baldridge, a musician and documentarian behind Refinery29?s ?State of Grace? series, which tackles faith, queerness, and American culture. Be sure to follow @GraceBaldridge on Instagram!
?Why does it feel like everything that has to do with tradition is actually a cult?? Such is one of our many musings from this week?s episode on the ?cult? of Greek life. With all the ?hazing? and ?pledges? are these highly exclusive groups with unchallenged power imbalances and bizarre often dangerous (even deadly) rituals?whose culture of ?paying your dues? bleeds into the rest of American society?low-key just deep-rooted ?cults? dressed up as a socially accepted college ?experience?? With the help of listener call-ins, insightful facts and figures, and Isa?s own personal sorority stories, that is just the question we?re aiming to answer...