If cults are like porn...you know it when you see it...then what happens when you hear it? “Listen and find out,” say the hosts of the “cult-followed” Sounds Like A Cult podcast, Amanda Montell and Isabela Medina-Maté (Isa Medina). Their cult—sorry—“podcast” began in the summer of 2021 as a quaint, homegrown show about the fanatical fringe groups we all follow. You know, obsessive Soul-Cyclers, Elon Musk stans, Flat Earthers, Disney Adults. Contemporary groups that, well, sound a lot like cults...but are they? The podcast was the brainchild of journalist Montell, author of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, and comedian and filmmaker Medina. Combining Montell’s cult knowledge and trenchant observations with Medina’s production prowess and humorous storytelling, the two made for a savvy duo with charisma to burn. “It all started on our bedroom floor with a cheap microphone and a dream. Like the cult leaders we cover, we, too, have humble origins. Hashtag relatable!” laughs Medina. Each weekly episode follows the same framework: presenting their research and insight with witty banter, Montell and Medina unpack a different cult-ish group from the zeitgeist to determine how dangerous it really is. “The idea is not to toss around the word ‘cult’ willy-nilly. That can obviously get you in trouble,” says Montell. “It’s true... but boy, do we love trouble,” spitballs Medina. “I find the line and walk it. But, we do have to be careful—the word allegedly has become our best friend.” Adds Montell adds with a wink, “Our crusade is simply to illuminate how cult-like influence shows up in spaces where we might not think to look, from multi-level marketing companies, to life coaches, all the way to pod-cast fandoms. None of us is too smart to fall prey.” In the year after launching, Sounds Like A Cult quickly inducted a listenership of over one million monthly worshippers (er, listeners). Along the way, the hosts have admittedly taken a page from the handbook of the groups they analyze, coining their own glossary of culty lingo and catchphrases to hook acolytes: “Devil’s Avocado,” “Anxiety is a pyramid scheme,” “BBDAM,” “Stay culty but nottooooculty,” “TGTGIGI” are just a few of the expressions their loyal followers (dubbed “Culties”) have latched onto.“The girls that get it, get it,” smirks Medina.
At the end of each episode, the hosts determine whether the cult of the week is a “Live Your Life,” a “Watch Your Back,” or a “Get the Fuck Out”-level cult—a tongue-in-cheek classification system of their own creation. Medina and Montell partially attribute the show’s transcendence to their episode on the “cult” of Disney Adults, which sparked a rabid flurry of discussion among listeners. “This episode lives rent free in my head,” reads one of a hundred effusive comments on the host's Instagram post promoting the episode (@soundslikeacultpod). “We like to leave our listeners feeling slightly attacked by calling out the ‘cults’ they might be in,” Medina explains. “But it’s fun, be-cause everyone gets roasted, including ourselves. You think I’m proud of the fact that I was in a sorority and watch The Kardashians? We have our own little indoctrination scheme, and those who enjoy it always come back.” Like so many “cult” phenomena, Montell and Medina’s podcast seems to have shown up in the right way at the perfect time, articulat-ing an inkling everyone seems to share: “This group sounds like a cult, but is it really?” “I think we’ve entered the most cultish era of all time,” says Montell. “The marriage of social media with widespread mistrust in main-stream institutions has made alternative communities more accessible and alluring—but also more extreme.” Sounds Like A Cult’s hosts don’t recommend their followers avoid “culty” groups at all costs. How lonely would that be? Instead, they say, it’s about garnering the awareness not to end up in any “GTFO-levelcults.” “We like to think of our show as a Live Your Life,” says Montell. “Exactly! We’re harmless, like candy,” grins Medina. “Anyone out there looking for a super fun ‘cult’ to join?”