Tagged podcast review: Dark exploration of influencer obsession and cancel culture
Last month, I pressed play on a new weekly podcast drama without especially high hopes. Podcasting has proved itself as a fantastic medium for longform narrative, yet often lacks the bite associated with the best of audio drama. The fact my expectations were low for Tagged (Sony Music Entertainment and Goldhawk productions, widely available), made the half-hour surprise that followed even sweeter. Usually I’m happy to wait from week to week, but hooked, I subscribed to The Binge to get the rest of the eight episodes. (The final one dropped last Monday, so all are now available for free.)Written and created by Brett Neichen and John Dryden, both of whom have serious fiction and drama credentials, Tagged is Sony’s first fiction podcast.
Billed as “a social media thriller”, it stars EastEnders alumni Jessica Plummer and Ben Hardy as newlywed travel and lifestyle influencers. Together, they post under the handle ‘Where the Day Takes You’, and their content covers everything from protein bars to underwear. As the first episode opens, they are in Greece, being questioned by a detective called Mantis about a double homicide in Venice. “According to your passport you’ve been to six countries in the last 12 days,” Mantis says to Tre, “how do you like it here?” “The country or this jail?” Tre snaps back, before revealing he can’t remember when he got married, despite it being just weeks earlier.
This smart narrative set-up allows for dramatic scenes with the addition of voiceovers as they tell Mantis their story. While travelling through Europe on their honeymoon — posting endlessly to Instagram of course, in order to keep their 1.5 million followers and many sponsors happy — they realise an almost identical couple are tracking their movements. This pair clone their images in every way: imitating their poses, outfits, filters and tags. But when online content is posted showing Karlie and Tre in a very bad light, fans are unforgiving and sponsors scarper. As they panic about money, a mysterious-sounding woman contacts them and offers eye-watering sums if they will post about her meditation app. Deal, they reckon. What could go wrong? Quite a lot, as it happens. Featuring an influencer-targeted cult, the story becomes a dark exploration of what could happen when social media bleeds into real life — is death the ultimate cancellation?
I recently relistened to a vintage production of Lucille Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number. First broadcast in 1943, it’s as suspenseful as ever. Agnes Morehead’s excellent performance as the bedridden woman who overhears a murder being planned via a crossed phone line is hugely aided by the atmospheric sound effects, which can make or break an audio drama. Tagged’s production design is excellent (though if you’re squeamish, as I am, beware while listening to the last episode). In a number of places a line is repeated, which seems like an edit problem rather than the script, but overall, Tagged has enough red herrings and twists and turns to hold your interest from start to finish.