The urban dictionary defines “power ballad” as an “emotional hard rock or heavy metal song, often with a slow tempo, dramatic sung vocals, and many instruments, including acoustic ones and synthesizers.” If you needed a picture to accompany it, it could easily be Klaus Meine, lead singer of German rock band Scorpions, in all his hair-band glory, belting out their 1991 hit “Wind of Change.”
It’s one of the best-selling rock singles of all time, topping European charts, and hitting No. 4 in the U.S. It is a straight-up, leg perched on a speaker, deep knee bend, eyes closed, lighters in the air, all caps POWER BALLAD.
But was it also written by the CIA?
A new podcast from Crooked Media, Pineapple Street, and Spotify aims to find out.
In Wind of Change, best-selling author and New Yorker investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe explores a rumor he heard from a source within the CIA itself. Over the course of the miniseries, Keefe delves into a secret history of propaganda hidden in pop music, talking to former CIA officers and music industry legends, as well as doing on-the-ground reporting in four countries to find out if this really was another example of a U.S. government attempt at soft power through pop culture.
A soft power ballad. (Sorry.)
Pineapple Street senior producer Henry Molofsky worked with Keefe on the series, bringing his experience cocreating the popular Headlong series (Missing Richard Simmons, Surviving Y2K, and Running From Cops). He says that one of the goals was to utilize different narrative nonfiction styles across the eight episodes.
“The investigative thread runs through each episode, but there’s something else there as well,” says Molofsky. “Episode 5 is like a stand-alone, almost like a rock doc about this one 1989 concert in Moscow. We knew we wanted a diversity of episode styles. The first one is very journalistic, what’s the story. Episode 6 takes us into a drug-smuggling operation. That’s one thing we loved about this story, how it had these spokes that went out in all kinds of interesting directions.”
It’s not just a unique story, but also behind the scenes, as a partnership between Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media, and Spotify. Pineapple made it, Crooked hypes it, and Spotify is being Spotify by landing an exclusive drop, with all eight episodes available today, as opposed to the weekly schedule on other platforms.
“We knew the minute we heard the trailer in the room in our first meeting with Pineapple and Crooked that we had to have it,” says Spotify’s head of network programming, Liz Gateley. “It’s the only thing I’ve bought in the room in the time I’ve been here. The package of Crooked, Pineapple, and Patrick’s investigative audio storytelling with music at its center was perfect for Spotify’s global audience. I mean, Scorpions x CIA? I was in.”
Sarah Geismer, executive producer on Wind of Change and Crooked’s head of development and production, says this new pod is another step forward in the narrative nonfiction genre. “Obviously shows like Serial, Missing Richard Simmons, or S-Town, opened up a form, that you’re on a journey, and while the ending is very important, that journey is the most important,” she says. “This podcast definitely is an incredible journey, a twisting and winding road, and I think people are now trained to listen to a story like that, given what’s come before in the genre.”
Molofsky says that the audience’s appetite and expectation for stories like this have only grown exponentially. “One thing that’s cool about that is the more narrative long-form doc series like these that come out, the more audience tastes can grow with them,” he says. “I think this show is complex, goes a lot of different directions, and upends a lot of the norms of a miniseries, investigative podcast. I don’t know if we’d be able to make it the same way five years ago, just based on how audiences absorb this stuff. So it’s fun to keep pushing this format, in ways that entertain and challenge listeners in new ways.”
All eight episodes are on Spotify today, and episode 1 is available everywhere else you get your podcasts.