Start 2021 with a new podcast or five. Chances are, you’re up to date on whatever you already listen to and could probably use a fresh voice, topic, or a mix of both. Seeing as there are over 800,000 podcasts (with something like 30 million episodes) out there, it doesn’t matter what your interest is — we guarantee there are at least 50 podcasts about it, with new episodes coming out all the time.
Trying to figure out which of those podcasts are good would be a gargantuan task. You could listen to friends or hope that the “You Might Also Like” section of your podcast app is up to snuff, but those approaches might be hit or miss. Know what’s not going to be hit or miss? Reading the rest of this article and realizing we picked out the best podcasts for you.
We’ve collected some of the best podcasts to listen to in 2021. Whether you’re into politics, sports, true crime, or something else, we’ve got you covered here.
In this last season of the series, Startup is Gimlet Media’s CEO Alex Blumberg’s take on the successes and pitfalls of running his media company. Having sold to Spotify earlier this year, this final season looks at the intersection of art and money and how one values each. That value changes, you find out, when you have your employees’ fates in your hands.
If you don’t love Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers to most of us), then can you call yourself a good person? The man that taught so many to be kind over generations is revered by countless, and Finding Fred is a continuation of that. Through conversations with a wide range of people, host Carvell Wallace does his darnedest to continue the legacy that Rogers started more than 50 years ago.
Last Days of August
Porn star August Ames committed suicide in 2017 just days after receiving a large amount of backlash for something she tweeted. In The Last Days of August, creator Jon Ronson explores just how tough it is to work in porn, especially for people suffering from mental illness. Through interviews with friends and family, Ronson also explores what led Ames to kill herself, even if no one can quite agree on the final reason.
Remember Shawn Kemp and the Seattle SuperSonics? Most of Seattle does (as do plenty of people who were outside of the Emerald City at the time). They were beloved up until the team folded in the mid-2000s. Sonic Boom is a look at the team and its history, including how and why the team closed up shop in Seattle (they would become the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008) … as well as what happened after.
If you listen to NPR with any regularity, especially Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me, you’ll recognize Mo Rocca. A frequent guest, he has his own show, Mobituaries, in which he, in short, explores the past. What we mean by that is he finds stories of things that we may have otherwise left to the sands of time and brings them back to the forefront (hence the obituary pun in the show’s title) through his own personal brand of humor and insight.
We’ve all seen pop culture series’ like The Real World and Big Brother, but what happens when the people forcing other people to live together (in a space secluded away from the world, no less) are from NASA? In The Habitat, six volunteers are sent to a remote island in Hawaii to live for a year as pretend astronauts on a pretend Mars. The sextet chronicles their highs and lows through audio recordings, which are spliced together in the podcast with documentary narration. Listening to see if one person might kill another is addictive, to say the least.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Ears Edition
If you don’t know what The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is, you’ve clearly been living under a rock for the last few years. The show made famous by Jon Stewart and now helmed by Noah now has a podcast arm. Ears Edition features both highlights and extended interviews from Daily Show episodes. If you’re one of the ones that just watch the show highlights that Comedy Central puts on YouTube the following day, this podcast is for you.
Everything is Alive
An “unscripted interview show,” Everything is Alive is an interesting take on exploring the world. How so? In each episode, an interviewee is an inanimate object telling its life story. Ever wanted to hear how a bar of soap feels? What about an elevator? Think of this as that part of Fight Club concerning Jack’s organs, except you’re not part of Project Mayhem or burning yours and other people’s hands with lye. As far as storytelling podcasts go, it certainly isn’t This American Life, but it is worth a listen.
Armchair Expert with Dax Shepherd
Dax Shepherd loves talking to people and celebrity guests. That is, in short, the premise for Armchair Expert. By talking to people, though, Shepherd tries to get at what makes us human. In each episode, the actor-turned-podcast host attempts to gain at least a nugget of information about how to be a better human. With a focus on the challenges people encounter, Shepherd dives headfirst into the task of being an armchair expert of life.
Hosted by comedian Dan Cummins, Timesuck is an investigation into just about everything in life. Weekly topics range from true crime to the paranormal to history podcasts and beyond, and are all hallmarked by Cummins’ signature wit. What helps Cummins stand out from other informational comedy podcasts is his willingness to investigate his own thoughts and beliefs and — through dialogues with people around the world — change his mind if he finds information the prove specific points.
30 for 30
Developed out of the über-successful 30 for 30 film series, ESPN’s 30 for 30 sports podcast series takes the best parts of the sports documentaries and brings them to audio format. If sports are your thing, these episodes follow athletes from around the world to learn their stories, unraveling what makes someone successful (or not) while also offering a look at how sports can influence cultures around the world. The stories go beyond sports, though, offering something for sports fans and non-sports fans alike.
Small Town Murder
One of the consistently funny true crime podcasts, Small Town Murder explores crimes in small towns (population under 30,000) that are, often-times, bat sh*t crazy. If you thought Florida was the only state for crazed criminals out there, Small Town Murder is a testament to the opposite. What helps hosts James Pietragallo and Jimmie Whisman dig into more than just the crime at hand. The duo look at what makes every town tick, from real estate sales to the local holiday parades that drive small-town life.
The Daily is a daily news podcast that drops every weekday morning at 6 a.m., reporting on The New York Times. Hosted by journalist Michael Barbaro, its episodes are based on the Times’ reporting of the day (about 20 minutes of reporting and headline summaries) along with interviews of journalists from the New York Times. If you want audio updates on the latest breaking stories, this is a great podcast to listen to in the morning.
This is a podcast from Bronx natives Desus Nice and THE KID MERO, aka the Bodega Boys. You might have seen them on Complex TV web series Desus vs. Mero or on the late-night talk show on Viceland, Desus & Mero. Since 2015, the duo has been bringing their raw comedic takes on all things pop culture. If you need a laugh, tune in and become part of their Bodega Hive.
Pardon My Take
Pardon My Take is a sports podcast brought to you by Barstool Sports. It’s hosted by Dan Katz, known as “Big Cat,” and PFT Commenter. The comedic podcast drops three times a week with the loudest takes on sports and trending topics, along with appearances from guests. If you need an entertaining take on fantasy football or the NBA bubble, this will be your new favorite podcast.
All Def SquaDDCast
In the All Def SquADDCast “Versus” the squADD, members debate what’s better. It’s pretty straightforward — every week, listen to what new topic the SquADD is debating and see what wins at the end. What would you choose, 24 hours with Will Smith or 24 hours with Drake? Tune in and find out.
Stuff You Should Know
Stuff You Should Know, or SYSK, is a podcast and video series published by Stuff Media and hosted by Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant, both writers at HowStuffWorks. If you want to learn more about how the Electoral College works, the disturbing disappearance of Tara Calico, or phrase origins, this is the podcast for you.
Brought to you by
Ever wonder how companies like Amway were and continue to be successful, despite the fact that they are pillaging the people that work for them for everything they have? What about the fact that a Waffle House’s ability to be open is literally used to help understand how bad a hurricane is in the South? Brought to you by (previously known as Household Name) digs into the stories behind the brands and companies we all know and see just about daily and gives us an inside look at their successes, failures, and more.
This American Life
This American Life is a weekly radio program and podcast produced in collaboration with Chicago Public Media and distributed by the Public Radio Exchange. It used to be a journalism-centered program but has evolved to feature storytelling acts that tackle diverse themes — from calming and sweet to serious and creepy. The show picks a unique theme each week which consists of various interesting ideas, funny moments, exciting plot twists, and more. The host, Ira Glass, usually starts an episode with an introduction to the theme, followed by the acts of the program.
Start With This
Start With This is not just a regular podcast, it also serves as a creativity playground. The hosts, Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink (creators of Welcome to Night Vale), focus on a topic in each episode and end it with two assignments — something to create and something to consume. Overall, the show is designed to encourage listeners to think about, talk about, and make art.
Filmmakers, screenwriters, and movie junkies will certainly find love with Script Apart. Produced by Kamil Dymek and hosted by Al Horner, the show dives into the screenplay evolution of great movies. Each episode starts with a film screenwriter sharing first-draft secrets followed by a discussion of what did and didn’t make it to the big screen and why. Some of the personalities featured include Steven E. de Souza, Stephen Merchant, and James Vanderbilt.
If you love music, Dissect might just be the perfect podcast for you. Each season of the show goes through an album, with a single episode dedicated to scrutinizing the message and lyrics of one song. The past seasons have tackled Blonde by Frank Ocean, To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator, DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar, Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West.
Broken: Jeffrey Epstein
If you so much as looked at a television or computer screen at some point earlier this year, you saw the name Jeffrey Epstein. A convicted sex offender, Epstein was found dead in his jail cell earlier this year. Broken doesn’t look directly at Epstein’s crimes, but it does explore how people like Epstein (and many others) are able to get away with what they do because of wealth, influence, or other advantages. You’ll also hear about Epstein’s victims and the impact his crimes had on their lives.
Article originally published December 28, 2018. Updated to include new suggestions for 2021.
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