The Greatest Podcasts of 2021, In line with the Podcast Business

Left to proper: Seth Rogen, Selena Quintanilla, Ezra Klein, Jamie Loftus, and Dave Chappelle.
Picture-Illustration: Vulture; Pictures: Getty

Podcasting is residence to a free-flowing and ever-growing variety of practitioners, reveals, genres, and communities. This reality isn’t misplaced on me, and it particularly involves thoughts every time I sit right down to make my year-end checklist of the perfect podcasts, which displays my very own subjective interpretation of the perfect choices from every vibrant 12 months. Now, I really like writing up that checklist, however this time we additionally puzzled: Wouldn’t or not it’s cool to formally seize what the remainder of the podcast world has been listening to and believes to be the perfect?

So this 12 months, we’re kicking off a brand new undertaking: a giant, industrywide survey that goals to search out out which reveals most captured the eye of the people who find themselves actively shaping the podcast world.

Let’s discuss methodology. To start with, we reached out to some hundred individuals everywhere in the podcast neighborhood — producers, hosts, impartial creators, executives, brokers, sound designers, composers, and so forth — and requested them to ship us what they felt had been the three greatest podcasts from the 12 months. They had been informed that the votes could be nameless. We tried our greatest to chop throughout as vast a cross-section of the podcast panorama as attainable. These polled for this survey got solely two main limitations: They’ll’t choose a present that they labored on, and their picks (whether or not new or present reveals) needed to be actively publishing this calendar 12 months. Private observations, arguments, and feedback weren’t obligatory, however many respondents gave them anyway, a few of which we printed within the outcomes beneath. (Everybody named supplied us the permission to take action. The remaining had been left nameless.)

Our outreach yielded over 150 responses from varied corners of the podcast world, from impartial creators to Spotify to NPR to Apple to SiriusXM. A couple of extra issues to notice right here: Firstly, to account for the truth that some podcast individuals work at massive publishers with sprawling portfolios, we gave respondents the choice to appoint one present from their firm so long as they didn’t instantly work on that manufacturing. Secondly, a number of respondents certified their picks alongside the traces of: “Nicely, my private prime three is so-and-so, however professionally, I’d say my prime three is so-and-so.” In these situations, we prioritized the respondent’s private picks over what they suppose they need to be highlighting. Lastly, right here’s one thing that caught my eye: A couple of dozen individuals declined to take part, saying one thing like, “I didn’t take heed to any podcasts this 12 months as I used to be too busy working alone.” An comprehensible predicament.

Lastly, the outcomes. We tallied up the counts, and on this checklist we current the 15 reveals with essentially the most votes in descending order. For circumstances by which a number of reveals introduced in the identical variety of votes, we ordered them alphabetically. Lastly, we additionally determined to incorporate a number of extra picks with a lot smaller vote tallies however that got here accompanied with enjoyable, fascinating feedback.

Okay, so with out additional ado, right here’s the checklist.

Picture: Who? Weekly

Lindsay Weber and Bobby Finger’s information to Whos, Thems, and the huge universe of celebrities in between stays a favourite amongst business insiders. And why wouldn’t it? The world of Whos has by no means been larger, and the podcast by no means been extra of a enjoyable, humorous dangle.

“This 12 months, for apparent causes, I wanted to take heed to mild, goofy, semi-meaningless stuff,” stated Jenna Weiss-Berman, co-founder of Pineapple Avenue. “Who? Weekly is the one podcast that makes me genuinely chuckle out loud.”

Crunch, crunch.

Jonquilyn Hill’s investigative sequence revisiting the case of Relisha Rudd, an 8-year-old Black lady who vanished from a Washington, D.C., homeless shelter in 2014, is a marvel for the best way it takes the true-crime cold-case format and flips it into an indictment of a broader system that fails to guard essentially the most weak of us.

The clear-eyed sensitivity of Hill’s efforts had been roundly acknowledged within the survey. “I adopted Relisha Rudd’s story when she first went lacking,” stated one government from a serious tech participant. “Studying the tales broke my coronary heart then and listening to the podcast broke it yet again. In a world the place it appears like individuals don’t care concerning the well being and wellbeing of Black youngsters, this sequence did an unimaginable job exploring why that’s, particularly when it got here to Relisha.”

Jamie Loftus’s vociferous protection of “Cathy,” the well-known sketch by Cathy Guisewite half-remembered as of late as a punchline, was one of many extra intriguing tasks to come back out this 12 months, most notably for the anarchic nature of its sounds. We named Aack Solid the perfect podcast of 2021, and the undertaking was a favourite amongst these within the comedy-podcast scene.

“Jamie Loftus is healthier than anybody at discovering an under-explored quirk of recent life or piece of pop-culture trivia and discovering an entire world inside it,” stated Josh Richmond, senior producer at Earwolf. “Aack Solid spins the least hip comedian within the humorous pages into an entire treatise on Twentieth-century womanhood; it’s distinctive.”

The actor Connor Ratliff’s quest to determine why Tom Hanks fired him from a small function in Band of Brothers 20 years in the past due to his “useless eyes” stood out from its very first installment for its capability to make use of its shaggy canine idea as a platform to discover concepts of artwork, failure, and constructing a life towards fixed disappointment within the leisure enterprise.

Now in its third season, Lifeless Eyes continues to attract admiration. “One would suppose that Connor Ratliff’s countless quest would possibly get outdated … nevertheless it doesn’t, one way or the other,” stated Julie Shapiro, VP of editorial at PRX and Radiotopia. “He’s an amazing interviewer, very humorous individual, brings on fantastic visitors, and is hyper-aware of the concurrently mundane and existentially huge nature of his quest. Simply just about pleasant.”

Hosted by New Yorker employees author Ariel Levy and produced by Melinda Shopsin, The Simply Sufficient Household is a profoundly unusual undertaking in some ways, however the best way it supplied a vivid window into the rise and fall of an especially rich household resonated with some voters.

“I favored how the narrative construction was cyclical as an alternative of linear, which mirrored the cyclical nature of household conflicts,” stated Callie Hitchcock, a reporter at Campside Media. “It additionally felt very spare and intimate; Levy has the belief of the individuals she is interviewing and it allowed for extra idiosyncratic and deeper insights.”

As Apple Podcasts famous, The Ezra Klein Present was among the many ten hottest new podcasts on the platform this 12 months. Our voters agreed: The deep-dive interview podcast was additionally roundly praised within the survey.

“He approaches every dialogue with curiosity and compassion that elicits the identical in his visitors, making for a considerate and satisfying pay attention,” stated one respondent who works for a giant platform.

“This present has given me hope that there are sensible, empathetic individuals on the market making an attempt to unravel a few of our most intractable issues,” stated Jody Avirgan, host of This Day in Esoteric Political Historical past. “It’s additionally reaffirmed for me that the constructing blocks of an amazing podcast — chemistry, curiosity — nonetheless actually matter.”

Picture: WNYC Studios

After releasing the unimaginable Floodlines final 12 months — which, by the best way, we named as the perfect podcast of 2020 — The Atlantic shifted gears, turning towards a extra conventional method to audio enterprise in 2021 with Methods to Construct a Comfortable Life, an enlargement of its happiness column by Arthur C. Brooks, and The Assessment, a roundtable tradition podcast.

The publication additionally launched this co-production with WNYC, The Experiment, a weekly audio journal present hosted by former Radiolab staffer Julia Longoria, which grafts a canopy story feature-style method onto traditionally minded tales that discover the state of American beliefs.

“I really like the range of matters, visitors, the music, and the host is totally pretty,” stated one respondent from one of many larger firms. “The present provides me insights into matters that I could haven’t discovered in any other case.”

Graphic: Vulture

Maria Garcia’s memoir-documentary hybrid produced by WBUR and Futuro Studios concerning the culture- and identity-shaping legacy of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, the late Tejano music legend, struck a chord with many podcast people, notably those that noticed themselves in Garcia’s story.

“I’m a Latina who’s all the time felt like an outsider — by no means Latina sufficient but additionally not American sufficient,” stated one senior producer. “Listening to Something For Selena study all of that together with how Selena and our tradition has formed a lot of our world in the present day was actually revolutionary. It rang so true to me. It’s a murals.”

Particular reward, as effectively, was directed at how the present approached bilingual manufacturing. “Love that Futuro did each English and Spanish variations of the podcast that aren’t direct translations — so good,” stated JoAnn DeLuna, a producer at Transmitter Media.

Picture: Luminary

The trippy, rambling, and shape-defying audio present by Dave Chappelle with Talib Kweli and yasiin bey — largely accessible as an unique on Luminary, which continues to be round, with restricted accessibility all over the place else — introduced in a stable haul of votes within the survey with many lauding its experimental, free-form tackle the celeb chat-cast. Stated one respondent from one of many massive firms, “Recreation-changer method to the style.”

There have been, nevertheless, some reservations amongst those that voted for the present owing to the rising controversies Chappelle’s newest Netflix particular, The Nearer, which has been closely criticized for its transphobic content material together with Chappelle’s subsequent response to the backlash. “Too unhealthy Chappelle’s a self-unaware narcissist,” stated one exec from a well-respected podcast studio. “As a result of that first episode was chef’s kiss” — although, that exec went on to say, not sufficient to persuade them to buy a Luminary subscription.

The Line may need earned fewer votes than Dan Taberski’s different massive undertaking (see No. 3 on this checklist), however the documentary sequence, which investigates the attainable conflict crimes of the American Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher throughout a 2017 deployment to Iraq, was extensively seen as an achievement with a a lot increased diploma of problem.

“He makes it look really easy,” stated Brendan Francis Newnam, vp and government producer of particular tasks at Pushkin Industries. “But there was nothing straightforward concerning the individuals he talked to and the story he lined right here.”

“What all the time impresses me about Dan Taberski’s writing is his skill to elicit a large number of feelings concurrently,” stated one other podcast studio exec. “In The Line, I used to be typically horrified and laughing and crying and sighing with a deep empathy. It was simply the perfect writing I consumed (since I heard it) this 12 months.”

Tipper Gore versus heavy metallic, political correctness, the McDonald’s scorching espresso lawsuit, extra satanic panic, and extra installments in its ongoing saga revisiting the O. J. Simpson trial — it’s one other sturdy and totally on-brand 12 months for You’re Unsuitable About, and there’s even been a rising sense that the remainder of the tradition is more and more aligning with the present’s ethical worldview.

“In a number of methods it appears like a media criticism present, concerning the methods by which biased information protection formed our understanding of occasions,” wrote one respondent who works for a serious participant. “But it surely’s additionally a societal criticism present that examines why we hold falling into the identical gendered, sexist, racist patterns.”

After all, there’s been a giant change on the present of late, with co-creator Michael Hobbes leaving earlier within the fall to work on different tasks (together with Upkeep Section).

Picture: StraightioLab

Picture: Gimlet

Jonathan Goldstein’s ode to remorse, breakthroughs, and coping with the remainder of your life was a transparent favourite amongst producers who work within the narrative genres. At present in its fifth 12 months, the Gimlet Media manufacturing is described as solely getting finer with age. “When Heavyweight first launched, I cherished it, however was anxious the format would develop stale over time,” stated Dan Pashman, host of The Sporkful. “Fortuitously, I feel it has managed to evolve simply sufficient to remain nice.”

That stated, a number of respondents — largely among the many government class at competing firms — grumbled about Spotify’s current choice to make the present unique to its platform. “I do need to reiterate: placing episodes of Heavyweight ONLY on Spotify is BULLLSHITTT,” texted one exec at a competing platform who voted for the present. However even that couldn’t shake their admiration for Goldstein, his crew, and their knack for unearthing catharsis.

“I imply, what can Dan Taberski not do as of late?”

That’s how Shara Morris, government producer at Neon Hum Media, put it, which roughly captures what many different individuals felt this 12 months. Taberski, who first exploded into the scene with 2017’s Lacking Richard Simmons, was on the entrance of two audio tasks launched this 12 months (see The Line above). His extra fashionable one was an essayistic sequence on the lengthy shadow of the September 11 assaults with Pineapple Avenue, Wondery, and Amazon Music.

“It’s perhaps essentially the most spectacular achievement but in Taberski’s more and more compelling, impressively formidable physique of labor,” stated Will Di Novi, particular applications curator on the Sizzling Docs Canadian Worldwide Documentary Pageant.

Marlon Bishop, VP of content material at Futuro Studios, additionally heaped reward on the undertaking: “Dan managed to make a 9/11 podcast that was very considerate and infrequently humorous, with some superb will get, and fantastic music and sound design.”

Seth Rogen’s story-exploder podcast turned various heads for its extremely technical method and light-weight, fuzzy enjoyable. “It’s a giant accomplishment,” stated one producer from one of many larger firms. “As a result of a number of the time, there isn’t even that a lot to the story.”

One of many extra amusing themes within the responses is a common sense of shock that the present ranked so extremely for them within the first place. “I’m actually glad these [picks] are nameless,” wrote an impartial creator. “As a result of I can’t imagine I’m recommending a podcast by a white male comic.”

Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes’s biweekly podcast interrogating suspect well being fads was, by far, the podcast that earned essentially the most votes within the survey. This doesn’t actually come as a shock. Since launching in October 2020, Upkeep Section shortly carved out a robust and noticeable following for its good, considerate interrogation of the well being and wellness world.

“Aubrey and Michael are so nice collectively and this present couldn’t be popping out at a extra excellent time,” stated Beth Anne Macaluso, head of podcast improvement at iHeartMedia. “It feels complementary to the opposite conversations taking place proper now about how tousled all the pieces really was within the ’90s and early aughts.”

“[They] do an amazing job diving deep into wellness developments and unpacking them — each their typically sketchy origins and the hazards that they’ll result in,” stated Lauren Shippen, CEO of Atypical Artists. “But it surely additionally isn’t a full tear-down of wellness utterly. The hosts are all the time truthful about ‘in case you like this factor you possibly can nonetheless have it, it simply isn’t going to make you immortal’ across the merchandise and developments that aren’t dangerous. I’ve discovered a lot and it’s helped me perceive the complexity of wellness, physique positivity, fatphobia, and the well being business.”

What makes Upkeep Section’s place on the prime of this survey a lot extra fascinating is the truth that it’s a proudly impartial manufacturing, exhibiting that, even because the podcast world has quickly consolidated round a handful of giant gamers, there’s nonetheless lots sufficient room for indie creators to carve out a robust place for themselves.

There have been a number of reveals with smaller vote tallies that respondents made intriguing arguments for, and so we thought it could be fascinating to run a number of of these highlights right here:

Picture: iHeartRadio

The favored hip-hop podcast by N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN (printed by iHeartMedia’s The Black Impact community) got here up as a choose amongst music aficionados polled for this survey. Of specific curiosity was the current episode that includes Ye (previously generally known as Kanye West), which drove a torrent of headlines final month.

“This isn’t a present that’s in my weekly rotation, however their Kanye West interview supplied a lot content material for music podcasters, journalists, and followers,” stated Jazmine Henley-Brown, government producer at Stitcher’s Extra Sauce label. “It would go down as one of the vital important music interviews this 12 months, with Rory & Mal’s ‘Black Album’ deep-dive with Hip Hop & Guru up there as effectively.”

Picture: StraightioLab

The podcast deconstructing (or decentering, in case you’d want that time period) the curious topic of heterosexual tradition, by the homosexual comedians George Civeris and Sam Taggert, drew current acclaim right here in Vulture, and it got here up as a favourite among the many extra comedy-centric crowd polled for this survey.

“George Civeris and Sam Taggart handle to ship on a premise numerous different reveals screw up — the right quantity of ironic distance from their topic of straight tradition, from the Cheesecake Manufacturing unit to the MCU, with a stage of real love for his or her visitors and one another,” stated Jamie Loftus, creator of Aack Solid. “It’s soup for me, except you hate soup by which case it’s cake? Sure.”

Picture: The Ringer

One of many Spotify-operated reveals created, partially, to indicate off its experimental (however seemingly under-marketed) “Music + Speak” format, 60 Songs That Clarify the ’90s additionally occurred to resonate with those that dealt closely in cultural historical past.

60 Songs That Clarify the ’90s utterly refreshed my concept of what a podcast about popular culture can do or be,” stated Karina Longworth, creator of You Should Bear in mind This. “I all the time benefit from the interview parts, however the actual gold lies in Rob Harvilla’s not-always-hinged, extremely digressive monologues. His cultural-criticism-as-personal-storytelling is a revelation.”

This survey contains responses from the next entities: Amazon, Apple, Atypical Artists, Audacy, Broccoli Content material, CAA, Campside Media, Futuro Media, Headgum, ICM, iHeartMedia, Lantigua Williams & Co., Lemonada Media, Magnificent Noise, Neon Hum Media, Netflix, New York Instances Audio, The New Yorker, NPR, Pushkin Industries, Radiotopia, Rococo Punch, SiriuxXM, Slate, Spotify, Group Coco, The Atlantic, This American Life, Transmitter Media, Vox Media, and varied impartial artists and podcasters.

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