HuffPost Illustration/"Inside the Groove," "For Colored Nerds," "The Grawlix Saves the World," "Slow Burn," "Believe Her"

19 Podcasts We Loved In 2021

Shows that made us laugh, cry, think and feel over the past year.

The great thing about podcasts over other forms of storytelling is their accessibility. You hear about a show from a friend, grab your phone and download it right away. Or you’re on a walk, or stuck in an airport, or about to wash the dishes when you find an intriguing story to listen to. It’s a low barrier to entry that allows you to try out a topic you knew little about, or follow a host down an oddly specific rabbit hole.

When asking the HuffPost newsroom for their favorites from this past year, I was surprised at how many I myself missed, or hadn’t even heard of at all. It’s a reminder of the vastness of the podcast offerings out there today — so much so that there will inevitably be amazing shows we neglected to list here. But if you need some ideas for your next audio journey, here are some of our favorites from 2021.

“ICYMI”

The weird joys of the internet can be so fleeting — the trending TikTok sounds, the viral tweet threads, the niche community beefs — that it’s nice to be able to hold on to them a bit longer with something like a podcast. Enter “ICYMI” from Slate, a new addition to the tradition of podcasts that examine whatever the opposite of IRL is these days (see: “TLDR,” “Reply All,” “Endless Thread,” etc.). Twice weekly, co-hosts Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher examine the phenomena that can only come from — and be adequately chronicled by — the very online. One of my favorite segments is where the hosts attempt to fully explain a detailed topic in under 60 seconds. If the terms “couch guy,” RushTok, yassification or “no bones day” are meaningless to you, consider this a crash course in being on the internet now. —Jillian Capewell

“Believe Her”

Nikki Addimando is currently in jail for killing her partner, Chris Grover. While her lawyers, friends and family presented a detailed, documented history of domestic abuse that Nikki says led to a final deadly encounter in September 2018, the judge and jury didn’t believe her. And that is where reporter Justine van der Leun turns true crime podcasting on its head, putting together a masterfully reported six-part series on survivors who kill their abusers and how they are treated in our criminal justice system. The series is emotional and compelling, but also clear-eyed and honest about how messy these cases can be. —Kate Sheppard

“Nice Try!”

The original season of “Nice Try!” examined the quest to create a utopian space. For Season 2, recorded during a time when many of us spent more time than ever at home, host Avery Trufelman tells the stories of products created to make our lives better. I loved learning how some doorbells were meant to scare people, what inspired the invention of the Crock-Pot, and why Americans just won’t embrace the bidet. Each episode is woven with historical details, humorous anecdotes and quirky facts. —Sara Bondioli

“Unread”

Chris Stedman lost one of his best friends, Alex, in December 2019. Alex’s suicide and the email trail he left behind left Stedman wondering a lot of things, but perhaps the most mysterious was whether his Britney Spears-obsessed friend had actually managed to link up with the singer on an internet message board. At the surface, this is a pop culture mystery that any Britney fan can enjoy. More notably, it’s a moving investigation of depression, friendship, loss and how the people around us shape our lives. —Kate Sheppard

“For Colored Nerds”

For Colored Nerds” is a podcast on Black culture by two best friends, Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings. It first ran from 2014 to 2017 and then went on hiatus as the hosts went on to create other shows like “The Nod,” and now it’s back as of November 2021! So far this season they’ve interviewed “Insecure” actor Jay Ellis, Nikole Hannah-Jones and more. It’s fun and smart, and the creators who previously spent time at Gimlet are often heralded as mentors to other people of color in the audio space and major advocates for more diversity in podcasting. —Sarah Ruiz-Grossman

“Crime Show”

As the tag line of “Crime Show” proclaims, it’s not about “those crime stories.” You know the ones: A woman — probably young, almost certainly white — is killed or kidnapped and the podcast host — perhaps someone without traditional investigative training — spends anywhere from six to 10 episodes trying to solve the case. The crimes on “Crime Show,” which tells a new story every episode, are rarely murders, and if they are, host Emma Courtland ties it to some larger structure that made the murder possible (for example: a society that ignores and mistreats its homeless population). Usually, though, they’re nonviolent crimes, told from the perspective of someone who was involved, though it emphasizes the reality that crimes rarely involve a clear victim and a clear “criminal.” It’s reminiscent of “This American Life,” in that each episode is simply a well-told glimpse into other peoples’ lives — and who doesn’t love a good yarn? —Nora Biette-Timmons

Listen on Spotify | Website

“9/12”

I was not heading into the 20th anniversary of 9/11 expecting to enjoy much of the news coverage. This series, from Dan Taberski, managed to find an engrossing way in, focusing not on the day itself but what happened in our country in the aftermath. Taberski, known for the hits “Missing Richard Simmons” and “Running From COPS,” finds insightful stories that tell us more about how we live today than any mere retrospective. (Taberski also created “The Line,” another impressive podcast out this year. Does the man sleep?) —Kate Sheppard

“Aack Cast”

Funny papers staple “Cathy” showcased a chronically single woman who loved chocolate, hated exercise and couldn’t shake her aging mother’s influence. After her heyday as a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s and ’90s, where clipped-out strips of the comic adorned many a stressed-out office worker’s cubicle, Cathy became somewhat of a feminist punchline — the apex of an unempowered, image-obsessed woman. In this series, Jamie Loftus (of equally great pods “My Year in Mensa” and “Lolita Podcast”) examines the legacy of Cathy and the artist who created her, Cathy Guisewite — and finally gives both of them their due as cultural icons. —Jillian Capewell

“Slow Burn”

The sixth installment of Slate’s “Slow Burn” podcast gives you everything you need in a retrospective about the 1992 LA riots. Hosted by Slate reporter Joel D. Anderson, the first episode opens with reporting on the videotape that captured four police officers beating Rodney King just outside of Los Angeles. The episode also includes perhaps one of the last interviews with George Holliday, who recorded the incident. The second episode chronicles what happened just a couple weeks after the King video was broadcast on news stations: the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, who was killed by a Korean storekeeper. “Slow Burn” expertly unpacks all the moments that led to the uprising while adding the perfect dose of media analysis and racial biases of the moment. The season is in the middle of its run and it’s definitely worth catching up on as the 30th anniversary of the riots approaches in April. —Erin E. Evans

“The Grawlix Saves The World”

Three longtime Denver comics and the brains behind the comedy series “Those Who Can’t” (streaming on HBO) engage in twice-monthly challenges to better themselves and the world around them. At times irreverent, at times earnest (sound that earnestness horn, producer Ron!) and always hilarious, these three engage in the sort of genuinely funny, NSFW banter typically reserved only for your closest friends. Past challenges have seen the trio watch scary movies, eat outside their comfort zones, read a book from the “Twilight” series and do hot yoga. —Ryan Grenoble

“One Click”

Don’t let a celebrity host — actor Elle Fanning — turn you off from what is a deeply reported series on 2,4-dinitrophenol, or DNP, a chemical sold on the internet for use as a diet drug that literally cooks people from the inside. Fanning sprinkles in some of her own experience as a young star in body-conscious Hollywood, but journalist Jessica Wapner is the standout as she weaves the regulatory and ethical concerns with the intimate stories of people who have died after using DNP. —Kate Sheppard

“Food, Light, Energy, Love”

The “Food, Light, Energy, Love” podcast is a community-supported and Black woman-hosted trove of ancestral, youth and elder wisdom that centers the voices of folks working to decolonize our unjust food systems. An antidote to the fast-paced, formulaic structure of solutions-oriented podcasts, farmer Yonnette Fleming of the Hattie Carthan Community Garden and Market in Brooklyn, New York, grounds her audience and guests in slow, thoughtful conversations that strip down the noise and hoopla surrounding justice work. Just as food is the result of light and energy reciprocated into love, this podcast takes the kernel of an idea and nurtures its growth into spiritual profundity for its listeners. —Jared Greenhouse

Listen on SoundCloud

“70 Over 70”

So much of our culture is obsessed with youth — preternatural teen talents, anti-aging potions, the sharp drop-off of relevance you feel as you turn 30 — that a show dedicated to hearing from people over the age of 70 is a welcome change. A standout episode is when host Max Linsky talks to Sister Helen Prejean. Prejean, a nun, has been the spiritual adviser for several men on death row, including Brandon Bernard, who was executed by lethal injection in December 2020. Prejean, and so many others interviewed for this show, offer touching insights on life, purpose and love. —Jillian Capewell

“The Turning”

If you have ever wondered, “Was Mother Teresa a cult leader?,” this podcast series is for you. And if you haven’t, you will as you learn more about the Missionaries of Charity, the Catholic order she led. More than that, though, this series unpacks her personal struggles with faith and the many ways popular impressions of the late saint elide the darker experiences of some former sisters. —Kate Sheppard

“Inside the Groove”

Whether you’re the biggest Madonna fan or just curious about how some of the most iconic pop songs in history were created, Edward Russell’s “Inside the Groove podcast is well worth the listen. In each episode he picks one of the singer’s tracks — from chart toppers like “Vogue” and “Holiday” to deeper cuts like “Dear Jessie” — and performs a brilliantly obsessive deep dive into how it was made, from the inspiration behind the lyrics to the recording of the background vocals. Russell knows his stuff — and what he doesn’t know, he’s meticulously researched ― so you dance away from each 20ish-minute session with him feeling like you’ve been gifted the deepest secrets of the queen of pop’s material world. —Noah Michelson

“Be There in Five”

I adore Kate Kennedy’s “Be There in Five” podcast. She covers a wide range of topics, from pop culture to entrepreneurship to religious trauma, but no matter the subject, she approaches it with her signature blend of thoughtfulness, humor, impressive research and heart. I appreciate Kate’s vulnerability in talking about tough issues like fertility and the messaging around motherhood on social media, as well as her LOL-worthy deep dives into all aspects of millennial nostalgia. “Be There in Five” is long-form and solo-hosted, so listening to it makes me feel like a friend is keeping me company as I clean my apartment or go for walks. And her quick wit and wordplay definitely inspire me to up my pun game. —Caroline Bologna

“Who? Weekly”

I’ve been a casual listener of “Who? Weekly” since the podcast launched in 2016, but during year two of a global pandemic, the show became a much-needed antidote to depressing newsy podcasts. Hosted by writers and friends Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger, the podcast tracks the weekly rise and fall of celebrities who make you go “Who?” These are not the Kardashians or the Tom Hankses of the world — those are “Thems.” The podcast’s tag line is: “Everything you need to know about celebrities you don’t.” With bemusement and delight, Weber and Finger follow the sponsorships and the striving that influencers, YouTube stars and reality-TV personalities do to become stars. For a sample, listen to Weber and Finger analyzing the taxonomy of a “Dancing With the Stars” season in “Simu Liu, Michael Voltaggio & Elizabeth Theranos?

If you become a Patreon listener, you get to hear Finger and Weber weigh in on A-list Thems, from the return of Bennifer — the 46-minute deep dive into the media history of the relationship that made me a paying subscriber — to the most ridiculous Architectural Digest videos of the rich and famous. It takes obsessive attention to trade magazines, Instagram breakup captions, TikToks, and Notes app apologies to be this fun on a biweekly basis, but Weber and Finger, along with their research assistant Timmy, make it sound effortless. —Monica Torres

“Wild”

“Wild” is the kind of show I just want to put into someone’s hands and say, “Trust me on this one.” In this podcast from LAist studios, writer Erick Galindo and producer Megan Tan (whose “Millennial” podcast will forever be one of my favorites) follow the origin stories of 10 people, one per episode. Their stories are told in this engaging, enchanting, and almost poetic way that will make you feel deeply and leave thinking maybe there’s a little more magic in the world than you thought. —Jillian Capewell

“Black Girl Songbook”

Perhaps there is no one better to host a podcast about Black women in music other than former Vibe magazine editor-in-chief Danyel Smith. On its second season, the podcast dives deep into the lyrics and lives of some of your favorite singers. That Smith opens the Brandy Norwood episode with, perhaps, my favorite Brandy song ever, “Have You Ever?” was the perfect way into this series. And I immediately had to go back and listen to several other episodes, including, of course, the Beyoncé episode. The podcast is a vibey mix of reminiscing on the ’90s and paying respect to artists’ place in music right here and now. —Erin E. Evans

Listen on Spotify | Website