Mario Sorrenti for W Magazine.
The beauty of a podcast lies in its versatility—not only are there thousands of show topics to fit any range of interests, you have the option of either settling onto your couch with a pair of headphones to give your undivided attention to a program, or play it as background noise while cooking, cleaning the house, or scrolling on your phone. Flexibility in entertainment, after all, is key during the pandemic—and if your content consumption habits have changed since 2020, know you aren’t alone.
You might already be a podcast fanatic, or just looking to dive into the medium. Luckily, there’s a whole world of auditory storytelling in the great beyond to discover. Whether you’re seeking the daily news, fashion criticism, a true crime fix, or a laugh, these are the podcasts to put into regular rotation for 2021.
Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “Bill Gates and Rashida Jones have a podcast?!,” take that as a sign to give this program a listen. Launched in November 2020, “Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions” features the two Harvard grads discussing a host of topics, including climate change, Covid-19, and even conspiracy theories with their guests—which include Bono and Anthony Fauci. How did this seemingly motley pair link up for this project? A mutual friend suggested they might have good conversation. —Maxine Wally
Many fashion brands have launched podcasts in recent years, but few can bring together the stars of fashion, film, art, and music quite like Chanel. The new Chanel Connects series sees the likes of Tilda Swinton, Keira Knightley, and Pharrell Williams unpacking what it means to work as a creative during times of crisis and why art is essential to progress. —Katie Connor
POOG with Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak
On “POOG” (GOOP spelled backwards), comedians Jacqueline Novak and Kate Berlant take on the wellness industry with investigations into products and practices such as flossing, lucid dreaming, “the confusion of natural deodorant,” muscle tension release, and more. If you’re familiar with Novak’s professorial approach to comedy or Berlant’s surrealism, then you already know everything they say about our collective, futile quest for “wellness” is gospel. —Brooke Marine
This eight-part podcast from the Atlantic, brilliantly hosted and narrated by Vann R. Newkirk II, performs a deep dive into what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Firsthand interviews with people who were hardest hit by the disaster are paired with historic tales about the Louisiana region. It’s a fascinating must-listen, carefully and thoughtfully well done in terms of how the narrative unfolds. —MW
Why Is This Happening? With Chris Hayes
MSNBC nightly host Chris Hayes is one of the smartest humans on Twitter and TV, and now, in the podcast world. His weekly show dives into subjects off the beaten news path and thankfully, it’s not your typical interview show. Instead, he picks a highly relevant topic and thoroughly covers its nuances with thoughtful, deeply researched questions. And he books special guests that are some of the most illuminating people in their respective fields, including Chase Strangio, Zephyr Teachout, and Stacey Abrams. You’ll feel your IQ go up 15 points with every episode. —Meagan Fredette
What lessons can Mr. Rogers teach adults? The author and cultural critic Carvell Wallace answers this question and many more while examining the life of Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s television show host who, according to Wallace, was both ahead of his time and in many ways, a revolutionary. This touching podcast features a range of fully grown, mature people discussing how Fred Rogers changed their lives—and looks at how the decades-old program could help people navigate today’s world.—MW
This is a great new beauty podcast by Into the Gloss/Glossier alums Nick Axelrod-Welk and Annie Kreighbaum. Personally, I’m nostalgic for the heyday of fashion and beauty blogs, so I’ve tried tuning in to podcasts as a substitute. Nick and Annie have great taste and are wonderfully fun to listen to. — Christina Holevas
Dolly Parton’s America
If you listen to one podcast in 2021, let it be “Dolly Parton’s America” (which came out in 2019, and is still such a gem). Through Dolly’s story, host Jad Abumrad discusses politics, gender identity, immigration, humanity, and love. These might seem like huge topics to tackle but he (and Dolly!) do it with incredible grace. —MW
In “Song Exploder,” musicians take apart their songs, then tell the story of how they were made. This podcast is so amazing that Netflix turned it into a freaking show. If you’ve ever wanted to hear your favorite pop star or indie musician explain exactly why they included that one lyric, or that one synth sound in the second bridge of their major hit, this is the show for you. —Michael Beckert
Forgotten: Women of Juárez
“Forgotten” looks at the mass disappearances of women in Juárez, Mexico, who, more often than not, turn up dead (these crimes have become known as “femicides”). Members of the drug cartels, elected officials, sicarios (hitmen), and even a Satanic cult are thought to be involved in the killings. Journalists Mónica Ortiz Uribe and Oz Woloshyn along with other local reporters who have worked on this topic for decades, dig into the theories about who is responsible for these grisly murders, and visit Juárez regularly to meet with people involved in the numerous cases. It’s a gripping series—and a favorite from 2020. —MW
The Cutting Room Floor
Hosted by designer Recho Omondi, “The Cutting Room Floor” is the only fashion podcast I listen to—and for good reason. I’ve learned so much about the history of podcasts, famous fashion beefs, you name it. Omondi talks to everyone from Bethann Hardison to the admins behind Diet Prada and Teri Agins; and she isn’t afraid to call out the industry for its history of racism. “The Cutting Room Floor” is a breath of fresh, brutally honest air. —BM
Last time we checked, all humans have skin on their bodies. Dewy Dudes is a skincare podcast in which hosts Emilio and Evan set out to remove the feminine gender coding from SPF, retinoids, and Fenty Skin. It shouldn’t be refreshing to hear self-described “fellas in face masks” talk about taking care of your skin, but it is—and luckily, this is one of the best skincare and beauty podcasts period. Follow their Instagram meme account for extra credit—they mercilessly roast Mario Badescu products with Wojak characters. —MF