It started with a bang, the sound of metal crashing down on the sidewalks of Washington, D.C. as hundreds of Trumpers stormed the Capitol. It continued into another pandemic year; for every two steps we took forward with vaccines and testing, we were knocked back one by variants and those who valued personal freedom over societal health. We went further into the internet, the metaverse, the cryptosphere — remember a time before NFTs? — and came out the other side feeling perhaps a little less connected to our humanity.
But there were things to be thankful for, brief glimpses of hope and happiness in what might be one of the hardest years of our lives. So the staff of Rolling Stone took this opportunity to dig for moments that reminded us the world isn’t always a cold, harsh place — even in 2021.
Jan. 20: Amanda Gorman becomes the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, welcoming Joe Biden into office
There was no clearer embodiment of the break from the darkness of Trump era than when 22-year-old Gorman took center stage at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol inauguration day — in her bright yellow coat and vibrant red head band, flashing an ebullient smile — to read her ode to the new presidency, “The Hill We Climb.”
Her slender fingers punctuating the air like a symphony conductor, the young poet spoke hopefully to the trauma of the nation. “Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed / a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.” Her poem, a powerful rebuke of those who would “shatter” the promise of America “rather than share it,” spoke to the hope of a “new dawn” that “blooms as we free it.” For there is “always light” Gorman told us — “if only we’re brave enough to see it. / If only we’re brave enough to be it.” It was a reminder that after a dark winter, there might be sunlight ahead. –Tim Dickinson
March 25: Lil Nas X Releases the video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”
When Lil Nas X dropped his highly anticipated debut album Montero earlier this year, it wasn’t surprising that conservatives were up in arms. But no one could have possibly expected that he’d bait the trolls in the most spectacular way possible: by releasing a super gay, super sexy video featuring himself twerking on the Devil in hell. When it came out last March, the video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” infuriated every conservative interest group on the planet. It got a ringing endorsement, however, from Satanists, one of whom told Rolling Stone that Lil Nas X “obviously did his homework” on Satanism. A plug from the Devil himself? There’s nothing more rock and roll than that. -Ej Dickson
May 15: Olivia Rodrigo makes pop-punk cool again on SNL
When Olivia Rodrigo performed “Good 4 U” on Saturday Night Live, social media users quickly clocked the similarities between the catchy new single and Paramore’s 2007 hit “Misery Business” — and people were feeling it. For a glorious, generation-bridging moment, it seemed everyone was jumping up and down to that adorable, pop-punk sound, elevating the breakup anthem to song-of-the-summer heights. As Rob Sheffield wrote of Rodrigo at the time, “She’s not hung up on stylistic or historic boundaries — in her songs, the ancient and the new-school play off and inspire each other. Everything old is new again, and anything in the past can be the start of something new, as long as an artist like Olivia can find a way to use it.” -Andrea Marks
May 21: The Linda Lindas perform “Racist, Sexist Boy” at the Los Angeles Public Library
It was May, 2021. I had just read the 25th article about how we all were hitting the seventh pandemic wall when I scrolled by the video posted by the Los Angeles Public Library, featuring a band called the Linda Lindas.
The clip, which ultimately went viral, begins with Mila de la Garza, the then-10-year-old drummer, wearing a green scrunchie and a black Bikini Kill T-shirt, telling the story of a boy in her class whose dad told him to stay away from Chinese people. Mila and her bandmates, sister Lucia, Eloise Wong, and Bela Salazar, then launch into a primal scream of a song “Racist Sexist Boy.”
You are a racist, sexist boy
And you have racist, sexist joys
We rebuild what you destroy
You are a racist, sexist boy
There was something so refreshing about the frankness of the lyrics and the power of their strong, shouting voices and driving punk beats. These kids were letting loose their bottled-up rage and inviting the rest of us to do the same. Days after the video, the Linda Lindas signed a deal with Epitaph records and they’ve released two songs “Oh” and “Nino” (the band’s second song about a cat) and count Riot Grrrl luminaries like Kathleen Hanna and Carrie Brownstein among their fans.
May 29: Half the U.S. Gets the Jab
Do you remember the first person you visited once you were vaccinated? Mine was my college roommate, in May, who’d recently had her first child. We shrieked and hugged on the sidewalk outside her Philadelphia home. Memorial Day Weekend 2021 was a high point of our Covid-ridden year. That Saturday, CDC data showed we’d reached the milestone of vaccinating more than half the population. With the shot, it was finally safe to visit loved ones, host dinner parties, even plan vacations. We were blissfully unaware of what Delta (and now Omicron) had in store, the proliferation of vaccines last spring ended the era of total lockdown, and for many greatly reduced the overall misery of work, school, home life, and, well, existence. -AM
July 20: Wally Funk Goes to Space
In 1961, NASA chose Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk as the youngest of 13 elite women pilots to train to become astronauts in the nation’s first human spaceflight program. But she never got to go — until now. In July 2021, Funk, at 82, became the oldest person to go to space aboard Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin rocket, fulfilling her lifelong dream (and making the Amazon founder’s publicity stunt feel a bit more meaningful). After Funk returned from the 11-minute suborbital flight, she said, “I want to go again, fast.” –AM
Early October: R/Antiwork brings the Great Resignation to Reddit (and beyond)
Millions of people quit their jobs this year, frustrated with exploitative employers paying poverty wages during a pandemic. There was a power imbalance, some of them noticed — in these tough times, bosses needed wage workers more than wage workers needed shitty jobs. By this fall, some of the text interactions that led to these mass walk-offs started to go viral. The concept was simple: a boss asks for something unreasonable (covering a shift with just hours notice; covering while on a scheduled vacation), gets angry when the employee says no, then gets desperate when the employee quits instead of acquiescing to an abusive boss. R/Antiwork, the Reddit board where many of these texts were first posted, had been around for eight years, but it was the pandemic that brought in almost a million members. “This is bonkers,” moderator Doreen Ford, a 30-year-old dog walker in Boston, told Rolling Stone in October. “We never really thought anything like this would happen. I’ve never been a part of something so successful in my life.” -Elisabeth Garber-Paul
i’ve just discovered r/antiwork
inject all of this into my veins pic.twitter.com/SFGZASLssv
— travis (@TravisShreffler) October 17, 2021
Oct. 18: Noodle the Pug’s “No Bones Day” goes viral
There’s nothing the internet loves more than elderly and/or weird-looking animals. Case in point: the meteoric rise of Noodle the Pug, the ancient and laconic pug who accidentally became a bellwether for the national mood when owner Jon Graziano started a TikTok series declaring it a “Bones Day” (i.e., if Noodle stands up on his own accord) or “No Bones Day” (if he flops right back down). On Bones Days you could maybe try to be productive; on No Bones Days, giving up on outside clothes and becoming one with the couch was completely acceptable. “Bones/No Bones Days” quickly became part of the national vernacular, with even the governor of Louisiana getting in on the fun by using the meme as a way to promote the Covid-19 vaccine. -ED
Dec. 6: Ramones Ducks
Though actor Coyote Shivers and his partner Pleasant Gehman started visiting L.A.’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery early in the pandemic, it wasn’t until last December that we found out they had been training ducks to visit Dee Dee Ramone’s gravestone every day. They used the Pavlovian tactic of a “dinner bell” that rings to the tune of “Blitzkrieg Bop”, titled “Duckskrieg Bop.”
“Sure enough, it worked like the ice cream truck song in the summertime,” Shivers told Rolling Stone in early December. “The kids come running when they hear it.”
It may not have been much, but a couple of goths finding joy in the cemetery was enough to warm our hearts. The fact that one of Dee Dee wrote the theme for Pet Cemetery didn’t hurt, either. –ED
Dec. 13: The saga of Jorts the Cat
This viral tale of two workplace cats sprang up mid-December on the “Am I the Asshole,” subreddit. A user posted about a dispute involving two cats who live at their worksite: an intelligent tortoiseshell named Jean, and a not-so-bright orange cat named Jorts, who has a habit of falling into trash cans and accidentally closing himself in closets. Conflict arose when the user’s coworker tries to teach a dumb cat new tricks, like how to clean himself properly, and the user suggested Jorts may not have the capacity. (To quote a top commenter on the thread, “I can’t believe she fuckin buttered Jorts.”) HR gets involved. A debate flares about who manages the cats. In an update, we learn the cats have staff bios. What is this company — and is it hiring? It’s impossible to know whether the post is true or just a piece of online storytelling brilliance. It doesn’t matter. The Jorts saga is pure joy.