Rolling Stone’s Most-Read Stories of 2021

BTS. Kurt Cobain’s FBI file. The Doomsday Glacier. Rolling Stone’s most-read stories of 2021 covered a whole lot of ground. 

Several of the year’s biggest investigations are here: A deep dive into the planning of Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol; physical- and sexual-abuse allegations against Marilyn Manson; Eric Clapton’s funding of anti-vax propaganda. But so, too, is the bundled-up-Bernie-Sanders inauguration meme and a debunk of a viral video featuring a woman appearing to breastfeed a cat. 

A note: This list below does not include our wildly popular pop-culture lists. If we added those in, 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, published in September, would be at the top (R-E-S-P-E-C-T). It also does not include obituaries, so articles about the life and death of Joey Jordison, Dustin Diamond, Norm MacDonald, DMX, and Michael Nesmith are not ranked here.

Here, in reverse order, are our top stories of the year: 

“Everybody’s Absolutely Horrified”: High Society Is Bracing Itself for Ghislaine Maxwell’s Trial
On the eve of Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial, people wondered whether the British socialite and longtime associate of disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein might name names if she took the stand. While the trial ended on Wednesday with Maxwell convicted of five of six charges related to sex trafficking and poised to spend the rest of her life behind bars, the question “Who should be afraid?” remains.

The NBA’s Anti-Vaxxers Are Trying to Push Around the League — And It’s Working
When Kyrie Irving’s camp told Rolling Stone that the Brooklyn Nets superstar would boycott home games rather than comply with New York’s vaccine requirement, it seemed like an anti-vaxxer fantasy. Turns out, it was all too true.

He Scored the First Platinum Hit. 45 Years Later, His Family Is Fighting for Every Penny
For years, the heirs of R&B and disco star Johnnie Taylor have claimed Sony hasn’t been transparent with royalty payments. The label paid them $97,000 last year, but the family spoke to Rolling Stone about how they remain distrustful.

Bernie Sanders Turned His Inauguration Meme Into a Sweatshirt for Charity
Yes, this was from this year, though it does seem like ages ago. Sanders’ campaign turned the viral photo of him bundled up at Joe Biden’s inauguration into a new sweatshirt, with all proceeds going to charity.

Kings of Leon Will Be the First Band to Release an Album as an NFT
Back in March, the band announced it would release its new album, When You See Yourself, in the form of a non-fungible token, and apparently was the first group to do so — and a lot of people were excited to read about it.

Here’s What’s Really Going On With That Video of a Woman Breastfeeding a Cat
If there’s anything we’ve learned about viral content, it’s that if a video seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always be cautious of plane content.

The Triumph of BTS
In May, Rolling Stone took a look at how seven young superstars rewrote music-biz rules and became the biggest band in the world: “BTS’ downright magical levels of charisma, their genre-defying, sleek-but-personal music, even their casually nontoxic, skin-care-intensive brand of masculinity — every bit of it feels like a visitation from some brighter, more hopeful timeline.”  An interview with BTS’ Jung Kook also appeared high up on the most-read list this year.

‘The Fuse Has Been Blown,’ and the Doomsday Glacier Is Coming for Us All
This piece was just published on Dec. 27. Some readers noted that the story reminded them of the plot of Don’t Look Up, currently streaming on Netflix. New data suggests a massive collapse of the ice shelf in as little as five years. “We are dealing with an event that no human has ever witnessed,” says one scientist. “We have no analog for this.”

Secret Service Confirms John Mulaney Investigation Over ‘SNL’ Jokes
John Mulaney explained: “The joke was about how it was a leap year, and leap year had been started by Julius Caesar to correct the calendar, and another thing that happened with Caesar was that he was stabbed by a bunch of senators ’cause he went crazy. And I said, ‘That’s an interesting thing that could happen.’ “

FBI Releases Long-Withheld File on Kurt Cobain
For decades, the government kept a file on conspiracy theories about Cobain’s death. The 10-page file was released in May and includes two letters, sent from names that have been redacted, urging the FBI to investigate Cobain’s 1994 death as a murder, rather than suicide.

Marilyn Manson: The Monster Hiding in Plain Sight
In November, Rolling Stone published  a 9,500-word investigation into sexual-, physical-, and psychological-abuse claims against Brian Warner, better known as Marilyn Manson. He had been a provocative media darling for decades, but offstage, exes allege he was an abuser who made their lives hell.  (Related: 10 Key Takeaways From Our Nine-Month Investigation)

Eric Clapton Isn’t Just Spouting Vaccine Nonsense — He’s Bankrolling It
In 2021, Eric Clapton went from setting the standard for rock guitar to being known as a leading vaccine skeptic. A May article on him complaining about his “disastrous” experience after receiving two AstraZeneca shots (“Propaganda said the vaccine was safe for everyone,” he wrote) was high up on the most-read list, as was this October examination of Clapton’s past and present behavior, which includes shockingly racist statements and his funding an anti-vaccine band. 

We’re All Missing the Point of the Armie Hammer Cannibalism Scandal
In this commentary, EJ Dickson argues that the cannibalism fetish isn’t the most disturbing part of the leaked sexts that the star allegedly sent.

Jan. 6 Protest Organizers Say They Participated in ‘Dozens’ of Planning Meetings With Members of Congress and White House Staff
The most-read piece of 2021 is the first of a series of investigations by Hunter Walker into the organization of the events on Jan. 6, 2021, that culminated in a massive and deadly violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by a Trump-inspired mob determined to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election. This article quoted Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lynn Lawrence, two key organizers of the events of Jan. 6, who said members of Congress were involved in planning Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. In a follow-up piece (also among the most-read stories of this year) the two organizers talked about their plans to testify before the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack and to turn over documents, including text messages, that indicate extensive involvement of members of Congress and the Trump administration: “We’re turning it all over and we’ll let the cards fall where they may,” Stockton said.

Flashback: Connie Smith Sings ‘Then and Only Then’ for Marty Robbins

Your 2022 Resolution: Stop Falling for Made-Up TikTok Moral Panics