Apparently, the pandemic-induced time distortion that defined 2020 didn’t get the memo about the new calendar year. Looking back, the events of 2021 turned out to be just as mind-meltingly difficult to keep track of as last year’s.
But we are once again here to jog your memory about the wrong timeline we continue to live through.
There’s a reason why, in the beginning of the year, people were already doing retrospectives on what went down in the first week and first hundred days of 2021. It was kinda darkly funny at first, the impossibility of keeping up with the sheer amount of timeline-breaking, unprecedented shit happening. Then it just went on, and on, and on, and stopped being funny and started messing with our grasp on reality again.
Whether you spent 2021 still trying to process 2020 or simply did not have the capacity to clock it all in the memory bank, we’ve compiled a list of the good, the bad, the weird, and the forgettable from this year. While this isn’t a list of all of the year’s major moments (otherwise, we’d be here well into 2022), we’re sure you’ll find lots that make you want to launch into a rambling Matthew McConaughey monologue about time being a flat circle.
While their energies could not have been more different, you couldn’t escape these viral characters if you were online in the first week of 2021. #BeanDad discourse — over the dad with a polarizing method for teaching his daughter how to open a can of beans — triggered Twitter into a spiral of their non-bean-related daddy issues. Meanwhile, the Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, which began as a somewhat sincere joke on the app, gave us hope for wholesome content by raising over a million dollars for struggling actors.
2. Capitol insurrectionists made Jan. 6, 2021, a day America will never forget.
Yet even so, it’s hard to wrap our brains around the fact that this horrifying event, where a Trump-supporting mob incited by the president stormed the Capitol, happened less than a year ago. Living through history really does funny things to time, doesn’t it?
3. President Donald Trump was impeached (again) on Jan. 13 then acquitted (again) on Feb. 13.
Trump was the first president in American history to be impeached twice, the first time for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress and the second time for incitement of an insurrection. But we collectively forgot all about that in about five minutes. Guess we were preoccupied!
Demonstrating just how broken our society is, though, online platforms like Twitter and Facebook (now Meta) actually banned his ass for inciting violence. I guess even an anemic amoeba like Mark Zuckerberg has more of a spine than our government leaders when it comes to threats against American democracy.
Honestly, no 2021 inauguration was ever going to be “normal.” But in the midst of all the fear and post-traumatic stress of the Capitol riot, the internet found two bizarre things to distract us.
5. Larry King, Rush Limbaugh, and Prince Phillip died.
The Grim Reaper was not kind to 2021, claiming the lives of some beloved titans like Larry King, Alex Trebek, DMX, Norm McDonald, Stephen Sondheim, Cicely Tyson, Jessica Walter, and Michael K. Williams. Oh, and Rush Limbaugh died too.
6. Daft Punk broke up, because nothing is sacred in 2021.
Your 28 years of music will forever remain etched in our hearts, even if our we never knew your faces.
7. Gamestonks and Dogecoin wreaked utter havoc on Wall Street.
In a still-ongoing battle of the finance bros, Redditors wanting to get their bag ended up saving Gamestop from being the next Blockbuster by buying up all its stock that other investors had bet against. As a result, they threw the stock market into chaos and became enemy #1 of corporate hedge funds. The true victors and losers of this new stock market game remain to be seen. But 2021 popularized the concept of a collective of the 99% beating the 1% at their own game — even if it is just for the lols for some.
8. The Super Bowl came back, baby! And literally no one bothered watching it.
Not even a halftime show performance of Jordan Peele’s Us, presented by The Weekend, could save this snoozefest from garnering the worst ratings since 2007. The most exciting (though still not memorable) thing to happen was Robinhood’s poorly-timed, tone-deaf ad, which angered the r/WallStreetBets Redditors described above into protesting the app that restricted the purchase of Gamestop stock right as it was shooting to the moon.
9. Elon Musk superseded Jeff Bezos as the richest man alive.
2021 ramped up billionaire white guy bullshit to DEFCON 1. None of us really care which rich white dude is better at hoarding obscene amounts of wealth gained by exploiting others’ labor. But we would like every single one of them to leave space alone.
As always, it’s impossible to list all of Musk’s attention-seeking yet forgettable antics from the past year. But here’s an incomplete list:
10. Jeff Bezos stepped down as Amazon’s CEO.
Gone but not forgotten 3
Although he’s not running Amazon day to day, he is still executive chairman of the company’s board. And there are still plenty of 2021 moments Amazon employees will undoubtedly keep close to their hearts, like the time he directed Amazon’s Twitter account to beef with Bernie Sanders and deny that workers are forced to piss in bottles, or the company’s illegal union busting tactics. To quote the viral (but quickly banned) 2021 TikTok of diners bullying Bezos in public, ”Hey Jeff, do you feel bad when your Amazon workers die in the warehouse sometimes?”
11. Nerds finally got their damn Snyder Cut.
Everyone who isn’t a DC fanboy has been dreading the Snyder Cut, a six-hour version of the Justice League movie more aligned with the vision that the original director and writer, Zack Snyder, had for it. But honestly? It wasn’t that bad. But, you know, maybe that’s just year two of a global pandemic talking.
12. There was a coup in Myanmar.
America might’ve live-streamed its own attempted coup during the Capitol insurrection. But the viral video of one Myanmar citizen trying to exercise in spite of the military coup going on in the background was a lot less embarrassing than all that.
13. The internet exploded with memes about the Suez Canal getting plugged up by a massive boat. Many were sexual.
The OG of 2021 supply chain issues, in March the massive Ever Given cargo ship basically face planted in the middle of one of the globe’s most essential trade routes, then promptly refused to move. She brought the kind of chaos energy many of us still stuck in lockdown could relate to, leading to a boatload of memes ranging from the #mood to the YAS THICC QUEEN and even the blatantly horny variety.
It’s hard to explain exactly why Ever Given’s predicament captured our hearts so much. But at a time when everyone needed a less dire crisis to laugh at, she was there for us, threatening 10 percent of world trade.
14. Joe Biden’s dog, Major, bit not one but two people at the White House in March (and they probably deserved it)
We’re kidding. But we do believe in forgiving a young rescue pup struggling to adjust to the pretty overwhelming environment of the literal White House. Dogs with behavioral issues deserve love, too, along with proper training and precautions. Not to mention that a couple nips hardly compares to the damage done by the last dog who lived in the White House throughout his 2016-2020 presidency.
Last we heard, Major had happily returned to Biden’s Delaware home.
15. The U.S. government was basically like, “OK you got us! We do have a secret UFO task force!”
Call ’em Tic Tacs or UAPs all you want, The Pentagon. We know you mean UFOs.
Sure, this slow drip of government disclosure started all the way back in 2019. But 2021 saw a bonafide government report on them released to the public, while military officials took to cable news to talk about a million-dollar secret project investigating “unexplained aerial phenomenon” as a national security threat.
Good night, sweet prince, and may flights of babbys sing thee to thy rest.
17. Meghan Markle and husband Prince Harry did a now-iconic Oprah interview in March.
Sparking a wave of equal parts backlash and support, the former Duke and Duchess of Sussex spoke out against the brutal, often racist treatment Markle endured from the press, certain Royal Family members, and its establishment. Aside from starting important discussions around mental health, racism, sexism, and imperialism, the interview became a favorite meme, too. It even led to the great public service of getting Piers Morgan to leave the Good MorningBritain show.
As if they weren’t busy enough, the two also announced that their second baby was on the way this year.
18. Clubhouse was the Next Big Thing—until it quickly was not.
In a Silicon Valley boom and bust not seen since the likes of 2016’s Meerkat (Zoomers, ask your resident millennial to explain that one), Clubhouse was abuzz on everyone’s lips. Even Twitter rushed to get in on the audio livestreaming future, launching Spaces in March. But neither really took off after that, and now mostly exist as annoying notifications you don’t know how to turn off.
19. Chrissy Teigen quit Twitter for her mental health, came back, then was accused of serious online bullying herself.
Once a Twitter darling, not even Chrissy Teigen has escaped the crosshairs of post-pandemic celebrity culture backlash. In late March, the model and cooking influencer very publicly announced her departure from social media due to what she described as online harassment and bullying, only to come right back approximately 5 minutes later. Shortly after, many spoke out with allegations against Teigen cruelly bullying them in the past, particularly a young teen follower Teigen repeatedly tweeted a decade ago with “joking” suggestions to end their own life.
So the moral of the story is, A) None of us should be online and, B) Never talk to any human being like that, online or offline.
If you don’t understand a word of the above sentence, congratulations. You’re offline and probably happier for it. Meanwhile, the rest of us had to witness some guy with sugar-cinnamon flaked crustaceans go from alleged victim in a bizarre viral mystery to getting exposed through allegations of emotional abuse by multiple women.
21. Andrew Yang ran one of the most spectacularly cringe campaigns for New York Mayor.
Listen, we’re not saying Andrew Yang doesn’t have merit as a public figure. But after his failed campaigns in both the Democratic presidential primary and his even more cursed bid for Mayor of New York, it’s possible that politics just isn’t the right fit. Yang had countless out-of-touch gaffes, like refusing to live in a two-bedroom apartment in the city he wanted to run—a city famously inhabited by constituents forced to live with far less space.
But nothing took the cake like his nauseating video tour of what he claims to be his “favorite” “bodega,” in which he appears to fundamentally not know what a bodega is.
We can all learn a lot from Perseverance, whose very name embodies what we all had to do to get through 2021’s unending barrage of Events.
23. We rushed back to IRL theaters for…Godzilla vs Kong?
The movie, which was released in spring right around the time when vaccines started to become widely available in the U.S., broke a bunch of pandemic box office records. Because it’s 2021 and nothing can be normal, a flat earth conspiracy theory was indeed at the core of its plot.
24. Kim and Kanye announced their divorce.
And we’re sure that this announcement, and its timing, only just so happened to coincide with the fact that…
25. Keeping Up with the Kardashians finished its last season.
People are dying, Kim. You’ll have to fight your sister off-camera now like the rest of us.
26. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine was approved, temporarily halted, then brought back to save more lives.
Yes, all that did happen in the same year — in fact, just a few short months apart from each other. If an anti-vaxxer in your life is still bemoaning this news story, show ’em how just how many people die of blood clots (and far worse) from FDA-approved birth control, for comparison.
27. Conservatives dragged Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head into the culture wars against their will.
While actually important world events took place, conservative media like Fox News and its ilk turned these two non-stories into full-blown battles for the heart of America. First, toymaker Hasbro was in the crosshairs for daring to launch a gender-neutral version of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.
Then the culture war beast spun a victim narrative around Dr. Seuss’ estate, after it decided of its own accord to stop selling six books with racist and insensitive images. Hilariously, conservative outrage only profited the people they were mad at, since the spike in Dr. Seuss book sales lined the pockets of his estate.
28. The 2020 Olympics happened…in July 2021?
In an encapsulation of the uniquely bizarre time warp that was this past year, athletes from around the world competed in audience-less arenas in July and August of this year while outfitted in gear for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Despite a COVID-19 surge and country-wide protests against its endangerment of Japanese citizens, most of whom were not vaccinated at the time, the games barreled on.
Worse still, it was one of the most forgettable Olympics in recent memory.
But by far, the most impactful moment from the Tokyo Olympics was Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from them in order to put her mental and physical well-being first. For that, she won the gold medal of reminding us of the lessons we should’ve learned from 2020.
29. Awards shows came back, too, and they were once again boring as all hell.
We’d love to tell you lots about the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, or Grammys. But all we can really remember is the Oscars producers switching up the order only to serve the biggest letdown when Chadwick Boseman didn’t receive a posthumous award.
As outrage over “cancel culture” reached a fever pitch this year, Bill Cosby’s release from prison showed how even predators who do get convicted against all odds often get to waltz back into society. Shortly after his release, rumors of Cosby planning a comeback tour started circulating, though his representative later said he wouldn’t be touring…yet.
31. Moviepass pretended it would relaunch (it did not).
We did not have Moviepass resurfacing for another batshit news story on our 2021 bingo card, but we welcomed it with open arms.
32. Addison Rae starred in her first movie, in the year’s least memorable cinematic performance of 2021
The TikTok star attempted a transition into Hollywood with He’s All That, a gender-swapped version of 1999’s She’s All That. Like her TikTok dances, though, the movie was just a more boring iteration of someone else’s original work.
Speaking of which, Black TikTok used Megan Thee Stallion’s “Thot Shit” as a way to demand popular white creators on the platform stop using their dances without proper credit. The strike was effective, and now dance credits in the captions are the standard on TikTok.
34. In a too-little-too-late gesture, Biden designated Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Everyone loves a day off. But if the Biden administration really wanted to begin the process of reconciling with this country’s brutal treatment of Black people, it should probably have looked into reparations rather than this relatively empty gesture to honor the true end of slavery.
At least some justice was served in 2021.
36. America started running out of water.
After one of the hottest summers on record since the 1936 Dust Bowl, a water shortage was declared in August that had the potential to impact millions. Arizonans dealing with unbearable heat waves were then given mandates to cut back due to the crisis, which cost the state 20 percent of its water supply.
Pride Month often gets accused of being a time of performative LGBTQ support and acceptance. But Carl Nassib coming out on Instagram took real bravery, and hopefully marks the beginning of a genuine cultural shift away from the heteronormativity that has dominated sports for too long.
Honestly, if it’s wrong to live, laugh, love in different fonts with a side part while drinking a pumpkin spice latte, then we don’t want to be right.
39. Joe Rogan got COVID-19 and boasted about taking ivermectin.
The most popular podcaster on Earth spent a lot of the pandemic flirting with dangerous misinformation around COVID-19 and the vaccines. Then he fucked around and found out he had COVID, before continuing to spread unscientific bullshit.
Somehow, he faced less backlash and received more support from the Queen than Meghan Markle or Prince Harry did after their Oprah interview.
Apparently Late Stage Capitalism: The Show was just not what the people needed in 2021. I’m sure CBS would prefer we just forget this ever happened.
The R&B singer, who avoided accountability for decades despite dozens of accusers and video evidence, was finally convicted in a September trial. He is still awaiting sentencing and another trial in Chicago, where he was previously acquitted for similar charges.
While the company blamed the outage on server issues, the timing suspiciously coincided with a bombshell 60 Minutes interview with former Facebook employee Frances Haugen in early October. The whistleblower had released documents revealing just how aware the company is of all the social ills it causes.
A few days later, Instagram experienced yet another outage. Then on Oct. 28, Facebook announced a pivot to Meta, with a name change we’re sure isn’t the company’s attempt to slap a new name on the same old shit.
44. Tiger King 2 came out.
Bringing the pandemic time warp full circle, Tiger King 2 released on Netflix in November. If you even heard about this unnecessary continuation of the 2020 docuseries, your brain most likely instantly forgot, compartmentalizing it into the same place you blocked out the memory of how the quarantine binge took over our lives last year.