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Here’s why Elon Musk is TIME’s 2021 Person of the Year

TIME magazine has named Elon Musk its 2021 Person of the Year. Here’s why it selected the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.

Elon Musk is 2021 POY

First off, let’s reiterate TIME magazine’s criterion for Person of the Year, as there is always confusion:

The person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.

(Disclosure: I used to be an associate editor at TIME in London, and we had to explain the criterion every year. Reminder that both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler were Persons of the Year.)

Here are some highlights that shed light on why Musk, who recently disclosed on Saturday Night Live that he has Asperger’s, and who the magazine describes as a “clown, genius, edgelord, visionary, industrialist, showman, cad,” was chosen:

His startup rocket company, SpaceX, has leapfrogged Boeing and others to own America’s spacefaring future. His car company, Tesla, controls two-thirds of the multibillion-dollar electric-vehicle market it pioneered and is valued at a cool $1 trillion. That has made Musk, with a net worth of more than $250 billion, the richest private citizen in history, at least on paper.

He’s a player in robots and solar, cryptocurrency and climate, brain-computer implants to stave off the menace of artificial intelligence and underground tunnels to move people and freight at super speeds.

He dominates Wall Street: “The way finance works now is that things are valuable not based on their cash flows but on their proximity to Elon Musk,” Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine wrote in February, after Musk’s “Gamestonk!!” tweet vaulted the meme-stock craze into the stratosphere.

Antonio Gracias, Musk’s close friend of two decades, who has held seats on the boards of Tesla and SpaceX, said to TIME of Musk:

He was raised in a tough environment and born with a very special brain.

Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of people in that situation don’t come out of it. Some small percentage come out of it with the ability he has to make great decisions under extraordinary pressure and the never-ending drive to change the course of humanity.

And Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society, who met Musk in 2001, told TIME:

He is a humanist — not in the sense of being a nice person, because he isn’t.

He wants eternal glory for doing great deeds, and he is an asset to the human race because he defines a great deed as something that is great for humanity. He is greedy for glory. Money to him is a means, not an end. Who today evaluates Thomas Edison on the basis of which of his inventions turned a profit?

You can read TIME‘s entire profile of Musk here.

Electrek’s Take

We at Electrek know the impact that Elon Musk has – many of us drive Teslas, and our colleagues over at Space Explored cover the SpaceX program. Tesla’s electric cars are extraordinary, and SpaceX never fails to amaze.

Tesla has neither advertising or communications teams, the latter of which often leaves us exasperated.

Every tweeted opinion Musk posts about topics such as vaccines, taxes, the stock market, and juvenile fart jokes makes a massive impact, and it’s often not in a good way. His rude tweets can rankle, and encourage bad behavior in his devoted fans.

We wish Elon would just stop tweeting about the pandemic and paying taxes. But we never want him to stop inventing.

So, impact, for better or for worse? Musk as 2021 Person of the Year fits the bill perfectly, and mostly for the better.

Read more: Elon Musk says SpaceX could face ‘genuine risk of bankruptcy’ from Starship engine production

Photo: “Elon Musk” by dmoberhaus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.