best 2016 memes

Illustration by Bruno Moraes

It's been a wild ride.

They are the elixir of life. How could we have survived the unprecedented horror of 2016 without them? Answer: We could not have.

But meme culture moves so fast that we're often onto the next trend before the current one really sinks in. So allow us to take a quick breather here and relive some of the strongest contenders (so far) for Meme of the Year.

Exploding Kid

Exploding Kid, a teenager named Michael McGee with a talent for making veins pop out of his forehead, caught fire early this year and became a convenient shorthand for every possible frustration in the months to come—and there were many. For sheer universality, this meme was golden.

Damn, Daniel

Presumably the first example of a meme whose unlikely but massive mainstream popularity led to a SWAT raid on the originator's home, "Damn, Daniel" proved that a catchphrase can still carry you far. A celebration of friendship, lowkey fashion, and general positivity, it was also many viewers' introduction to the ephemeral magic of Snapchat.

Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer

While the eventual GOP nominee for president has proved to be a walking, talking meme in his own right, the best meme of the Republican primaries was, hands down, the conspiracy theory that Sen. Ted Cruz is the infamous Zodiac Killer, who committed several unsolved murders in California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The joke proved so popular that a real polling firm ended up asking voters whether they found it plausible, and Google had to suppress it in their search results. The truth is out there.

Bernie vs. Hillary on the issues

Meanwhile, on the Democrats' side, Bernie-voting progressives were committed to keeping the focus on real issues. Sort of.

Crying Jordan

This here is a very unusual case of meme longevity. The famous picture of weepy basketball legend Michael Jordan that now gets Photoshopped onto anyone who has suffered some great defeat or roasting—whether sports-related or not—was taken way back in 2009, at his induction into the NBA Hall of Fame. Its second life as a meme began a couple of years ago. But 2016 has proved, time and again, to be the zenith of Crying Jordan. It was this year that both the original photographer and Jordan himself had to acknowledge the meme, and with mythical upsets at all levels of basketball—from the crushing NCAA championship loss suffered Jordan's alma mater to the Cleveland Caveliers' comeback against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals (which gave us Crying LeBron), Crying Jordan was everywhere. Even at the Super Bowl.

Dat Boi

Dat Boi, a turn-of-the-millennium computer animation of a frog riding a unicycle, died almost before he ever lived, which was basically the Daily Dot's fault, not that we're sorry about it. Because we were quickly supersaturated with his image (and the attendant cry "O shit waddup!"), he currently serves, when remixed into other memes, as a sort of commentary on the transience of internet jokes, and how easily they're commodified.    

Spicy Boys

There's some serious dispute about who first had the idea to officially rename fire ants "spicy boys"—at least two rival petitions on that front have surfaced—but we can all agree, at the very least, that it's a brilliant idea, and it ought to be be wholeheartedly embraced? Why must we fight about where it came from? Why must we use it to troll Hillary Clinton? That's not what the spicy boys movement is all about. It's just common-sense reform.  


Because there's only so much the Mr. Krabs blur meme can do, we needed to borrow another SpongeBob SquarePants character for relatable content.

Haters gonna say it's fake

In 2016, you can't do anything on the internet without some asshole saying it's fake. So you may as well fake this stuff to begin with.

'Hey, authority'

Kid Rock tried to be a badass and take down the Man with his brazenly anti-authority bird-flipping. It didn't exactly work.

Fake concert events on Facebook

The beauty of a really well-tailored fake concert page on Facebook is its plausibility. Wouldn't Lil Wayne play a show at Rite Aid? Shouldn't we get to see Sugar Ray live at Ross Dress for Less? Mark my words: One of these days, one of these concerts is going to happen for real.

via Facebook

Butt equations

If you've run up against an absurd or calculus-like moral hypothetical that seems to pit the chance of unforgettable sexual adventure against a world of negative consequences, it's definitely part of this meme, which has evolved so far from its origin point as to be a language unto itself. But the long and short of it is: Would you fuck a watermelon?

Sad Ben Affleck

The internet loves Sad Ben Affleck, and we got it in spades with the horrendous reviews of the incoherent superhero slog Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The dude went completely, irrevocably numb—and we all had a flash of pity. He is now to movies what Crying Jordan is to sports.

Don't talk to me or my son ever again

For some reason, calling a miniature version of something its "son" is hilarious. And for some other reason, there's an inexhaustible supply—both real and theoretical—of these Senior-and-Junior pairings out there in the world. The result is arguably the most sophisticated take on a "fuck off" attitude that the world can hope for. 


Who could have possibly guessed, when a Cincinnati Zoo gorilla was preemptively killed because a child had fallen into his enclosure, that memes would rise from the national outrage that followed? Harambe jokes have taken myriad forms, from parody song lyrics, to mock-heartfelt tributes, to the "dicks out for Harambe" movement, but always at the core is the idea that we, as a nation, refuse to let this grotesque incident fade away. The more we invoke "the dead ape," the funnier it gets.

Yet for all the Harambe chatter these past few weeks, it was the genius who showed up to the the RNC with a "Bush did Harambe" poster—piggybacking on the occasionally-serious-and-often-ironic refrain "Bush did 9/11"—that forever solidified the noble silverback's place in internet canon. Welcome to immortality, Harambe. You've earned it.

The junior senator of Texas, Ted Cruz is a Republican candidate for president of the United States. Prior to his time in the United States Senate, Cruz served as director of the Office of Public Planning at the Federal Trade Commission, associate attorney general at the Justice Department, and domestic policy advisor under President George W. Bush.
He ain't the sharpest tool in the shed.
How a nickname for fire ants, became a political rallying cry.
This is just the tip of Harambe advocacy.
The internet once again faces creative property theft problems.
Muy caliente.
This is it.
The long goodbye.
The new face of emotional victory.
You'll hardly believe your eyes.
Move over, Mr. Krabs.
Organizers want the parents of the child who fell in the gorilla enclosure punished.
Harambe the gorilla was 17.
Also, he loves it.
We can totally hook you up with tix.
Here come dat boi.
Who is he?
The conspiracy goes deeper.
Sit and spin.
This meme has never been more applicable.
His face said it all.
These are some defensive parents.
Weird Twitter's best election meme has gone mainstream.
We now have permission to continue using Crying Jordan.
Is America ready for a Zodiac Killer president?
The remixes of the picture are killer.
From having to fart to being a vegan, we can all relate.
Promoted Stories Powered by Sharethrough
In Meme-oriam 2015: A tribute to the memes we lost this year
Memes may come and go, but our retweets and reblogs are forever.  These concepts crawl from obscure corners of the Web or come out of a big cultural event. But the biggest memes have a rise so meteoric that self-destruction is the only and ultimate fate. While they may still exist for years, the frenzy leaves them shells of once they once were. And the denizens of the Internet move on to the next viral topic.
From Our VICE Partners

Pure, uncut internet. Straight to your inbox.

Thanks for subscribing to our newsletter!