Debby Ryan in Radio Rebel meme

Disney–ABC Domestic Television

The Debby Ryan smirk meme: A history

The Debby Ryan meme (aka the Debby Ryan Smirk Meme) features the young actress in her 2012 film ‘Radio Rebel’ smirking at the camera.


Lindsey Weedston


The Debby Ryan meme (or the Debby Ryan smirk meme), features the young actress in her 2012 film Radio Rebel smirking at the camera and spread after it was meme’d in 2020. Although the film hit screens eight years prior to the Debby Ryan smirk going viral, it caught on with the general trend of pointing out awkward or “cringe situations.” These moments, as many of us know, are common during our teen years.

Tweet with side by side images of the Debby Ryan smirk and a man taking a shy selfie reading 'Debby Ryan smiling in radio rebel walked so every white gamer boy taking a selfie could run.'

What is the Debby Ryan meme from?

The iconic smirk originates from Radio Rebel, a Disney Channel teen drama from 2012 starring Ryan as the shy and awkward high school student Tara Adams. Despite her social difficulties, she maintains a secret identity as Seattle’s hottest radio DJ, whose name graces the top of the movie posters.

Adams’ work as a DJ eventually complicates the rest of her life, interfering with her relationships with family and friends and threatening to disrupt the most important event of teen life: Prom. Also, she’s got a crush on a cute boy.

The Debby Ryan face meme comes from a specific scene in which Adams is trying to set herself apart from the other girls at a concert. She apparently attempts this by putting on a weird little smile after brushing her hair back while the other teens act normal.

In 2020, this moment became a meme after a Twitter user posted a three-second clip from the film with a caption that sums it up nicely.

“15 y/o me at a concert in the crowd acting different from the others so my fav can notice me,” wrote @hoemoticon.

What did Debby Ryan want to make history?

The smirk from Radio Rebel isn’t the only time a smile from Ryan became a meme. After people were done posting photos of themselves imitating the 2012 Debby Ryan face, an interview at a red carpet event emerged to spark a new trend.

In a viral clip, Ryan tells a story about an important moment in her career, ending the tale with another awkward smile.

“My one thing was that I went into the Disney Channel building and I sat down with the president of the Disney Channel and I said ‘I want to make history,’” she says, giving the interviewer a grin. “And that’s what this is.”

According to YouTuber Ashley Norton, this history-making moment referred to an episode in which Ryan’s character becomes the first Disney Channel protagonist to get married on screen. As Norton notes, this seems like a minor accomplishment within Ryan’s storied career, but it was an important one to her.

The interview went on to make meme history when TikTok users began imitating that moment.

Debby Ryan responds to the memes

After the first Debby Ryan meme went viral in 2020, the actress responded to the trend on her own Twitter account by poking fun at her acting from eight years prior.

“I was serious about my craft from a young age and studied technique alongside Roxanne from A Goofy Movie,” she wrote in a now-deleted tweet.

Around the same time, the actress posted a TikTok video showing off looks she would wear to Fashion Week as characters from some of her most beloved films, ending with Tara Adams from Radio Rebel. The outfit from that movie is the one that her character wore to the concert featured in the meme. She even caps off the video by recreating the awkward hair tuck and smirk.

Meme examples

Tweet comparing images of Freddy Fazbear and the Debby Ryan smirk.
Tweet comparing a photo of Donald Trump and the Debby Ryan smirk meme.
Reddit post with the Debby Ryan meme reading 'Tell me why tf middle aged white women always smirk at me like they’re Debbie Ryan 16 Wishes when they say they don’t want to sign up for a Treats account.'
Debby Ryan in a wet suit doing the hair tuck and smirk from the meme.
Tweet with an image of Aziraphale from Good Omens accusing him of doing the Debby Ryan smirk.
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