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The 2010s (or teens, tweenies, whatever you’d like to call them) can probably best be described as “in like a lamb and out like a lion,” to shake up the old proverb about the month of March. The decade began brimming with hope. President Barack Obama had taken office the year before, putting an end to the ugly decade of warmongering and unrest that had taken place under the previous administration. DOMA was overturned and gay marriage became legal. For the first time in years, it seemed like smooth sailing.
Then, around the turn of the decade, everything changed. The rising presidential campaign of then-reality TV star Donald Trump put a spotlight on the seedy underbelly of racism and misogyny that was bubbling under the surface of much of the country, just as the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements were beginning to gain steam. The oceans are rising and many of our elected leaders seem completely unbothered about the planet Earth that our future generations are going to inherit.
And now, as we arrive at the conclusion of the decade, the country (and world, by proxy) is more angry and divided than ever.
Interestingly enough, these turning of the times can be reflected in the internet memes that proliferated the ’10s. The internet can still be a fun place—don’t get us wrong—but no amount of Baby Yoda memes will change the fact that we’ve got literal Nazis running up here in these streets with a hockey mascot leading the antifa charge. It’s a weird, tumultuous time to be alive, and it’s quite possible that future historians might turn to memes, of all things, to make sense of it all.
The best memes of the decade
That said, these 50 are probably a good place to start. The following is a list of 50 2010s memes that helped shape the decade—for better or worse. The ’20s can only get better, right?
1) Doge (2010)
Although the origin of the slang term for “dog” originated in a 2005 Homestar Runner episode, “doge” became a bonafide phenomenon in 2010 when Japanese kindergarten teacher Atsuko Sato published several photos of her rescue dog, a Shiba Inu named Kabosu, to her personal website. Several months later, one of the photos featuring Kabosu sitting on the couch—giving a particularly side-eyed, eyebrows-raised glance—surfaced in a since-deleted Reddit post called “LMBO LOOK @ THIS FUKKEN DOGE.”
From there, the photo of Kabosu (also known by her internet nickname “Shibe”) soon began being widely shared on Tumblr and Reddit, where it became synonymous with the term. In the years since the “doge” meme went viral, there have been dozens of variations and incarnations, including “ironic doge” and “liquified doge,”as well as a “Fuck Yeah Doge” Tumblr account. Years later, however, Kabosu still reigns supreme as the patron saint of doge memes.
2) Condescending Wonka (2011)
Also known as Creepy Wonka, this meme initially began as part of the “you must be new here” phrase that was used to identify “newbs” (or “noobs”) on internet forums in the aughts. The meme originated as a still from the 1971 musical film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, in the scene when Wilder’s character asks the group of children on the factory tour if they would like to a preview of his latest creation, “The Everlasting Gobstopper.”
However, in 2011 the meme took on new life as “Condescending Wonka” after it surfaced on a Reddit thread titled, “Every time I speak to a recent grad” accompanied by an image macro reading, “Oh, you just graduated? You must know everything.” True to its name, the Condescending Wonka meme was typically used in instances where the meme author was attempting to be patronizing and sarcastic to the subject.
In the years since, some have argued that the meme tends to be mean and lazy, and not worthy of being included in the legacy of the gentle, funny, and kind late actor.
3) Rap battle, aka Supa Hot Fire (2011)
Anyone who has ever witnessed someone being absolutely destroyed on the internet is probably well aware of the Supa Hot Fire meme. The meme originated in May of 2011 when YouTuber Mr. Deshawn Raw, who goes by the aforementioned handle “Supa Hot Fire,” uploaded the rap battle parody that started it all. Although the original video has since been removed, it didn’t take long before it began circulating on social media and on websites like WorldStarHipHop.
As you can see in the above mirror video (which has been viewed over 25 million times since it was uploaded in 2014), the moment that has since become the popular reaction GIF occurs just over a minute into the clip. “I broke up with my ex-girl, here’s her number,” Deshawn says to a rival. “Sike! That’s the wrong number,” he quips, as his posse proceeds to absolutely lose their motherloving shit around him. And the rest, as they say, was internet history.
4) The Darkest Timeline (2011)
In October of 2011, the beloved NBC sitcom Community aired the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory,” in which the character Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) rolls a six-sided die to decide which member of the study group will pick up the pizza. However, as Abed (Danny Pudi) warns, by doing so they accidentally created six different timelines. When Troy (Donald Glover) is chosen, they accidentally find themselves in the so-called “darkest timeline” and he arrives with the pizza to find the apartment on fire and one character bleeding out from a gunshot leg wound.
At the time, the clip went viral as a reaction GIF, but it took on a whole new life in 2016 after Trump won the presidential election, leading many to speculate that we were now living in our own “darkest timeline.” At the time of this writing, that theory has not yet been proven wrong.
5) Thanks Obama (2011)
In the early years of Barack Obama’s first term, it became a running joke to “blame” the 44th president for inconsequential things of which he had little or no control of, to mock his biggest detractors and critics. This incessant scapegoating eventually led to a series of image macros that would typically blame Obama for anything from burnt toast to “As Seen On TV” fails.
Obama eventually parodied his own meme in a 2015 Buzzfeed video (above) called “Things Everybody Does But Doesn’t Talk About,” to promote HealthCare.gov. In it, the former prez frustratingly retorts the phrase when a chocolate chip cookie is too big to dunk into a glass of milk.
6) Bad Luck Brian (2012)
It’s easy to feel bad for Bad Luck Brian, with his hopelessly dorky sweater vest, braces, and open-mouthed squinty smile. But as it turns out, then-high school student was in on the joke all along. Well, sort of! Kyle Craven, now 30, conspired to take the intentionally silly photo for his 2005-2006 high school yearbook photo. Due to principal intervention, however, the self-described class clown was forced to retake the photo. And that would have been the end of it, had not fate stepped in.
In January 2012, Craven’s childhood best friend posted the photo to the Advice Animals subreddit with the now ubiquitous nickname and image macro captioned: “Takes driving test … gets first DUI.” It didn’t take long for the meme to spread like wildfire, as others began imagining scenarios in which Brian luck went hilariously wrong. “Tries to stealthily fart in class … shits,” read one popular early version–while others proclaimed, “Goes surfing for the first time … hurricane,” “Builds courage to send naked picture … sends to mom,” and so on and so forth.
7) Ermahgerd Gersberms (2012)
Much like Bad Luck Brian, the “Ermahgerd Gersberms” girl (real name Maggie Goldenberger) was deliberately playing up a dorky image when she and her friends took the photo in middle school, which was at some point uploaded to MySpace and Facebook. But it wasn’t until March 2012 that she became a meme when her photo made its way to the r/WTF subreddit where someone posted the image with the caption, “Just a book owners smile…”
From there, others joined in. “BERKS!” posted another user, with the now-infamous image macro captioned, “GERSBERMS … MAH FAVRIT BERKS.” This paved the way for the silly “ermahgerd” speak that was ubiquitous throughout the early to mid-teens, mimicking the lisp of a retainer-wearing tween. Others began photo editing out the books for other objects such as boxed mashed potatoes (ERMAHGERD MASHED PERDERDERS).
Eventually, people began superimposing the captions over photos of cute animals, as in the frantic “ERMAHGERD MERLKBEHRNS” pug meme, above.
8) ‘How Do You Do, Fellow Kids’ (2012)
Before there was “OK Boomer” (and we’ll get there eventually), there was this absolutely perfect GIFable moment from 30 Rock to mock of our out-of-touch elders. In the 2012 episode “The Tuxedo Begins,” Steve Buscemi guest-starred as Lenny Wosniak, a private detective hired by Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) to act as a strike buster. One flashback scene, in particular, featured Wosniak relaying his previous experience going “undercover” as a high school student in a past investigation.
Between his “MUSIC / BAND” T-shirt, skateboard, hoodie, and backward baseball cap, the clearly 50-something Buscemi perfectly encapsulates an attempt—whether it be a person or brand—attempting to infiltrate youth culture.
9) Crying Jordan (2012)
If nothing else, 2012 will go down as a banner year for memes. However, it was actually September 11, 2009, that gifted us the original Michael Jordan “Crying Jordan” moment, when the former Chicago Bulls shooting guard was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. While relaying anecdotes from over the course of his career, Jordan repeatedly became emotional and teary-eyed, and it was in one of these moments that an Associated Press photographer captured the now-infamous photograph.
The first known instance of the image macro becoming a meme occurred in April 2012 when a user-submitted entry on MemeCrunch used it to joke about Jordan’s decision to buy the Charlotte Bobcats. The still photo was captioned, “Why … Did I buy the Bobcats?” Eventually, the meme gained widespread popularity, typically among sports fans as a way to gripe about their favorite teams.
10) Potato Jesus (2012)
In what has to be the all-time greatest example of Pinterest fails/”nailed it” culture, we have Potato Jesus, the horribly-executed restoration of a Ecce Homo devotional fresco. As the story goes, the 1930 Elías García Martínez painting had been donated to a Spanish church in 2012, where it fell into the hands of an octogenarian parishioner who attempted to “restore” the piece. Suffice to say, it did not go well. The botched attempt made international headlines before landing on the top of Reddit.
An old church in Spain needed to restore a worn out painting. They hired the wrong person. from pics
From there, the Ecce Homo became an instant meme as internet jokesters made quick work of Photoshopping the image. However, it was a 4chan thread that dubbed the painting “Potato Jesus,” which has lived on in infamy.
11) Grumpy cat (2012)
Where do we even begin with Grumpy Cat (née Tardar Sauce), the face that launched an entire empire? Like most things on the internet, the late celebrity cat surfaced on Reddit, where she (Grumpy Cat was actually female) quickly went viral due to her impossibly grouchy-looking demeanor—the result of feline dwarfism and a severe under-bite.
The initial stages of Grumpy’s viral fame came in the form of Photoshops image macros with captions such as “I HAD FUN ONCE / IT WAS AWFUL,” before eventually expanding to merchandise, books, comics, endorsements, and even a Lifetime holiday film. Sadly, we lost Grumpy Cat to a urinary tract infection in 2019, but her legacy will no doubt live on forever.
12) Overly Attached Girlfriend (2012)
Overly Attached Girlfriend was the creation of YouTuber Laina Morris, who at the time recorded the video as a submission to a contest held by Justin Bieber, who had called on fans to come up with a “Girlfriend” video to complement his hit single at the time, “Boyfriend.” The song Morris came up with was probably, shall we say, not exactly what Bieber had in mind.
With intentionally creepy lyrics like “If I was your girlfriend, I’ll never let you leave,” and “Don’t hide secrets in your house cuz boy I stole the key,” the video was destined to become a viral hit. Despite the fact that then then-21-year-old was clearly doing a parody, it became an image macro meme, with popular captions such as, “I SEWED MY NAME ON YOUR SHIRTS … IN CASE YOU FORGOT YOU WERE TAKEN.”
I'm always amused by the @OvrlyAttachdGF tweets. Then I realize my face is associated with it and I'm slightly disturbed. Still awesome.— Laina (@laina622) June 16, 2012
For her part, Morris (mostly) took her meme status in stride until she quit YouTube in 2019, citing mental health reasons.
13) McKayla Is Not Impressed (2012)
During the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, few gymnasts were looking better than McKayla Maroney for the United States women’s team. Unfortunately, after a near flawless vault routine that had her on track to win a gold medal, McKayla made a misstep and ended up falling right on her ass.
Although Maroney ended up winning the silver medal for her team with a total score of 15.083, you could almost say she was … not impressed with her win. While accepting her award on the winner’s podium, Maroney was snapped by a Reuters photographer with her face wrenched into a annoyed-looking grimace. A Tumblr site soon followed, aptly titled “McKayla is Not Impressed,” where people began posting altered images of the gymnast Photoshopped into fictional or historical scenes.
14) Texts from Hillary (2012)
When Hillary Clinton was still serving as Secretary of State under President Obama, she was photographed while waiting to depart on a flight to Libya in October of 2011, holding a BlackBerry in her hand and wearing both a pair of sunglasses and no-nonsense expression on her face. Several months later, in April of 2012, a pair of friends had the idea to turn the photo into a Tumblr account aptly-named, “Texts from Hillary.”
The blog was an instant success, as users had fun mashing up the image with other photos and captions, imagining who Madam Secretary might be texting, and why. The project ended up winning a Shorty Award for “Tumblr Blog of the Year,” and Ms. Clinton even used the original photo as her Twitter avatar. At least, that is until her email controversy broke out blasting her use of private BlackBerry phones, among others things.
15) Annoyed Picard (2012)
There has been no shortage of memes to derive from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the third series in the sci-fi franchise that ran from 1987 through 1994—although “Annoyed Picard” is arguably the most popular. The exact moment that the meme derived from occurred in the 1990 episode, “Ménage à Troi,” and contrary to popular belief, Captain Jean-Luc Picard was not even annoyed at the time. Instead, he was reciting a Shakespeare sonnet!
Yet, in the exact screenshot, which first surfaced in a Reddit post, you can’t argue the fact that Picard does appear to be annoyed. It didn’t take long for the still to become an image macro meme, typically with some variation of the caption “WHY THE FUCK” or “WHAT THE FUCK,” particularly on Tumblr where it trended under the tag “#AnnoyedPicard.
16) This is fine (2013)
If we had to pick one meme that defined the entire decade, “This is Fine” would probably be a serious contender, for … well, obvious reasons. Taken from a panel of K.C. Green’s webcomic Gunshow in early January 2013, the cartoon depicts a dog who keeps insisting that everything is OK—even as the room around him goes up in flames, continuing to calmly sip his coffee as the flesh grotesquely melts off of his bones.
The comic, particularly the first two panels, initially began to go viral on 4chan and Reddit, as you can see in the above post to r/Funny, when a user wrote: “Accurate representation of me dealing with university stress” in early 2014. It has since become a popular reaction meme used to represent denial or reassurance in the face of a futile situation. For reasons that are quite obvious, usage went into overdrive once Donald Trump began wreaking havoc from the Oval Office.
17) Gatsby Toast (2013)
Who better to play the fictional character of the quirky, young millionaire Jay Gatsby than Leonardo DiCaprio, who himself also knows a little something about partying with beautiful and glamorous women? In Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 big screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby, DiCaprio slipped seamlessly into the lead character’s skin, but the film may be best remembered by the iconic moment from the trailer in which Gatsby raises a glass to toast. (Something else DiCaprio knows a little something about.)
With the release of Fergie song off the film’s soundtrack, “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got),” Tumblr users began mashing up the image of Gastby toasting in both still screengrabs and GIFs. The meme went on to endure as an image macro, typically in a sarcastic context or riffing off of the character’s way of referring to people as “old sport.”
18) But That’s None of My Business (2014)
Of all of the Kermit the Frog memes that surfaced in 2014 (Evil Kermit, borderline NSFW puppet Kermit, etc., etc.), “But That’s None of My Business” Kermit was easily the most enduring and popular. The image, in which the famous green Muppet innocuously sips on a clear glass mug of tea, originated in a Lipton television commercial that same year that coincided with the release of Muppets Most Wanted.
In internet terms, sipping “the tea” is a way of passive aggressively throwing shade at someone or something, and this is certainly no exception. However, the image macro became associated with the phrase “But That’s None of My Business” thanks to a Kermit the Snitch blog on Tumblr. The caption typically makes an extremely pointed observation and then acts as if the author is above the speculation or gossip.
The meme took on a whole new life when, in 2016, the Good Morning America Twitter account used it to poke fun at other memes, and troll their followers in the process by referring to Kermit as “Tea Lizard.”
19) Shredded cheese (2014)
There may be no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, but when it comes to the subject of cheese, people tend to be more divided. While we won’t judge anyone who has ever reached for a bag of shredded cheese for a late night snack when provisions are low, it’s quite another thing to actually bring it into the office, as one Redditor apparently learned the hard way.
Although the first instance of the Object Labeling meme riffed off of the Joker “Everyone Loses Their Minds,” later versions mashed up everything from Distracted Boyfriend to Napoleon Bonaparte memes–but most typically involving a 3am snack.
20) Hotline Bling (2015)
Before the release of “Hotline Bling” in 2015, Drake was already perfectly memeable in his own right. But between the catchy song and dorky dancing, this one was destined to become a meme. In screenshots from the video, in which the hip-hop artist performs a variety of moves and gestures, someone isolated back-to-back screenshots of Drizzy looking down while holding his hand to the side of his face while looking irritated, followed by one of him smiling and pointing.
Acording to Know Your Meme, the first known instance of the stills in meme form originated from the above Instagram post depicting what every cat owner holds to be true. The Drakeposting format, as it’s now known, boils down to a very simple formula: “insert thing you hate” next to the first image, and “insert thing you love” next to the second. Congrats, you have done yourself a meme!
21) Chrissy Teigen’s Cry Face (2015)
It seemed like it was only a matter of time before extremely online model and television personality Chrissy Teigen found herself as the subject of a meme, and we have a misinterpreted display of emotion to thank for it. In January 2015, Teigen’s husband, singer-songwriter John Legend, along with the rapper Common, were awarded “Best Original Song” at the 72nd Golden Globes for “Glory,” which appeared on the Selma soundtrack.
As Legend gave his acceptance speech, the cameras panned to Teigen sitting in the audience, and it was hard to tell if she was happy or not—given that her cry face quite resembled a grimace. Within minutes, her reaction went viral as a reaction meme, as well as inspiring Photoshop parodies. True to form, Teigen took the moment in stride and got in on the joke herself. And apparently, the apple did not fall from the tree.
22) The Dress (2015)
Who knew that a simple picture if a dress, of all things, had the power to so fully divide the internet? That’s exactly what happened in February 2015 when a bride-to-be posted a photo of the dress her mother planned to wear to her wedding to Tumblr. “Guys please help me,” she wrote. “Is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the fuck out.”
Well, if her goal was to get the entire internet to freak the fuck out, then mission accomplished. Those who were #TeamBlackAndBlue eventually got the bragging rights, as it turned out that those were, indeed, the true colors of the dress. But on top of the hearty debate, the phenomenon provided a fascinating look at the differences in human color perception, which has long been the subject of scientific investigations into neuroscience and vision science.
23) Roll Safe (2016)
Roll Safe is one of those memes that feels like it’s been around forever, but in reality, it was only back in 2016 that it took the internet by storm. On June 1, of that year, the BBC Three uploaded an episode of the web series #HoodDocumentary to YouTube, which was actually a mockumentary starring actor Kayode Ewumi as the so-called internet sensation and “triple threat” Reece Simpson (a.k.a., R.S. a.k.a. “Roll Safe”) as he navigated his “hood” as a “young and upcoming creative.”
About a minute into the segment, Simpson is waiting for a date to show up at a restaurant, where he makes a thinly-veiled oral sex joke. “Yeah, I got time for girls like her, you know I mean, because she’s ambitious, she’s got talent, and she’s got a good head on her,” he says. ”
“Great head. Yeah man, I think intelligence is beautiful … because she’s got good brains,” he smirks, while tapping his finger to his temple.
When you piss her off on purpose, so she can say goodnight at 6pm and you can just play FIFA for the rest of the day in peace. pic.twitter.com/UrM5QvrV5A— Footy Humour (@FootyHumour) November 15, 2016
The first known instance of the still image being used as a meme occurred in November of that year, in the above tweet joking about intentionally pissing off your girlfriend so she’ll leave you alone to play video games. It’s since been widely used as a reaction meme to roast flawed logic and poor decision making.
24) Arthur’s fist meme (2016)
When you think about it, it seems kind of wild that a Canadian-American educational animated series about an eight-year-old, anthropomorphic aardvark and his friends and family could inspire and symbolize the collective anger and frustration of the internet. But then again, have you ever been on the internet??
This is just a pic of Arthur's fist but idk how I feel that it's just so relatable. So many emotions in one fist pic.twitter.com/WHU9o7XeAG— Kofi🇬🇭 (@AlmostJT) July 28, 2016
The moment originated in a Sept. 6, 1999 episode of Arthur called “Arthur’s Big Hit,” in which the titular character literally punches his little sister D.W. in the face for breaking his model airplane. It wasn’t until 2016 that Twitter user @AlmostJT applied it as a reaction meme. “This is just a pic of Arthur’s fist but idk how I feel that it’s just so relatable,” he tweeted. “So many emotions in one fist.” Clearly, he was onto something!
25) Confused Math Lady (2016)
Just a few years back, not many people would have recognized Brazilian actress Renata Sorrah, who was perhaps best known for the role of Nazaré Tedesco from the telenovela, Senhora do Destino (Her Own Destiny) which aired from 2004 to 2005. However, now the 72-year-old may now be best known for the meme in her likeness, “Confused Math Lady.”
The first time Sorrah (in character as Nazaré) was used as a reaction GIF was all the way back in 2013. And while it popped up here and there over the next few years, it wasn’t until a 2016 9GAG post that someone thought to add the math equations over her face, with the caption: “When she tells you she’s 29 weeks pregnant.” From there, the reaction meme soon became cemented in online culture, typically used to express sarcastic confusion.
26) Brother, May I Have Some Oats (2016)
The viral popularity of a centuries-old oil painting of two large pigs proves that nothing is too absurd for the internet. On Oct. 10, 2016, Twitter user @markyannna tweeted an image of the painting (appropriately titled “A Pair of Pigs” by unknown, in 1850) with the caption: “brother may I have some oats.”
bröther may i have some öats pic.twitter.com/je2HIEaPpB— charles entropy cheese (@markyannna) October 11, 2016
Inexplicably, the tweet gathered nearly of 18,000 likes and 12,400 retweets over the course of the next several months, which was surely helped in no small part by a screengrab of the tweet that surfaced on Tumblr shortly after. Oats, man.
27) Harambe (2016)
Oh, Harambe. The poor, majestic, 17-year-old Western lowland silverback gorilla was just minding his business the day that an unattended four-year-old child fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. But after Harambe began dragging the boy around, the zoo seemingly had no choice other than to euthanize the animal by shooting him with a rifle. People were sad. Then, people were mad! How could those parents be so irresponsible? Why wasn’t anyone watching him?! Yet, as the internet attempted to cope with the gorilla’s untimely death, it naturally turned to memes.
This is by far the best one yet pic.twitter.com/oveTS3fZtu— Because I'm a Guy (@CauseWereGuys) August 21, 2016
"Grandpa, what was 2016 like?"— bradley (@traitorbaby) August 15, 2016
*sirens blare, the phrase 'dicks out for Harambe' flashes over and over in my mind*
Me: I don't remember
Hashtags such as #JusticeForHarambe and #RIPHarambe first began trending on social media, and then people got weird with it. There were memes, Photoshop tributes, and pranks songs. But who among us can forget Dicks Out For Harambe?
28) Boaty McBoatface (2016)
While we’re on the subject of internet goofuses, British scientific research agency Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) learned the hard way why you never crowdsource from the internet. In March of 2016, the agency opened up the naming of a new research vessel to the unwashed masses. And it went precisely how you’d think it would, after someone suggested the most impossibly British name ever, “Boaty McBoatface.”
Naturally, “Boaty McBoatface” won in an overwhelming landslide, but after the party-poopers over at NERC decided that the name would have been inappropriate–they instead went with RRS Sir David Attenborough, after the natural historian. However, as a small concession, the agency did agree to name a small, robotic submarine after the winning vote.
29) Distracted Boyfriend (2017)
For anyone who has spent remotely any time on the internet over the course of the past few years, the Distracted Boyfriend meme needs no introduction. The saga of the stock photo man callously snubbing his girlfriend to check out another woman in red has been memed, mashed-up, cross-pollinated, spun-off, and so on, out the wazoo. And the beauty of the Distracted Boyfriend meme (much like Drakeposting/”Hotling Bling” memes), is that it’s so simple and versatile that you don’t even need a master’s degree in being Extremely Online to play along.
Oddly enough, Distracted Boyfriend began in a very niche forum—a Turkish progressive rock Facebook fan page, to be exact—to joke about the evolution of Phil Collins from a prog rock artist to a radio-friendly pop artist.
30) Mocking/Condescending SpongeBob (2017)
Of all the various memes involving SpongeBob and his underwater friends, the most popular and widespread would have to be none other than Mocking SpongeBob. The image originated from a 2012 episode of SpongeBob SquarePants called “Little Yellow Book,” in which Squidward learns by reading SpongeBob’s diary that whenever he sees plaid, he acts like a chicken. But out of context, it certainly looks quite a bit like SpongeBob is being … mean??
Bf: "I don't even know her like that"— lexy (@lexylikey) May 5, 2017
Me: "I doNt EveN KnOw heR liKe thAt" pic.twitter.com/xj4Fi5j2h1
The earliest iteration of the meme materialized in May of that year, when Twitter user @OGBEARD posted the still image in a since-removed tweet, writing, “How I stare back at little kids when they stare for too long.” The following day another user picked up on it in a subsequent tweet that went viral to mock an ostensibly lying boyfriend, which provided the “sticky caps” format that we know today. The conceit is rather simple, all you need to do to mock another person is to slap that sucker in a tweet (or text, or another method of communication) and repeat their words back to them in mixed case. It’s nearly impossible to come back from that!
31) Galaxy Brain (2017)
The Daily Dot once described the Galaxy Brain meme as being quite possibly the “single meme that [described] the state of online discourse in 2017.” As absurd as it was cerebral, Galaxy Brain originated as part of the “Whomst” meme that surfaced earlier that year, depicting a series of increasingly stimulated images of brains that escalated with the evolution of the word “who.”
As the meme evolved and expanded, users found ways to apply it to virtually any subject, from pornography and sex to food and gaming, and of course, politics. If Galaxy Brain continues its bizarre evolution, it would be anyone’s best guess as to where it will lead us in 2020.
32) Blinking White Guy (2017)
In another instance of a reaction meme that seemed to materialize out of nowhere—yet, at the same time, seemed like it had been around forever—we have “Blinking White Guy,” otherwise known by his real life name, Drew Scanlon. In 2013, Scanlon was working as an editor and podcaster with gamer website Giant Bomb, where he appeared on the site’s “Unprofessional Fridays” web series. True to its name, one of Scanlon’s colleagues made a “farming with my hoe” joke while playing Starbound, which led to his double-take blinking reaction.
At some point, his reaction became a GIF, but it wasn’t until 2017 when Twitter user @eskbl used it to make a joke about taking a biology class.
me: ill take a biology class, im smart enough for this just watch me— INIRO 🥕 (@eskbl) February 5, 2017
The tweet quickly went viral, and ever since, the reaction meme of Scanlon has been used as a way to express incredulity—oftentimes, when encountering the hottest of takes.
33) Spider-Man Pointing at Spider-Man (2017)
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Spider-Man Pointing at Spider-Man became a meme (pun mildly intended). It first surfaced as an image macro on various file sharing sites as early as 2011 through the mid-’10s, however, there’s no debating that it became a full-blown meme in 2017. The image itself comes from an episode of the ’60s Spider-Man animated series, “Double Identity,” in which a villain made an attempt to impersonate Spidey himself.
Spider-Man Pointing at Spider-Man initially gained steam on Black Twitter, particularly used in the context of hip-hop and sports. But it was in early 2017 that it was eventually thrust into mainstream consciousness, when Twitter user @FreddyAmazin posted the image with the caption: “When your boo start talking like you.” The applications are practically limitless, whether making self-depreciating comparisons about yourself, or savagely roasting others due to hypocrisy.
34) Meryl Streep Shouting Lyrics (2017)
When the great Meryl Streep has something to say, you best listen—according to this meme. The award-winning legendary actress was caught on camera shouting something from in the audience of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award ceremony in 2015, but it would be two more years before the moment achieved meme status. In March of 2017, Twitter user @SayItAintDash tweeted the image along with the lyrics to Missy Elliot’s 2002 hit hip hop single “Work It,” with Meryl ostensibly shouting out the difficult to interpret chorus.
The Killers: It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this?— erika™ (@erikaofthestate) March 19, 2017
Me: IT WAS ONLY A KISS IT WAS ONLY A KISS pic.twitter.com/pDsShTLWzc
From there, others began joining in sharing the image, typically as a call-and-response meme of an imagined duet, with Streep calling out the chorus to take the place of the tweet’s author.
35) Is This a Pigeon? (2018)
Named by the Daily Dot as the best object-labeling template meme of 2018, this resurgence of an old meme is mostly used in the first person as a sarcastic way of tempering expectations vs. reality—or calling out someone else on their bullshit. Although the context was not necessary to enjoy or participate in the meme, “Is This a Pigeon?” originated from a 1991 episode of the Japanese anime series The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird, during a scene in which a human android confuses a butterfly for a pigeon while studying life on earth.
The second coming of the meme first began to pick up in April and May, when Twitter users began swapping out the butterfly for an idealized version of something or someone, with the android component taking it in at face value. As you can see in the above example that encapsulates the meme pretty well, Netflix calls out the phenomenon of networks casting adult actors in high school TV dramas.
36) Who Killed Hannibal? (2018)
While The Eric Andre Show in itself boasts a treasure trove of memes, “Who Killed Hannibal?” was easily the most relevant in 2018, when we found ourselves living in an age of hypocrisy and misinformation. The source actually dates back to a clip from a November 2013 episode in which Andre is talking about climate change. Suddenly, he pulls out a handgun, shoots co-host Hannibal Buress multiple times in the chest, and then turns to the camera and deadpans, “Who killed Hannibal?”
This is a damn good contender for best meme of the year - all of the variations are good...but this one is the best pic.twitter.com/SwpOUAuRjk— RickyFTW (@rickyftw) April 18, 2018
Although Andre was presumably calling out climate change deniers in the bit, it’s unlikely that even he could have seen the harbinger of things to come. And as we approach 2020, the meme is still as appropriate as ever.
37) American Chopper Argument (2018)
Much like “Who Killed Hannibal?,” the American Chopper meme just happened to find popularity in these divisive times we’re living in. The origin comes to us from a 2009 episode of the Discovery Channel reality series, in which the shop’s patriarch, Paul Teutul Sr., gets into a violent argument with his son, Paul Teutul Jr., over repeated tardiness and extended lunches. It first began being shared as a comic-format meme in the early teens, but it didn’t really become a big meme until surfacing on Twitter in early 2018.
Although many of the arguments portrayed with the meme are rooted in pop culture fandom (as you can see in the tongue-in-cheek Garfield commentary, above) it is certainly not without political connotations. It’s hard not to notice that the Teutuls themselves represent Trump-era class politics, as blue-collar “working Joe” types who also happen to be wealthy business owners with their own television series—and many of the memes inspired by the clip were reflected as such.
38) Avengers: Infinity War memes (2018)
The highly-anticipated 2018 Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War may have been the most ambitious crossover event in history, but it also spawned some of the most ambitious, uh, memes in history. Of course, there was the “I don’t feel so good” disintegration meme, which saw Thanos snap some of our most beloved real-life or pop culture figures into dust. But it was ultimately the crossover meme that people seemed to have the most fun with. And you didn’t even need any crack Photoshop skills to play along!
Marvel: 'Infinity War is the most ambitious crossover event in history'— ill manews is an ill guest (@ManuclearBomb) March 19, 2018
Essentially, the meme boiled down to finding the most grandiose or absurd pairings in pop culture history—from Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry appearing in a Windows 95 tutorial VHS tape (above), the time Magnum, P.I. and Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote crossed paths, or a 2003 Vanity Fair cover featuring all of the young, (mostly) white It Girls at the time.
39) Captain America ‘So, You Got Detention’ (2018)
One year before Peter Parker got snapped out of existence in Avengers: Infinity War (don’t worry, he’s fine), Tom Holland appeared in the standalone Marvel film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. In a mini-crossover, Parker receives detention, where he is faced with a PSA video from none other than Captain America himself (Steve Rogers), who says gravely while also smoothly sitting down backward in a chair: “So, you got detention.”
So.— Ragnal (@ThatGuyRagnal) May 16, 2018
You made a meme, but used a still image instead of a gif. pic.twitter.com/MoWOV93VYK
It wasn’t until the following May that both the still image and animated GIF began to go viral as a meme on Twitter, in which Cap scolded users about everything from reading the comments section and not crediting the artist, to using a still image instead of a GIF. Don’t worry. It happens to the best of us.
40) Yeet (2018)
If there was one internet phenomenon that undoubtedly caused the most confusion in 2018, it would have to be “Yeet.” All of a sudden, the word was everywhere, yet somehow, no one seemed to know exactly what the hell it meant. The provenance of Yeet was also unclear, but it seemed to have picked up steam on YouTube and Vine as a sort of dance move sometime around the middle of the decade. The first uptick of the word can be attributed to a boy nicknamed “Lil Meatball,” who, in 2014, posted the following video on Vine, where it was viewed in over 40 million loops.
However, the Yeet that went viral in 2018 meant something else completely.
The easiest way to sum it up is that Yeet could take on any number of uses as a noun or a verb—the latter of which as a way to express a sudden or forceful motion, such as throwing an object long distance. Likewise, the term could also apparently be used to describe someone who has experienced dramatic defeat in situations such as playing a sport or video game. To Yeet or not to Yeet, that is the question.
41) A Star Is Born (2018)
Like many timely memes, this one was derived from a popular film. While the remake of A Star Is Born with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper received mostly positive reviews, one moment featured in the trailer was too impossibly cheesy not to go viral and thus be cemented in meme status. In the scene, as Cooper’s character is about to drive off in a limo, he calls out to Gaga’s Ally. “Hey,” he says, to which she turns around and answers, “What?”
“I just wanted to take another look at you,” he says, as Ally smiles knowingly.
Early instances of the meme surfaced on Lady Gaga fan accounts, not surprisingly, but after the film’s Venice premiere, the meme began circulating on mainstream Twitter. From there, it was only a matter of time before Weird Twitter began having fun with it, with the context of the memes having to do little with either the film or Lady Gaga. In later incarnations of the meme, people began doing Photoshop mashups.
42) Momo Challenge (2018)
Well, it wouldn’t be a complete list without an overblown internet hoax that had local news segments fear-mongering and terrified parents overreacting! What began as an “urban legend about a nonexistent social media challenge” that supposedly enticed kids and adolescents into self-harming themselves became a legitimate viral sensation.
As it turns out, the creepy “Momo” figure was actually a sculpture created by the Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso in 2016, where it was placed on display at a Tokyo art gallery. As photos of the sculpture began surfacing on social media (such as the above 2018 post in r/Creepy), it didn’t take long for the horrifying-looking image to go viral. At the time of this writing, a Momo feature film is even in the works.
43) Gritty (2018)
It’s not the easiest task to sum the viral appeal of Gritty up in a few brief sentences. The fuzzy orange, seven-foot-tall, wild-eyed hockey mascot came barreling into our collective consciousnesses on Sept. 24, 2018, and things may never be the same again. While his initial debut was viewed as mostly the butt of a joke, it did not take long for the city of Philadelphia, and then the rest of the world by example, to fall in love with Gritty.
It wasn’t long before “Brother Gritty” became appropriated as a symbol of the antifa and anti-patriarchal movements, as well as something of an LGBTQ icon. As something of a “big orange abomination” himself, it was almost as if Gritty manifested to become the antithesis of Donald Trump. And just when we needed him the most.
44) Yanny/Laurel (2018)
As 2018’s answer to The Dress, here we have the Yanny or Laurel debate. The short audio clip initially surfaced on the r/blackmagicfuckery subreddit before going viral on Twitter.
Essentially, depending on the individual, people would hear the voice distinctly saying either “Yanny” or “Laurel,” or, in some cases, a combination of the two. But unlike with The Dress, either one is correct. An eventual analysis of the clip found that both sets of sounds were present in the mixed recording. Those focusing on the higher frequency would tend to hear “Yanny,” whereas “Laurel” was more audible to those who heard the lower frequencies. And it was pretty evenly split among internet users, as well. In a poll of over 500,000 people, 53% claimed that they heard “Laurel” with 47% reporting that they heard “Yanny.”
45) Change My Mind (2018)
By 2018, one might think that people would have learned their lessons when it comes to putting themselves into easily photo-manipulated situations, but apparently conservative podcaster Steven Crowder did not get that memo. On Feb. 16, Crowder tweeted the now-infamous photo of himself sitting at a table outside of Texas Christian University. In front of him was a sign that very questionably proclaimed: “Male privilege is a myth / Change my mind,” as part of his whole shtick of challenging people with opposing viewpoints to sway him on various issues.
It did not take long before internet tricksters began Photoshopping the sign to blast out scorching hot takes (such as “Pop-Tarts are ravioli” or “La Croix is not good“), or in many cases manipulating the sign to read apparent self-owns by Crowder, such as the one above. Some even Photoshopped Crowder out of the image completely, replacing him with Crying Jordan or Jerry from Rick and Morty.
46) Surprised Pikachu (2018)
For anyone who has ever entered into a knowingly dubious situation and has nevertheless been surprised predictable outcome, we have the Surprised Pikachu meme. Taken from the 1997 animated Pokémon episode, the still image quite literally depicts a shocked-looking Pikachu with his little mouth agape.
The first known instance of Surprised Pikachu used as a meme originated in a September 2018 Tumblr post in which a user feigned bewilderment over forcibly bending a thing and having it break. Its subsequent contribution as a reaction meme cannot be underestimated, as you’ll be hard-pressed not to find a variation of it in the replies of your average viral tweet.
47) Epic Handshake (2018)
A meme over 30 years in the making, Epic Handshake was birthed from the 1987 sci-fi action film Predator. In the scene in question, the characters portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers cross paths in a surprise encounter and greet one another with a cheesy handshake that quickly devolves into an arm-wrestling match. The moment has been a fan favorite over the years, inspiring a number of mashup videos, parodies, and yes, even fan art.
One such piece of artwork surfaced on Deviant Art in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2018 that it emerged as a meme when Twitter user Krispy Scream (@mitchysuch) tweeted the following hilariously vulgar image, which would ultimately become the template.
I did it pic.twitter.com/Ova63NpA5H— Krispy Scream (@mitchysuch) May 14, 2018
In essence, the meme represents two forces working towards a common goal, or two unique parties that share something usual in common, such as babies who rely on female breasts for sustenance, and adults who … well, you can probably figure that much out for yourself.
48) Woman Yelling at Cat (2019)
Memes, in their very nature, tend to be absurd. And then there’s the Woman Yelling at Cat meme, which is peak absurd—even for the internet, which is really saying something. The two players here are the distraught-looking, emotional blonde woman, Taylor Armstrong from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (or three, if you count the housewife holding her back), and an internet-famous, cranky-looking white cat named Smudge sitting in front of a plate of vegetables.
These photos together is making me lose it pic.twitter.com/kJi9d8MpbG— chey (@MISSINGEGIRL) May 1, 2019
Although both images had been floating around for quite some time as respective reaction memes, it wasn’t until May of 2019 when Twitter user @MISSINGEGIRL had the light-bulb moment to feature them side-by-side. And like any good meme worth its salt, part of the mass appeal is that it’s simple enough for just about anyone to participate. In just the six short months since the meme first surfaced, its formidable popularity shows no signs of slowing down.
49) OK Boomer (2019)
In hindsight, it was probably only a matter of time before the Baby Boomers got their due. Yes, we’re talking about the generation that is largely responsible for the poor economy and climate change, yet who could afford to buy a home right out of high school and college and still somehow manages to look down at so-called “lazy” younger generations. In essence, OK Boomer is a “pejorative retort used to dismiss or mock perceived narrow-minded, outdated, negatively-judgemental, or condescending attitudes of older people.”
boomers: people on this app are way too sensitive stop being SNOWFLAKES— abs (@softmafuyuu) October 17, 2019
us: ok boomer
Although the phrase is not exactly new, it saw a resurgence in November 2019 thanks to Twitter memes and TikTok teens. Critics of the meme dismiss it as ageist and lazy, to which we can only respond: sure, OK boomer.
50) Baby Yoda (2019)
We’ll end the decade on a lighter note with the internet’s most recent obsession, Baby Yoda. When the Disney+ series The Mandalorian premiered in late November, no one knew exactly what to expect from the latest chapter in the Star Wars franchise—and fans certainly weren’t expecting to fall in love with the series’ secondary character. Whether sipping soup or pressing buttons, with each new Mandalorian episode comes fresh new Baby Yoda memes, and people simply can’t get enough.
Me in the corner watching my family argue pic.twitter.com/xMcVmI7Np2— lance (@exoholland) November 30, 2019
In fact, Disney was so unprepared for the popularity of Baby Yoda, that in keeping the character under wraps it was woefully unprepared for the insane demand for Baby Yoda dolls and other merchandise. Fans are even already demanding that Apple release a Baby Yoda emoji, and the thing hadn’t even been in our collective consciousnesses for an entire month yet. At this rate, the 2020s are on track to be Baby Yoda’s decade, and we’ll all just be living in it.
Stacey Ritzen is a reporter and editor based in West Philadelphia with over 10 years' experience covering pop culture, web culture, entertainment, and news. You can follow her on Twitter @staceyritzen.