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Since its rebranding last summer, TikTok reinvented how we produce and consume memes. While some use the video app to document daily life, cool art, or raw comedy, memes and challenges are the big draw, and TikTok’s collaborative format ensures that once a challenge starts circulating, it will quickly evolve.
YouTube is now filled with TikTok meme compilations, but which ones are the best? The ones that showcase the sensibility and creativity of TikTok rise to the top. Here’s a look at some of the best TikTok memes of 2019—so far.
The best TikTok memes
1) ‘Old Town Road’
Music is an important part of TikTok, and with Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” we got a look at how the platform can springboard a song. In early 2019, the single kickstarted what became known as the “Yee Yee Juice” or Yee Haw challenge, in which normally clothed people “turned” country at the moment Lil Nas X says, “I got the horses in the back.” The challenge undoubtedly helped push the song up the charts; after it was removed from the Hot Country Songs chart in March for not being country enough, Lil Nas X roped in Billy Ray Cyrus for a remix, and “Old Town Road” shot to the top. He told Time in April that TikTok “really boosted the song. It was getting to the point that it was almost stagnant. When TikTok hit it, almost every day since that, the streams have been up. I credit them a lot.”
The premise was simple enough: Eighteen-year-old Sammie Lewis sticks a straw into a giant Starbucks tea, takes a gulp, and states, “Here’s the motherfucking tea,” dramatically tapping the screen between words for emphasis. She was settling in for a critique of people who wear glasses but don’t need them, and in other similarly introduced videos, Lewis discusses whatever’s on her mind (the “tea”). But people latched onto the elaborate intro, which could be spun in any direction. And because you can share audio on TikTok, it evolved into something else entirely.
3) DNA test
TikTok loves Lizzo (see also: “Boys”) and her song “Truth Hurts” was the perfect accompaniment for the DNA test meme. Users filmed themselves singing the line, “Just took a DNA test/turns out I’m 100 percent that bitch,” but put their own spin on what comes after “100 percent.” There were more traditional results, but it’s TikTok so it also got weird.
This is one of those multilevel memes. In one iteration, users mimicked the audio from actress Bella Thorne’s Disney Channel PSA about growing up with dyslexia. In another iteration, Thorne’s song “Bitch I’m Bella Thorne” soundtracks people struggling with tasks like washing their hands or getting dressed. Of course, mocking people with dyslexia isn’t funny, but there were interesting explorations of physical comedy.
5) Are you emo?
The POV meme is popular on TikTok, but the “Are you emo?” meme elicits a much more specific response. Olivia Giordano plays the various middle and high-school bullies that would ask if she was emo in that low-key mean-girl way, and the theme spread to other users (and platforms) as a way to work through the trauma of adolescence.
In real life, divorce is painful and messy. On TikTok, it’s a… performance? Challenge? The curious trend of people announcing/mourning their divorces started circulating earlier this year, but those “real” videos soon became indistinguishable from videos of people parodying the trend, or cosplaying getting “TikTok married” or “TikTok divorced.” I don’t get it, but I support it.
The teens have seen the rom-coms. In this challenge, soundtracked by Current Joys’s “New Flesh,” users take tropes from ‘80s and ‘90s movies and repurpose them. But some went back even further into the 20th century. Or a little too far into the future. Or to just three years ago. Time is fluid on TikTok.
8) Dear kitten
As the Bella Thorne meme proves, TikTok can revive older content in new, weird ways. A 2014 BuzzFeed video is the source material here, repurposed to narrate videos of cats staring at their reflections, enduring new cats in the household, or chasing bugs.
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While a lot of the challenges on TikTok are weird or hyper-specific, this one will actually make you emotional. The challenge started on Chinese app Douyin before going viral on TikTok, and is fairly straightforward: Four generations of a family are called into a room one at a time, and it will make you want to call your mom.
10) Chin on palm
Another twist on POV, the “chin on palm” challenge is literally someone putting their chin in someone else’s cupped hand. (It’s also known as the You Can Count on Me challenge, a reference to the song that accompanies many of the clips.) It reportedly started in South Korea as the #IAmYourValentine challenge but of course when it evolved to TikTok, it got weirder and more dogs were involved. It also spread to Twitter, where people were a little more suspicious of the challenge.
TikTok user @djtaylortot set the table with the first microwave challenge video, which shows him sitting on the floor and slowly spinning to Joji’s “Slow Dancing in the Dark.” The challenge evolved and users put their own artistic and creative spin on it, and some videos even got into how people were pulling off the illusion.
12) Trying kombucha
Brittany Tomlinson gave the internet an all-purpose reaction meme when she tried kombucha for the first time and documented her face journey on TikTok. Since then, she’s been asked to recreate the moment for fans. She told the Daily Dot in August: “Being viral is crazy, dude.”
13) VSCO girl
The VSCO photo-editing app has been popular with teens for years, but the summer of 2019 was dominated by a very specific look. The VSCO girl has a uniform: puka shell necklaces, scrunchies, Hydro Flasks. They want to save the turtles and love Emma Chamberlain, but of course the parodies are the other half of the meme.
What’s the best way to get over a shitty ex? Dance over their voicemails. This has become a trend on TikTok, with young women adding some humor and agency to the uncoupling process, and pointing out red flags too.
The time traveler conversation was already a meme, but it took new shape on TikTok thanks to the add text feature and other editing effects. What year is it? On TikTok, time is just another meme.
16) Mr. Sandman
How do you get a cat to go viral on TikTok? A clever mix of the right filter and song. User Jade Taylor-Ryan posted a clip of their orange Tabby set to the song “Mr. Sandman,” and it became a hypnotic hit. People tried to recreate it with their own cats, with hilarious results.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Audra Schroeder is the Daily Dot’s senior entertainment writer, and she focuses on streaming, comedy, and music. Her work has previously appeared in the Austin Chronicle, the Dallas Observer, NPR, ESPN, Bitch, and the Village Voice. She is based in Austin, Texas.