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This week on the internet: The top memes of 2021

From Bernie and his mittens to sea shanties, here are some memes that went viral in 2021.

 

Tiffany Kelly

Internet Culture

Published Dec 17, 2021   Updated Dec 21, 2021, 10:09 am CST

Welcome to the Friday edition of Internet Insider, where we’re looking back at internet culture that shaped 2021.

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The top memes of 2021

Did the pandemic change how we consume memes? I think so. More and more memes originate on TikTok. Main character energy continues to flourish. And we’re using memes to cope with stress related to COVID-19. 

In 2021, the top memes were a mix of catchphrases, celebrity gossip, viral photos, and references to TV shows and movies. I’m defining a “top meme” as a meme that people still remember at the end of the year—or one that had a notable cultural impact. I’m including the first half in today’s newsletter; the next half will be included in the Dec. 24 newsletter. Sit back and enjoy this tour through 2021 via memes.

  • Bean Dad: How could I not start with the first Twitter Main Character of the year? John Roderick, who will now forever be known as “Bean Dad,” refused to cook a can of baked beans for his 9-year-old daughter until she figured out how to use a can opener. He chose to tell this story in 23 tweets (yes), which ultimately led to him penning an apology letter on his personal website. He said he was doing a “bit” in the tweets and that his daughter had a full breakfast.
  • “Men will….instead of going to therapy”: What will men do instead of seeing a therapist? According to tweets, they will “run for president,” “unnecessarily reverse into a parking space,” and “watch hours of James Gandolfini going to therapy.” Perhaps this meme convinced more people to see a therapist—although it’s not for everyone! 
  • Sea Shanties: Remember sea shanties? It feels like years ago, but it was January 2021 when the sailor songs were all over TikTok. “The Wellerman” was particularly popular for users who perform duets on the app.  
  • Bernie and his mittens: During President Joe Biden’s inauguration, which also feels like ages ago, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sat in a chair, his arms crossed over his chest to reveal a pair of Fair Isle-style mittens. That image became a meme and inspired knitters to make their own pairs.
  • Ship stuck in the Suez Canal: People reacted to the news of the Ever Given cargo ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal for six days differently. Some made memes relating to the ship, others wrote erotic fanfic. Something for everyone.
  • WandaVisionWhen the Disney+ series premiered in January, it went viral online (this was pre-vaccine). From a line about grief to Agatha’s winkWandaVision served up several memes during the first quarter of 2021. 
  • Anakin and Padmé: This Star Wars meme emerged in the middle of the year, and it has since inspired many Photoshopped versions. Who knew that Attack of the Clones would become part of internet culture in 2021?

Tiffany Kelly, culture editor


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Two guys with crazy hair X(L), nurses dancing (C), and a woman with heavy makeup (R).

TIKTOK

‘SNL’ TikTok sketch deemed ‘accurate’

Saturday Night Live has a special connection with TikTok, and the show has previously produced app-related sketches that ended up flourishing on TikTok (musical performances, too). In last weekend’s episode, hosted by Billie Eilish, SNL went all in with a parody of TikTok that could double as an ad.

In the 4-minute sketch, a father is trying to get his teen to take out the trash, but they’re too busy scrolling TikTok. We see their text exchange as well as the teen’s FYP, which includes Eilish as a nurse doing popular dances; “Homer Simpson ASMR”; and parodies of the widely mocked self-defense guy and spiky Island Boys.

Read the full story here.

Audra Schroeder, senior writer


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*First Published: Dec 17, 2021, 4:40 pm CST