You’ll never know if you don’t go.
Smash Mouth and their 1999 smash hit “All Star” have long been favorite targets for mockery in the meme world. From music video parodies to weird remixes to every Shrek tie-in you can imagine (the song soundtracked the movie’s opening credits), “All Star” has been memed to death. But it’s not done yet: a subtitled screenshot from the song has gone viral this month in what some are calling the “backstreets” meme.
It started with this Instagram pic, which recontextualizes the “All Star” line “So what’s wrong with taking the backstreets?” as a crude and offensive joke about anal sex.
Pretty typical teenage humor, and not remarkable in and of itself. It’s what meme creators did with the screenshot that makes it so compelling. Instead of just changing the “anal” caption, they started messing with the lyrics themselves, deleting words from the subtitle to create new jokes.
Unfortunately, some didn’t stray far from the original premise—there are a lot of bad anal sex jokes involved in this meme. But others took it in an entirely different direction. Making fun of Smash Mouth and “All Star” was one popular theme:
But really, this meme is all over the thematic map. It’s all about what you can spell with the letters in “so much to do, so much to see / so what’s wrong with taking the backstreets?”
The meme is mostly happening on Reddit at this point, but it didn’t start there: the “Fvck You Meme” Instagram account, which has a respectable 74,000 followers, was crucial in pushing both the original meme and the resulting edits. A handful of fvckyoumeme’s entries were posted on Reddit’s r/dankmemes, which helped drive the meme forward.
The obvious progenitor of this meme is “I see you’re a man of culture as well,” which was all the rage in March 2017. “Man of culture” took a subtitled anime screenshot of a character saying “I see you’re a man of culture as well,” and edited the subtitles to form funnier sentences.
Without “Man of Culture,” we probably wouldn’t have “Backstreets.”
The subtitle edit genre of meme hasn’t been fully explored yet, but it’s starting to come up more frequently these days. The “put it back in” meme, featuring porn star Riley Reid, received some light subtitle editing this month, as did a meme featuring rapper Eminem’s line “Now this looks like a job for me.”
Screengrabs have always been a rich vein for meme culture to mine, but the addition (and partial deletion!) of subtitles adds new possibilities. These edits are becoming part of the natural life cycle of any meme with subtitles, even if the meme isn’t built around edits in the same way Backstreets and Man of Culture were.