Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty
As we enter into a new decade, the time has come to reflect ... on the dank memes that made the last 10 years as horrifically weird as they were.
In 2010, many of us were naive to what social media and the internet would become (except David Bowie, who knew ― in 1999 ― exactly what lay ahead). The first iPad was released in January of that year and the iPhone, which had been released only three years prior, was not yet ubiquitous. Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter were still relatively new, Vine was a few years away and TikTok wasn’t even a twinkle in our eyes. While many millennials were still adjusting to life after dial-up and BBM-ing to their hearts content, the gen X-ers and boomers were clacking away on their AOL.com homepages and moving on from calling the internet the “World Wide Web.”
Over the course of the last 10 years, arguably the world’s largest cultural shift came in the form of the internet. It drastically shifted how we exist on this planet. Everything from how we talk and eat to how we travel and shop has been impacted. Hell, 10 years ago this sentence ― “Can you Venmo me for the Uber and Seamless last night? I DM’d you about it, but you left me on read.” ― would have been nonsense.
Which is where memes come into play. As our collective lingo and methods of communication shifted, so did our way of relating to one another. Memes have punctuated daily life with their absurdity. Like an inside joke shared with a million other people, memes have made us cackle laugh at our desks, scream at our phones in public places, and ― not to get too sentimental; after all, this is a meme retrospective ― connect.
So, whether you related more to the doges of 2013 or the distracted boyfriend of 2017, let’s take a look back at the best memes of the decade, how they came to be and where they are now.
The meme: Antoine Dodson
Origin: Kevin Antoine Dodson made headlines in July 2010 after he was interviewed by an NBC affiliate after someone broke into his home in the Lincoln Park housing project in Huntsville, Alabama. Dodson thwarted the nighttime intruder who attempted to rape his sister, Kelly, in the next room and, during the interview, emphatically declared that a rapist was “climbing in yo’ windows, snatchin’ yo’ people up, trying to rape ’em,” imploring people to hide their kids, wives and husbands because “they rapin’ everybody out here.” He went on to tell the intruder that he doesn’t have to come and confess because “we’re looking for you ― we gonna find you. ... You can run and tell that, homeboy.”
Despite being about a literal rape attempt, the video quickly took off on social media and led to Dodson working with the group The Gregory Brothers to create “Bed Intruder Song” an auto-tuned iteration of the interview that became a summer 2010 earworm.
What’s happened since: Dodson went on to perform at the 2010 BET Hip Hop Awards and appeared in commercials for “Tosh.0” as well as Tyler Perry’s “A Madea Christmas.” In 2014, he revealed himself to be a proponent of gay conversion therapy, and then apologized for his remarks in a YouTube video the following year.
The 33-year-old is currently very active on Instagram and told HuffPost that he wants “people to know I’m still out here hustling.”
“I have a hiphop album out called ‘TheComeUp’ on all major platforms, also I’m in school now for real estate,” he told HuffPost via email. “The gigs slow down when another one goes viral so I keep hustling for my son.”
Of his viral fame, Dodson says he’s “so humble for it.”
“I hear all the time, ‘you’re a pioneer’ or ‘the legend of YouTube’, ‘going viral king,’” he said. “I enjoy it.”
The meme: Sad Keanu
Origin: Splash News photographer Ron Asadorian captured a lone Keanu Reeves appearing forlorn on a park bench while eating a sandwich in May 2010, inadvertently creating a frenzy. The evocative image would make it way to 4chan and later Reddit, leading to a natural evolution wherein users would photoshop Sad Keanu into, uh, unlikely scenarios.
The image became so ubiquitous that June 15, 2010, was dubbed “Cheer Up Keanu Day.”
What’s happened since: A few months after Sad Keanu kicked off, Vulture explained what was happening on the internet to an apparently oblivious Reeves who found the entire thing “so funny.” The publication quoted him as calling it “harmless, good clean fun,” a comment Reeves echoed in 2019 during an interview with the BBC. However, he added, “I mean, do I wish that I didn’t get my picture taken while I was eating a sandwich on the streets of New York? Yeah.”
The meme: Forever Alone
Origin: Much like Sad Keanu, the rage comic Forever Alone got its start on 4chan and Reddit. It’s not clear where the original image came from, but one of the first times it appeared was in a thread titled “April Fools” posted by FunnyJunk user Azuul on May 28, 2010.
Forever Alone grew from four-pane template comics to vertical comic strips to Advice Animal-format of a singular image with giant block text (like that featured above) to gifs.
What’s happened since: Use of the meme has since died down dramatically, likely owing to a cultural shift of how people talk about loneliness and sadness online.
In 2019, it’s very common to see Instagram captions or tweets about the struggles of loneliness. Instead of seeing the rage comic’s face, seeing lonely missives alongside a selfie is the new norm.
The meme: Condescending Wonka (sometimes referred to as Creepy Wonka)
Origin: When Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka asked a group of children in the 1971 musical “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” if they would like to see a new candy he’s working on ― the everlasting gobstopper ― he likely never thought that his face at that moment would become synonymous with sass.
Wilder’s Wonka face became the mascot for both patronizing and mildly sinister remarks after being combined in January 2011 with the phrase, “you must be new here” and disseminated on Gizmodo forums and Tumblr. The phrase was used to call out newcomers (or “noobs”) to forums or social networking sites, and the image of a smug Wonka face paired perfectly. After its initial burst, the format quickly spread to Reddit and beyond.
What’s happened since: In a similar vein to Forever Alone, the way memes have been disseminated has shifted, and the Advice Animals-style format isn’t as commonplace in 2019. Condescending Wonka still crops up from time to time, but its heyday has long since passed.
The meme: Rebecca Black
Origin: Rebecca Black went from unknown 13-year-old to viral sensation when her song “Friday” was posted online. Made by the Los Angeles record label ARK Music Factory, Black’s mother paid $4,000 for the company to produce the music video.
It was uploaded on February 10, 2011, but it didn’t really take off until a few weeks later. By mid-March, Black was the number one global trending topic on Twitter.
With lyrics like, “Tomorrow is Saturday/ And Sunday comes afterwards/ I don’t want this weekend to end” and a heavily auto-tuned melody, the song went viral in large part due to people mercilessly mocking it in parody videos.
What’s happened since: Black was subject to death threats, harassment and cyberbullying, which prompted her to withdraw from school and be homeschooled.
She opened up more on the topic of bullying in an essay for NBC News in 2017, writing that “social platforms can really dehumanize the targets of online abuse,” imploring others to be aware of the pain someone else may be experiencing.
“Nobody needs to suffer in silence, like I did, for so many years. Talk to someone who can help, whether that’s a friend, a trusted adult or a mental health professional,” she wrote.
On a brighter note, Black won a Teen Choice Award, was featured on an episode of the Fox show “Glee,” and appeared in Katy Perry’s video for “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).”
Musically, Black released an EP in 2017 titled “RE / BL” featuring singles like “Satellite” and “The Great Divide.” She also appeared as a contestant on a reality television musical competition series, “The Four: Battle for Stardom,” in 2018.
The meme: The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger
Origin: Narrating over a National Geographic Wild video on honey badgers, a man known simply as Randall took the internet by storm with hilarious commentary about how the honey badger “really doesn’t give a shit” and is “really pretty badass.” In the last eight years, the video has racked up more than 90 million views.
In 2012, Andrews McMeel Publishing released a book titled “Honey Badger Don’t Care,” which included comedic commentaries about the honey badger and other creatures in the animal kingdom.
What’s happened since: Variations of the quote “honey badger don’t care” are still used today, and the video has frequently been referenced on TV shows (including, again, “Glee”).
Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyrann Mathieu, who earned the nickname Honey Badger because he routinely causes turnovers on the field, was referencing the meme as recently as two weeks ago.
Additionally, honey badgers as a species have continued to prove that they don’t give a shit. In a video released this month, a honey badger escapes the clutches of a python and fights off jackals for possession of a snake carcass.
The meme: Grumpy Cat
Origin: After her resting bitch face made it to (where else!) Reddit, Tardar Sauce the snowshoe cat rose to viral fame. The brother of the cat’s owner, Tabatha Bundesen, shared the image on the platform, where it got more than 25,000 up votes in 24 hours. Because of her uniquely irritated face, users edited the cat ― who was renamed Grumpy Cat by a fellow Redditor ― into all sorts of situations.
Grumpy Cat made her way onto this very website, among many others, within days of her introduction. An official homepage called Grumpycats.com and Twitter and Facebook accounts were created shortly thereafter to offer fans a look at the feline’s life.
Advice Animals memes ensued and Grumpy Cat’s face became the face of anyone who has ever been annoyed online.
What’s happened since: By 2019, Grumpy Cat’s following was up to 1.58 million on Twitter and more than 8 million on Facebook.
Sadly, in May of this year, the cat died at the age of seven after “complications from a recent urinary tract infection that unfortunately became too tough for her to overcome,” her owners said.
The meme: Binders Full of Women
Origin: During the second United States presidential debate of 2012, the Republican nominee Mitt Romney was asked about pay equity for women. In response, he talked about pulling together a Cabinet while he was governor of Massachusetts and noted that “all the applicants seemed to be men” so he went to a “number of women’s groups” to ask for help.
“They brought us whole binders full of women,” said Romney, prompting a firestorm of commentary online.
In addition to it being perceived as demeaning to women, the phrase’s absurdity made it the perfect ammunition to use in political attacks against Romney and, more importantly, in memes.
A Tumblr page (bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com) was created shortly after he uttered the phrase, and the hashtag #bindersfullofwomen trended on Twitter. Accounts called @Romneys_Binder cropped up and there was even a “Jeopardy!” category titled “A Binder Full of Women” in 2013. (The clues were apparently about famous or powerful women.)
What’s happened since: Romney lost the presidential election and, for most of the next six years, kept a low profile. In 2018, he was elected to a Senate seat in Utah, becoming the third person to have served as governor of one state and senator from another. His office did not respond to HuffPost’s comment about what it was like to be a meme.
One of the Facebook accounts that popped up after that debate, The Binders, became a popular virtual space for women and gender non-conforming writers to talk, network and disseminate their work. In 2014, one of the women involved in the group, Leigh Stein, organized BinderCon, a nationwide conference. The conference has since shuttered, but there are plenty of “Binders of...” groups still alive and well on Facebook.
The meme: Potato Jesus
Origin: Octogenarian Doña Cecilia Giménez had good intentions when she attempted to restore a fresco from the 1930s, titled “Ecce Homo (Behold the Man),” in the Sanctuary of Mercy church in Borja, Spain. However, her intentions didn’t seem to match her artistic capabilities. You can see in the progression above (left to right) from what the original fresco looked like to what it became after Giménez painted it beyond recognition.
Of the restoration’s reasoning, Giménez explained on Spanish national television that she was upset that parts of the fresco had flaked off due to moisture inside the church and decided that she could fix it herself. She defended herself, saying that the “priest knew” what she was doing and that she “never tried to do anything hidden.”
Of course, once the fresco made it into the news cycle, it exploded on Reddit. Nicknames for the disfigured painting included, among others, Monkey Jesus, Beast Jesus and the 4chan-specific Potato Jesus.
What’s happened since: Giménez reportedly suffered a series of anxiety attacks in the days after the fresco went viral. She ultimately sought royalties from the church that houses the fresco, which had begun charging visitors for a look at the painting after it received a massive influx of tourists flocking to the deformed Jesus.
Local Spanish newspaper Heraldo de Aragon reported in 2013 that the council of Borja and Giménez agreed to a deal to share profits from the sales of souvenirs featuring the “restored” fresco. In response, she was quoted as saying, “Now it seems like everyone’s happy.”
The meme: Harlem Shake
Origin: YouTuber George Miller (aka Joji) pelvic thrusted the Harlem Shake meme into existence when he, dressed in a pink spandex suit as his FilthyFrankTV channel character “Pink Guy,” a few friends uploaded an odd video set to the tune of the 2012 song “Harlem Shake” by Baauer.
Pelvic thrusting in unison for nearly 15 seconds, the group then began flailing their limbs when the bass dropped. The video was tweeted out by College Humor a few days after it was posted in February 2013 and it quickly exploded. YouTube told the BBC at the time that there were 4,000 videos of fans’ own iterations of the meme being uploaded per day.
With groups ranging from a few people to thousands, the format evolved to usually include a singular person (often masked) dancing or thrusting alone at the start of the song before cutting to a group dancing erratically around the original dancer after the bass drops.
More often than not, the larger the group after the bass drop, the wilder the video. In the compilation below, you see people doing everything from shimmying with a walker to whipping around a handle of alcohol to covering themselves in toilet paper.
What’s happened since: The song “Harlem Shake” went global and hit the #1 spot on iTunes America and #2 on iTunes in the UK and Australia on February 15, 2013.
While the meme broke cultural barriers and it was exciting to see celebrities participate, it took a marked downturn in popularity when brands and mainstream media saturated the marketplace with their own iterations. The surge in the first days of the meme’s life produced the creme de la creme, but stragglers weeks (and, bizarrely, years) later have rendered the Harlem Shake a relic.
The meme: Doges
Origin: An uncultured swine may see “doge” and think: “Oh, an elected lord and chief of state.” We, geniuses, know that doges are another word for sweet fur babies otherwise known as dogs. The doge that started the meme is a Shiba Inu, one named Kabosu who was saved from an animal shelter in 2008. Kabosu appeared in a 2010 blog post by her owner and in 2012, wound up on a Tumblr blog, Shiba Confessions, which described its mission as “funny text in Comic Sans over unrelated pictures of Shibas,” according to The Verge.
After gaining traction on Tumblr, then Reddit and 4chan, Kabosu’s face became one of the fluffiest memes that ever was. Nonsensical and often bizarre, the text surrounding Kabosu (and, later, many other doges) in memes usually features the modifiers “such” or “very” or “much” in combination with a descriptor that doesn’t quite fit grammatically. Think “very respect” or “much happy.”
What’s happened since: Doges are part of the culture, solidifying their space in digital conversation and still appearing from time to time. While this very publication has argued that the GOP killed the meme, it has since been revived in other ways.
In 2019, our obsession with doges has shifted to not only making them “say” quirky things in memes, but it’s impacted how we speak about them. We’re talking about the doggos, puppers, and thicc floofs with their borking and boofing. DoggoLingo is how we talk about dogs (and other animals) now. Our collective desire to call a dog a “doge” was part of the evolution of calling a corgi on the street a “chonky boi.” We consider doge the DoggoLingo pioneer.
The meme: Thirsty Marco Rubio
Origin: When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) delivered the Republican response to then-president Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in February 2013, everyone knew at least one thing at the end of that 14-minute speech: The senator was thirsty as hell.
Standing alone without a podium, Rubio had been sweating and touching his mouth throughout the speech. Toward the 11-minute mark, he stumbled over his words. Seconds later, still mid-speech, Rubio awkwardly crouched down to grab something off screen — which turned out to be a tiny water bottle. The camera shifted unstably, unclear where Rubio ― who was not supposed to move at all ― was going to go next.
Unfortunately for Rubio, it no longer mattered what his speech was about. Twitter exploded with jokes about the weirdest water break in history with hashtags like #watergate and accounts impersonating the water bottle itself.
What’s happened since: Rubio would later tweet out an image of the bottle and claim that he got 13,000 new followers out of the moment.
The senator told The New Yorker two years later that his unquenched thirst was because of unspecified allergies he’s had since 2011.
While gifs of Rubio’s water break(down) still pop up occasionally, it seems the moment still plagues the senator himself. He referenced it in a tweet about Chris Pratt earlier this very month.
Sorry, not sorry Marco. We’ll never stop talking about it.
The meme: Kim Kardashian breaks the internet
Origin: The phrase “break the internet” may predate Kim Kardashian, but the Paper magazine cover featuring the smiling reality star with a glass of Champagne perched atop her famous derrière is what solidified its space in internet history.
In November 2014, the magazine released their spread of Kardashian shot by Jean-Paul Goude, in which she imitated certain images the famed photog had previously shot — and also appeared fully nude. The cover headline read “Break the Internet Kim Kardashian,” catapulting the phrase into a new social strata.
The cover also pushed the already famous Kardashian into superstardom, proving that while she had initially just been famous for being famous, she also had a knack for social media. The spread and subsequent social media chatter around the cover arguably helped usher in an era where even those who claim to not know anything about pop culture know her (and her family’s) name.
What’s happened since: “Breaking the internet” became a much more common phrase, particularly on Twitter, and the image of Kardashian has been recreated by the likes of Nicki Minaj and, most recently, the chaotic NHL Flyers’ mascot, Gritty.
The meme: But that’s none of my business
Origin: When a squeaky-voiced, green puppet named Kermit the Frog was created in the ’50s, no one imagined he’d be such a popular meme subject that he appears twice on this list.
Images of Kermit with various jokes circulated prior to 2014, but it was an Instagram account (@thatsnoneofmybusinesstho) created that year featuring Kermit with captions relating to “none of my business” that set this meme in motion. Racking up more than 100,000 followers in its first few days, the meme quickly popped up on Twitter and Tumblr shortly thereafter. The latter is where the first iteration of Kermit sipping Lipton Iced Tea appeared.
Kermit sipping tea is, as Know Your Meme puts it, “a sarcastic expression used as a postscript to an insult or disrespectful remark said towards a specific individual or group.”
What’s happened since: Whenever someone mentions spilling the tea (aka gossiping) online, it’s not uncommon to see a rogue Kermit or the phrase “that’s none of my business” nearby.
The meme: Hot mugshot guy
Origin: Former Crips member Jeremy Meeks became widely known as the “Hot Convict” when his mugshot went viral.
After his 2014 arrest during a gang sweep in Stockton, California, Meeks’ booking photo was posted online — but people didn’t care about his rap sheet because they were too into his “baby blues.”
Beyond the social media frenzy, Meeks was sentenced in 2015 to more than two years in prison after being convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. While in prison, he signed a modeling contract with White Cross Management. In 2017, he walked in several runway shows.
What’s happened since: Meeks has settled in as a D-List celebrity. He still makes salacious headlines and smolders on Instagram.
His nickname “Hot Convict” has since set the precedent that other mugshots have tried (and failed) to beat.
The meme: The Dress
Origin: Nearly five years later and we’re still messed up about this. We even still remember what we were doing when we discovered The Dress.
A mother-of-the-bride in Colonsay, Scotland, bought the confirmed blue and black dress and sent a photo of it to her daughter. Due to the washed-out nature of the image, a truly wild optical illusion happened: The dress appeared to some to be white and gold, to others blue and black (its actual colors).
The image caused drama amongst those close to the woman who purchased it, so a friend posted the dress to her Tumblr page, asking her followers what color they thought it was. A BuzzFeed staffer, Cates Holderness, discovered the image, saw that it was racking up views on Tumblr, and decided to create a poll for BuzzFeed about what color people thought the dress was.
The BuzzFeed post exploded, triggering a worldwide conversation across social media where celebrities, brands, politicians and more picked sides; the hashtags #whiteandgold and #blueandblack gained traction. This simple dress was transformed to The Dress.
What’s happened since: It’s still not entirely clear why the dress appears differently to different people, though many theories have been offered up over the years.
Holderness herself has since left BuzzFeed and now, in what is clearly a perfect fit, works at Tumblr.
The meme: Netflix and chill
Origin: The first appearances of the phrase “Netflix and chill” popped up on Black Twitter in 2014, but it wasn’t until 2015 that it really took off.
The top definition on Urban Dictionary gets straight to the point: “Something you tell your parents when you want your boyfriend/girlfriend to come over and you fuck.” Whomst among us has not invited someone we’re horny for over and done the whole “maybe we can watch a movie” thing? Netflix just happened to be the closest streaming service available to shorten the idea down to just three little words.
(A side note: If that movie actually gets watched and no sexual activity is had, it was never going to happen anyway and you should move the hell on.)
The phrase was most heavily used on Twitter in the summer of 2015 and has gone on to become a common euphemism for sex.
What’s happened since: Netflix became aware of their connection to the phrase and attempted to capitalize upon it, tweeting about it with a gif from “Clueless.”
Today, with streaming services like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Go, Apple TV+ and many more, Netflix really hit the jackpot by being the early adopter in offering movies people can bone to on demand.
When asked about their thoughts on the meme, a Netflix spokesperson told HuffPost via email, “We’ll just let the meme speak for itself.”
The meme: “Why the fuck you lyin’?”
Origin: First of all, RIP Vine. In August 2015, Vine star Nicholas Fraser posted a video of himself listening to someone lie about the designer goods they have in their closet, followed by him singing, “why the fuck you lyin’?” to the tune of “Too Close” by Next.
“That one person that’s sways lying on what they own,” he captioned the video, in which he leans on a toilet seat and smirks while imploring his obviously lying “friend” to “stop fucking lyin’.”
Fraser’s post ― which he posted on every single social media channel he had at the time ― was written up by various news sites and gained traction on YouTube and Twitter. He also helped push it toward memedom by posting just the singing part on Vine the following day with the caption, “When she say she got a cute friend for you.”
Both the singing part of the Vine and Fraser’s smirk took off, with the latter being especially popular among the the self-deprecating jokers out there:
What’s happened since: The memes live on and Fraser’s face is no stranger to the timeline, even in 2019.
Vine shut down in 2017, but Fraser is still making content for his nearly 400,000 followers on Instagram. He is a self-proclaimed “expert at living my best life” and we hope he never stops asking why people are fucking lyin’.
The meme: Evil Kermit
Origin: We told you Kermit would make multiple appearances on this list! This time around, Kermit isn’t sipping anything, but he is facing off with his evil doppelgänger, Constantine. In 2014′s “Muppets Most Wanted,” Constantine is meant to be a nod to the Sith Lords in “Star Wars.”
Two years later, a teenager tweeted the Kermit vs. evil Kermit moment about her internal thoughts when she sees fluffy dogs:
After the tweet went viral, she told The Verge that she thinks “this meme touched so many hearts because everybody could bond over scapegoating a frog in a cloak for their bad decisions.”
What’s happened since: As seen in “But that’s none of my business,” Kermit’s brand has become irrevocably intertwined with being petty, and many of the memes created in response to this viral moment were nods to that. For example, this tweet:
There haven’t been any new Kermit memes recently, but we’re fairly certain he’ll pop up again soon.
The meme: Harambe
Origin: The killing of Harambe the gorilla feels like it was decades ago, but, no, it was merely 2016.
In May 2016, a 3-year-old child fell into a Cincinnati Zoo enclosure where Harambe, a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla, was living. The child splashed around in the enclosure’s shallow moat, while zoo officials ushered the two female gorillas also in the enclosure to an indoor area. Instead of following the two females, Harambe went into the moat with the child.
The 440-pound animal proceeded to pull the child through the water, pushing him down and standing him up in moves that appeared to be Harambe expressing curiosity. However, some researchers claimed that Harambe was exhibiting something called “strutting,” which gorillas sometimes do to make themselves look “look bigger and more impressive,” according to The New York Times. That is what prompted zoo officials to shoot Harambe with a rifle, killing him.
Visceral reactions to Harambe’s death thundered through the news cycle, with many celebrities speaking out against the zoo’s decision. The reactions gave way to memes as people began mocking some of the overly sincere messages about Harambe.
The gorilla became what New York magazine described as “a referendum on and a satire of social-media-outrage culture, his name a stand-in for everything wrong with the way social media reacts to news.”
What’s happened since: To sum up all that has happened regarding Harambe is nearly impossible, but some of the more notable moments in his posthumous meme-ing include the “Dicks out for Harambe” meme, which was an absurdist tribute that prompted #DicksOutForHarambe to go viral.
As other absurdist memes about Haramabe — like the 9/11 conspiracy theory-related “Bush did Harambe” — flourished, the Cincinnati Zoo deleted its Twitter account in an effort to avoid trolls.
In 2017, the zoo welcomed Mshindi, a 29-year-old male western lowland gorilla transferred from Kentucky’s Louisville Zoo. It also built a brand new habitat surrounded by safety glass.
Harambe will never be forgotten, but the Cincinnati Zoo was part of a much happier viral moment mere months after his death. In January 2017, the Cincinnati Zoo welcomed a baby hippopotamus named Fiona. Her premature birth and subsequent survival became a sensation and she now has a Facebook show and is the main character of several books.
The meme: Pepe
Origin: Yes, another green frog has made the list. Pepe was created by artist Matt Furie, who drew him for the first time in 2005 for the comic series “Boy’s Club.” From there, comics featuring Pepe ― particularly one where he’s urinating and saying “feels good man” ― flourished on 4chan and Tumblr.
Pepe pivoted to the mainstream in 2014 when Pepe The Frog Tumblr, Instagram, subreddit and Facebook pages were created. There were many iterations of Pepe ― Sad Pepe, Smug Pepe, Angry Pepe, etc. ― which allowed for him to be used in most any situation. Celebrities ranging from Katy Perry to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump shared images of Pepe on their social media accounts, making him a worldwide name.
What’s happened since: Trump’s association with Pepe fueled a shift in how Pepe was used in internet culture. As of the 2016 presidential campaign, Pepe was adopted by the “alt-right,” a white supremacist movement, prompting the Anti-Defamation League to add him to their database of hate symbols.
A Pepe-like frog named Gabby was adopted by alt-right social media site Gab as its mascot in 2018.
In an effort to take back the character he created, Furie began a “Save Pepe” campaign, which was an attempt to flood the internet with positive depictions of the character to negate the hateful associations he had developed.
Earlier this year, Furie won a $15,000 settlement against InfoWars creator and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who had been using the frog for his own commercial gain. (The frog was featured on InfoWars posters for sale).
Also in 2019, Pepe was co-opted for an entirely new cause. When protesters in Hong Kong began rallying against the country’s extradition bill, Pepe featured prominently in their posters. According to Business Insider, the protesters had no idea Pepe had been used by the alt-right in the U.S. and thought he “was eye-catching enough to grab attention” and “versatile enough to become anything they wanted it to be.”
“For these protesters, Pepe symbolized the youthful nature of rebellion,” the publication said.
On this use, Furie said, “In the end, Pepe is whatever you say he is, and I, the creator, say that Pepe is love.”
The meme: Blinking White Guy
Origin: The man with the incredulous eyes is named Drew Scanlon. In December 2013, the video editor and podcaster appeared in an episode of “Unprofessional Fridays” on video game website GiantBomb. When the site’s co-founder Jeff Gerstmann said the phrase “farming with my hoe,” Scanlon’s reaction was a surprised blink.
A gif of Scanlon appeared a few years later in a gaming forum, but reached its apex after it was posted on Twitter in a meme format:
The tweet has more than 50,000 retweets and 120,000 likes and it catapulted Scanlon’s face into meme history. The format associated with the gif varies, but it’s most often used as a reaction in conversations.
What’s happened since: Scanlon has talked openly about becoming a meme, telling Thrillist in 2017 that everyone on the weekly show is aware that they’re being closely watched and could be memed.
“When we’re doing videos like that, we’re very aware of the audience,” he explained.
While the meme continues to be used in 2019, Scanlon is working on implementing it for a specific cause. In September, he tweeted the gif of himself and asked his followers to donate to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “If this GIF has ever brought you joy in the past, I humbly ask you to consider making a donation to the National MS Society. It would mean a lot to me and to those I know affected by the disease!”
The meme: Distracted boyfriend
Origin: Taken by Barcelona-based photographer Antonio Guillem in Catalonia, Spain, the stock image was uploaded to Shutterstock in 2015, labeled with the description, “disloyal man walking with his girlfriend and looking amazed at another seductive girl.”
Two years later, in February 2017, Instagram user @_dekhbai_ posted it to his page with the request that his followers “tag that friend who falls in love every month.” The image hit Twitter later that year with text boxes over the three individuals in the image, creating the format that would eventually become most associated with the meme.
What’s happened since: Guillem apparently shot other variations of the trio featured in the meme, one of which had the upset girlfriend in the role of the whistling boyfriend. Outside of the photographs, the woman who is the subject of the distracted boyfriend’s attention and Guillem appear to have had a sort of falling out.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2017, he said, “Two of the models and I have a great personal relationship, and the other model, we stopped working together around a year ago.”
Behind-the-scenes intrigue aside, the meme got so big that it was named the “Meme of the Year” at the 10th annual Shorty Awards in 2018.
The meme: “Cash me outside, how ’bout dah?”
Origin: Danielle Bregoli, then 13, appeared on “The Dr. Phil Show” in 2016 with her mother to talk about her behavior issues, including her penchant for stealing cars.
In a truly unhinged segment, Bregoli gets increasingly angry at the audience, which laughs during her conversation with Dr. Phil.
“Catch me outside, how about that?” she yelled at the audience in one moment, though due to her bizarre vocal affectation, it sounds like she’s saying “cash me outside, how ’bout dah?”
The following month, the phrase appeared in a meme on Memecrunch and was widely disseminated from there. After a second appearance on Dr. Phil’s show in 2017, Bregoli’s face and other phrases of hers (like “I’m about to start swinging”) became viral fodder.
What’s happened since: Bregoli’s wild ride has included her spending time at a Utah ranch for “troubled teens,” being arrested, and getting into fistfights on a plane and outside a bar.
She’s begun going by the stage name Bhad Bhabie and has launched a fairly successful rap career. The now 16-year-old became the youngest female rapper ever to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2017 with her song, “These Heaux.”
Since then, she’s continued to make music and has launched a reality show and a makeup brand.
The meme: Woman squinting
Origin: Kalin Elisabeth, a Georgia resident, tweeted a photo of herself leaning on her knees and looking exhausted in March 2018.
Elisabeth had apparently been taking squat pose photographs at a baby shower and when she was done, her “knees were not too happy about that decision.” Twitter, however, was plenty happy with it and the photograph of Elisabeth struggling rapidly took on a life of its own.
What’s happened since: The hashtag #SquatBae gathered a following as people recreated the pose themselves. Elisabeth even added the hashtag into her Twitter bio.
The pose also became a costume for Halloween and theme parties alike:
The meme: “American Chopper”
Origin: In a 2009 episode of Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper,” father and son Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr. got into a heated argument about Junior’s consistent tardiness to his job at Orange County Choppers. The screaming escalates to Junior throwing a chair and ultimately getting fired.
The exchange was turned into a comic format on Reddit two years later and given a more wholesome slant. In early 2018, the format hit Twitter, and users began to put their own relatively benign content on the photos.
What’s happened since: Senior insisted in an interview to Vice that the argument was completely real and that, despite the fight being “big-time crazy,” he’s enjoyed the response to it since.
“People who knew what those incidents were before, it was kind of, like, horrifying. And now it’s flipped, and people keep coming up to me, and they keep sending me different ones,” he said of the life his fight scene has taken on.
“I didn’t get it, and now, so many people are coming up to me, and so I’m more involved in looking at it now, and the more I look at it, the funnier it is.”
The meme: “Is this a pigeon?”
Origin: Taken from a scene in the 1991 Japanese anime television series “The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird,” this meme features the moment android character, Katori Yutaro, mistakes a butterfly for a pigeon.
The scene features the newly formed android repeatedly incorrectly identifying things, all while seeming cheerful.
A screenshot of the moment he asks, “Is this a pigeon?” while reaching for a butterfly is the basis for how it was repurposed as a meme in 2011. It circulated on various social media platforms and news articles between 2011 and 2018, before seeing a massive resurgence on Twitter in 2018 in the following format:
What’s happened since: Kara Dennison, one of the original fansubbers (someone who subtitles unlicensed, unavailable anime for free) of the show, wrote a blog post about how the meme came to be.
“It’s a little bizarre to see this snippet of our lives flooding our timeline, but it’s a nice trip down memory lane in a way,” she wrote.
The meme: “Sorry to this man”
Origin: Keke Palmer took a lie detector test in a video for Vanity Fair and had some thoughts about Dick Cheney that are forever etched into our brains.
As part of a question about Palmer’s role as a teenage vice president in Nickelodeon’s “True Jackson, VP,” an interviewer shows her an image of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Unwavering in her candor, Palmer says, “I hate to say it. I hope I don’t sound ridiculous. I don’t know who this man is. I mean, he could be walking down the street. I wouldn’t know a thing. Sorry to this man.”
That part of the video, which now has more than 800,000 views, hit Twitter and initially exploded because people were incredulous that Palmer didn’t have any idea who Cheney was.
Isolated clips of her response to not knowing him later took off, as did using phrases like “sorry to this man” or “I wouldn’t know a thing.”
What’s happened since: Palmer has embraced the meme-ification of her words and laughed along publicly with the jokes. She went on to make shirts of the moment, featuring her face.
In a September appearance on Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens Live,” the actor told the host that she had no idea the clip would go viral.
“I was just thrown. I did not expect ... I truly was sorry to that man. I just feel bad that I didn’t know who he was,” she said, before adding that when she did find out who Cheney was, she was “glad” she hadn’t know.
Palmer also addressed the meme at the 2019 TIME 100 Next event in November, telling the magazine that the “meme has definitely changed my life.”
“I could have never imagined saying sorry to a man could be turning out this way,” she said.
The meme: “And I oop —”
Origin: “RuPaul Drag Race” star Jasmine Masters is an icon in many ways, but perhaps her crowning achievement is a moment that happened during one of her broadcasts on her personal YouTube channel.
In the midst of telling a story to her fans in a 2015 video, Masters shuffles in her seat and exclaims, “and I oop ―” because she, as she says, hit her balls. She’s silent for several seconds afterwards, with her mouth pursed and a face visibly in pain.
Though the video is longer than the half-minute clip in which she says “and I oop,” that is what resurfaced on Twitter earlier this year.
Memes and gifs have since abounded, as Masters’ face is extremely perfect for so many situations.
What’s happened since: Still prevalent on Twitter and elsewhere, the meme has also been co-opted by VSCO girls on TikTok who use it alongside the sound “sksksk,” to “express shock, surprise or embarrassment.”
Masters went on to sell T-shirts featuring the phrase at DragCon this year, and also won Giphy’s Top Gif of 2019 award, after the gif tallied up a whopping 419 million views.
“This is everything. I knew that was going to be a gold one. I knew it. I said, ‘Bitch, that’s going to bring in the gold.’ And I oop ―,” Masters said, laughing, in a video uploaded this month.
The meme: Baby Yoda
Origin: In a world where franchises are abundant, the “Star Wars”-adjacent Disney+ series “The Mandalorian” seemed at its outset to be something that only fans of the galactic western would be into. However, embedded in the show was a character not seen before: The Child.
The Child is apparently a member of the same species as Jedi Master Yoda, whom we met in “The Empire Strikes Back.” It is not, in fact, Yoda. The species ages so slowly and The Child is apparently a toddler and around age 50. None of this actually matters because The Child ― which has become widely known as Baby Yoda because it looks like Yoda as a baby but isn’t ― is literally the cutest thing to have ever been created:
It doesn’t even matter what Baby Yoda is doing, but we want to see it happen. Have you seen how cute it is? Have you ever wanted to hold something so much and never let it go? Are you also crying right now? No? Anyway.
Its unrivaled level of adorable combined with the ease of making gifs has made Baby Yoda the best part of 2019 in this reporter’s eyes. Baby Yoda’s giant saucer-like eyes and tiny body endear it to all in an unproblematic way. (Because it’s fictional, it doesn’t make you secretly wonder, “when will Baby Yoda milkshake duck?”) Additionally, you don’t have to watch the show that Baby Yoda stars in to appreciate him. If we haven’t yet said it: Bless the memes.
What’s happened since: “The Mandalorian” was already ordered for a second season so odds are high there’s a treasure trove of Baby Yoda content still to come.
The only issue we’ve had with Baby Yoda since it arrived was a brief moment when gifs of the character were temporarily removed from the internet because of potential copyright issues. Copyright be damned, we say. Give us more Baby Yoda or give us death.
Who knows what the 21st century version of the roaring ’20s will look like, but so long as Baby Yoda isn’t murdered (Disney+, don’t you dare), there will be at least one small bright spot on the internet to carry us through the next decade.