Culture

Remembering The Memes That Made 2019

Memes. Where would we be without them?

In exactly the same place, sure, but it would probably be a lot harder to cope with the insanity of life. Imagine grinding out your days without this shared visual language that we can all rely on when words aren’t enough. Or, you know, when we’re just too lazy to reply to a group text so we toss out a picture of a cat chasing a laser.

At their best, memes are funny. They’re also equal parts stupid, weird, and mysterious. It’s not always clear why one works more than another — it just does. This enigma quality is part of why memes excel at reflecting the cultural zeitgeist. It’s like the Pornhub Year in Review: holding a mirror up to us at our most raw, honest, and nonsensical.

We gathered all the best memes of the past year to see what weird and random slices of chaos captured the attention of our little corner of the internet. Here are the memes that made 2019, ranked.

13. Papa John Ate 40 Pizzas In The Last 30 Days

On November 25th, a very sweaty, slightly disheveled John Schnatter — the former Papa of Papa John’s — sat down with WDRB for an interview regarding the controversy surrounding his removal from the company he founded. The saga of Papa John is a weird one, but it’s not as weird as saying “I’ve had 40 pizzas in the last 30 days.” That’s… a lot of pizzas, and a phrase weird enough to catch the attention of the internet.

Then the interview gets even weirder, at one point the Papa throws some shade at former ESPN executive, and the new acting CEO of Papa John’s, Mark Shapiro, saying, “Mark Shapiro should be in jail… He has no pizza experience, he’s never been in the pizza category… I would just say, ‘stay tuned, the day of reckoning will come, the record will be straight.’”

It’s weird stuff. So weird that the internet felt like setting Papa’s rant to the creepy and unsettling soundtrack is deserves.

What does it tell us about ourselves? Americans apparently have a pizza saturation point. Who knew?

12. Baby Yoda

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#babyyodamemes #babyyoda

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Look, Baby Yoda, we love you. Everybody loves you. You’re the only thing to come out of Star Wars that we can all agree on since… Okay, you’re the only thing to come out of Star Wars that we can all agree on, period. But you’ve only been around for a little over a full month. For that, we’ll have to give the toughest love you’ve ever received: we have to put on the tail end of this list.

Yes people, Baby Yoda is lovable, he’s cute, he’s endlessly memeable, and we will probably never get tired of watching him sip Bone Broth and swallow frogs whole, but did he define 2019? Perhaps not its attitudes and philosophies, but he has brought the internet together and that’s a hard thing to do. People on the internet are, and this may surprise some people reading this, often mean. But put some disrespect on Baby Yoda’s name, and everyone around you will attack like rabid K-Pop fans.

What does Baby Yoda tell us about ourselves? That, despite how divisive the Star Wars fandom is, hell, despite how divisive the world is, we can all come together and agree on something.

11. White Claw Summer

Summer 2019 was entirely defined by America’s obsession with White Claw hard seltzer. Clearly, a response to Megan Thee Stallion’s single Hot Girl Summer, White Claw Summer started, as far as we can tell, as a joke aimed at the type of frat bros who would roll up with a case of Claws, and say things like “Ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws.” Where did that phrase come from? Not sure, but YouTuber Trevor Wallace deserves some credit for helping spread it.

Why did it capture the imagination of so many on the internet? Who f*cking knows! — its the internet! But the fact is that White Claw Summer went from meme to reality real fast, resulting in unofficial merch, an endless supply of memes, and a nationwide shortage.

What does it reveal about us? A lot actually, though nothing interesting. The new generation of legal-aged Americans don’t love to drink any less, despite dwindling beer and wine sales, they just want a low calorie, gluten-free option that comes in a variety of chemically-tasting fruit flavors. The future is here!

10. Sorry To This Man

On September 11th, actress Keke Palmer sat down with Vanity Fair for a lie detector test interview — wait, what? Vanity Fair, what the hell are you doing, get out of people’s minds! Anyway, Keke Palmer sat down for a… lie-detector-test-interview and when shown a photograph of former Vice President Dick Cheney responded, “I hate to say it — I hope it don’t sound ridiculous — I don’t know who this man is. I mean, he could be walking down the street, I wouldn’t. Sorry to this man.”

Keke said it with such genuine remorse for not knowing, that it stuck out to the meme-makers of the world, partly because we all wish we didn’t know Dick Cheney. Within a week, short videos of the one response spread across the internet like wildfire. Now anytime we want to distance ourselves from other people, we drop a Keke Palmer. When you search Keke Palmer in Google, the first result is “Keke Palmer Sorry To This Man,” and so it shall remain, until the end of time.

What does it reveal about us? Even the architect of a seemingly endless war likely based on false pretenses will fade into obscurity eventually.

9. Focus Group Guy

Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson provided the internet with many out of context gifs for us to use for a variety of occasions, but none are more versatile than the various gifs of 81-year-old comic actor Ruben Rabasa.

Rabasa plays an old, opinionated man in a sketch about a car focus group, and has officially been dubbed by the internet, “Focus Group Guy.” The skit itself is hilarious, and Rabasa steals the show, but you don’t need to have watched I Think You Should Leave to enjoy Focus Group Guy. Almost every time he speaks in the sketch has become its own memeable moment, useable in a variety of situations — from something you agree with to telling anyone named Paul to shut up.

What does it reveal about us? We all secretly agree that anyone who flinches has to marry his mother-in-law. Also, that we like random shit.

8. I’m gonna tell my kids this was…

One of the most obnoxious memes of the year, but credit where credit is due, the phrase “I’m gonna tell my kids…” may have first appeared in November, but it was used so heavily that it feels like it’s been around forever. Personally, I hate this meme with a passion — though I can’t deny its force. For whatever reason, a lot of people on the internet think it’s hilarious to show a picture of one celebrity, and say they are going to tell their kids its another celebrity — It is truly the most asinine of jokes.

Is it ever funny? No. I saw a tweet that sums it all up pretty well, and I wish I could find it so I could give the person who said it credit, but, I can’t. The tweet read, “Ya’ll gonna have some stupid ass kids.” Word. Shout out to whoever tweeted that, sorry I couldn’t find you!

What does it reveal about us? We have created a culture that can make even a pretty flat joke totally ubiquitous. I’m gonna tell my kids this idea won me a MacArthur Fellowship.

7. Tekashi 6ix9ine Snitches In Court

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FACTS #memes #tekashisnitch9 #tekashi69

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What was Tekashi 6six9ine saying exactly when this photo of him in court was taken? It doesn’t matter, it’s become emblematic of someone snitching on another person in order to save themselves, thanks in large part to Snoop Dog and the many people on the internet who use it anytime someone spills beans. But we’ll never forget Cardi B, who in response to the photo, and accusations that 6ix9ine named Cardi as a gang member, used the Keke Palmer meme to distance herself from him.

That is two memes in one, and that is a work of art my friends! The meme took on a new life during the Impeachment trial, as Politics Twitter used it just about anytime someone was on the stand.

What does it reveal about us? Making your whole image about toughness and then becoming totally meek when the pressure is on isn’t gonna go un-teased. Take note.

6. Hey Look At Us

Hot Ones gives us a consistent clip of memeable moments, almost one per episode, but no single Hot Ones moment caught on this year quite like Paul Rudd’s bright-eyed smile as he exclaimed to Sean Evans, “Hey, look at us.” Now the short seven-second clip is used anytime you’re looking at a friend or foe, to celebrate just how far you’ve come.

Make it through a particularly hard semester, hey, look at us. Catch eyes with your ex at a wedding, both of you doing better apart, hey, look at us. Some languages have words that to describe things in a single expression that others can’t — memes are one of those languages.

What does it reveal about us? We’re always ready to be pleasantly surprised by life’s twists and turns.

5. Putting On Clown Makeup/How Ya’ll MFs Look

Know Your Meme

This meme, or some form of it has been around for a lot longer than this year, but 2019 was The Year of the Clowns. Clowns, another popular Pornhub search term, captured our imagination this year, from Pennywise to the Joker in part because the world has a lot of fools. Sometimes, those fools are ourselves, sometimes they’re the people around us — in either situation, throwing up a clown make up tutorial is a sure-fire way to say show disapproval.

There isn’t a lot to it, but its been with us pretty consistently since June of 2019 across Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, and Instagram.

What does it reveal about us? 2019 left us acutely tuned to the overlapping Venn diagram where melancholia meets humor.

4. Woman Yelling At Cat

Every year, we have a cat meme and this year the best one was this mishmash of a 2011 episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Smudge the Cat of Tumblr fame. The cat’s face enjoys a Mona Lisa like effect, is he mad, confused, annoyed, indifferent? Whatever he’s feeling, it’s not what Taylor Armstrong is dishing out.

This meme is simply whatever you need it to be, which is why it was such a lasting meme.

What does it reveal about us? Nothing. But don’t get all Taylor Armstrong on us about that non-answer because we’ll be forced to reply with this meme, and that’s just too meta a scenario. Even for 2019.

3. Storming Area 51

This is another meme that reveals the worst in us. Back in July, some idiots started a Facebook event that called for a storming of Area 51, with 500,000 agreeing to show up. Obviously, Naruto-running at a U.S. base is a dumb decision, but that didn’t stop people from actually showing up. Nowhere near 500,000, but it did lead to aliens storming the consciousness of Very Online Americans.

How do we know? Because “Alien” was the second most searched term on PornHub with “Area 51” a related search, and if that isn’t a reflection of what the pubic cares about, we don’t know what is. It worries us mostly because it signifies that a lot of people believe Area 51 has aliens. Couple that with the rising popularity of flat Earth, and you see how dire the American education system is. If you think that sounds heavy, it is. Did you think memes were all fun and games?

What does it reveal about us? In a world gone mad, who is crazier — the conspiracy theorists or those who mock them? Probably the former, but it’s neck and neck.

2. Kombucha Girl

This meme is a personal favorite, of mine. There is just something about Brittany Tomlinson’s TikTok about her first taste of Kombucha that speaks to me, and a lot of the internet. In my opinion, this meme is best enjoyed out of the context of its origin. We don’t need audio, all we need is watch Tomlinson experience a range of emotions that begins with a wince, turns into a brief moment of enjoyment, then goes back and back again.

It captures life at its most indecisive.

What does it reveal about us? Do we, don’t we — maybe, but probably not. We were all Brittany Tomlinson drinking Kombucha for the first time at one point in our lives this year.

1. Ah Shit, Here We Go Again

The best memes are like tofu — they can be shaped to fit a variety of situations. The most lasting ones are also the most general. What works last year, for example, Kermit Sipping Tea, doesn’t always carry over into the next year. That’s not the case with this scene from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, in which CJ Johnson, the game’s protagonist, exclaims “Ah Shit, here we go again!” at its opening.

This meme began its life on the internet in 2015, then appeared again in 2017, and again in 2018, but 2019 was its biggest year without a doubt. There are two reasons for that. First, this meme is what Know Your Meme calls an ‘exploitable.’ It’s a phrase that can be used to reference any repeated confrontations and 2019 featured a lot of bullshit that carried over from previous years — mass shootings, a narcissistic President, and repeated ignored warnings by scientists that we are running out of time to course-correct on the environment, nothing surprises us anymore. We walk into every day like CJ. It’s never “oh my god!” Only “Ah shit, here we go again.”

What does it reveal about us? We’re tired. Gonna lay down for a minute. Meme you in 2020.

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