With each passing year in the digital age, we see a brand new crop of people, places, and things that go viral for the most amazing, bizarre, or — more often than not — dumbest reasons. In the past we’ve seen this phenomenon with everything from a random felon’s sexy mugshot and a dress no one can figure out the color of, to a rat eating pizza in a New York City subway and a silly online challenge that led to the breakthrough of a debilitating disease.
2016 was no different, and to close out this often times excruciatingly depressing year, we’d like to pay homages to our favorite viral stars who made us smile and laugh and feel something other than hopeless, bleak despair for a fleeting moment.
Rambo the Alligator
The story of Rambo, a pet alligator from Florida, made headlines back in March not just because he was a fully domesticated, housebroken gator with a penchant for dressing up in little outfits and riding four-wheelers with his human companion, Mary Thorn. Although not gonna lie, it was mostly for those reasons.
At the time, Thorn was at risk of having Rambo taken away from her by the meanies at Florida Fish and Wildlife due to changes in state regulations which caused the internet at large to rally around the unlikely pair. Thankfully, just earlier this month there was a happy update to Rambo’s story as state officials decided to allow Rambo to remain at home with his owner.
In February, Talia Jane set off a firestorm when she published an open letter to Yelp’s CEO, informing him that she and other employees at the company couldn’t afford to live on the wages they were being paid. Within hours of posting the letter, Jane was everywhere, first hailed as a hero of the working class and then quickly painted as the epitome of everything the world hates about whiny, entitled, millennials who don’t know how good they have it.
Worse, Jane’s open letter spawned an entire sea of open letters either praising or condemning her. Even months later, Jane told Uproxx in an interview, she’s still shaken by the response that people had to her last-ditch attempt to make the conditions at Yelp livable for her. Soon after the letter went viral, Jane was fired. She’s since moved from the Bay Area to Brooklyn, where she writes breaking news for Mic and is working on a novel.
Here’s the kicker, though: Jane’s letter actually did make an impact. After waiting for all the hubbub to die down, Yelp quietly instituted the changes that Jane had asked for. Chalk one up for millennial perseverance!
Moshow the Cat Rapper
Dwayne Molock — or, Moshow the cat rapper as he’s now famously known — was a late contender for this year’s list, just managing to squeak in at the end of December. Moshow won over the hearts of the internet with a video in which he bathes his cat while rapping about bathing his cat, which quickly racked up over a million views on Facebook — the basic formula to viral stardom in a nutshell.
Guy Reading at Beyonce Concert
66-year-old George Papageorgiou was caught by a concertgoer during a Raleigh stop of Beyonce’s Formation World Tour earlier this year and quickly went viral due to the fact that he was not absorbed in the killer performance Queen Bey was giving, but into his book — leading many to speculate that he had been dragged to the concert against his will by his wife.
That later turned out not to be the case, as Papageorgiou was tracked down by Raleigh’s ABC 11 news and told reporters that he and his wife had actually been working the concessions stand for their church and had only taken a seat when they were relieved of their duties. He’ll always remain a piece of internet history, though.
Ballet Dancing T-Rex
There’s just some kind of quiet elegance about a man in a T-Rex costume impeccably performing a ballet routine, which is what led Broadway performer Michael Macilwee to be featured on Uproxx not one, not two, but three times this year. Macilwee first wowed us back in March with a performance to a song from A Chorus Line, then struck again a couple of months later with this routine to “The Music and the Mirror,” and yet again just in time for Halloween with a troupe performance to “Thriller.” At the very least Macilwee is a reminder to never stop letting your freak flag fly.
Becky with the Good Hair
You probably had no idea who Rachel Roy was before Beyonce’s Lemonade dropped, but the designer quickly made waves when Queen Bey’s fans connected a line about “Becky with the good hair” to an Instagram photo that Roy posted. And considering that Roy is the ex-wife of Damon Dash, Jay Z’s ex-business partner, it was only a matter of time before everyone who takes Beyonce really seriously began attacking Roy online, forcing her to turn her social media private and begin worrying for her safety when both she and her children started receiving threats. She even had to release a public statement letting people know that she isn’t Becky and needed to be left alone.
At the same time, confused members of the Beyhive started attacking another celebrity: Rachel Ray. That’s what happens when you’ve got to defend the honor of a celebrity who doesn’t even know you exist! Bystanders get hurt. According to Vanity Fair, Roy and Ray got through the drama by sending each other gifts and trying to laugh it off.
Is Roy “Becky with the good hair?” We’ll never know. We’ll also never know if it was Taylor Swift, Rita Ora, or any other person Bey’s fans could have imagined Jay Z cheating on the singer with. Still, the lyric launched an armada of think pieces and hopefully helped Roy’s celebrity profile just a little. Wishful thinking, huh?
Northeastern State University student Kelsey Harmon inadvertently set off a chain of events that spiraled way out of control when she posted a picture of her sad looking grandfather holding a hamburger on Twitter, with the caption: “dinner with papaw tonight…❤️ he made 12 burgers for all 6 grandkids and I’m the only one who showed. ? love him.”
Her tweet, which has since been deleted, triggered an outpouring of support and memes across the internet, and eventually a huge cookout event was organized in Papaw’s favor — which literally hundreds of people showed up to. It was one of those few life affirming stories where the internet rallied to provide a happy ending to what seemed like an otherwise depressing situation.
For about a month, the entire world was obsessed with Pokemon Go, a game that was going to get us out of our health ruts by forcing players into the wild to collect adorable little monsters and trap them in balls. At first, everyone extolled the game’s fitness benefits, then things got weird: Players found dead bodies while catching Pokemon, a guy was caught cheating thanks to the game, and then players started injuring themselves (of course someone died) as they raced to collect the pocket monsters in locations they should have never been in in the first place. And then someone claimed to have found a poisonous gas Pokemon at The Holocaust Museum.
Despite all the drama, however, Pokemon Go was really fun for a while and the people who continue playing it are probably still enjoying all of the mental and physical boosts that the game provides. The rest of us? Well, we can stream old episodes of the show on YouTube and wait until we have kids of our own to tell them all about July 2016, when people joined together to find Pikachu and then force it into battle with other players until someone’s Pokemon fainted from exhaustion. It was a unity thing.
No one knows why “Damn, Daniel” was such a big success and no one really cares. One day we were all going about our business with no knowledge that either Daniel Lara or Josh Holz existed, and the next their video (Holz screaming about Lara’s shoes in a funny voice) (told you it made no sense) had gone viral, making it mandatory for everyone to start yelling “Damn, Daniel” and reminding us that white Vans are both stylish and affordable choices when it comes to footwear. The boys, who know that going viral was a fluke, quickly became celebrities, enjoying all the benefits of living in the upper echelons of internet stardom, like having the police called on them (trolls reported a murder) and taking a seat on Ellen’s couch where they were gifted with a surfboard and Vans before fading into obscurity.
According to Cosmopolitan, the guys know they’re not likely to come up on another viral hit again (they just happen, they’re not planned), but that doesn’t mean they’re not open to the possibility. They’re still famous at school, have retained a PR rep, and are still taking pictures with fans whenever they’re recognized. Lara proudly says he’s never turned down one request, so hunt him down and ask for a picture if you’re ever in SoCal.
Candace Payne never expected to become an overnight sensation when she bought a Chewbacca mask and posted a video of her wearing it on YouTube. But her infectious laugh and unfettered joy were exactly what the world needed back in May. Sometimes we still watch the video on bad days! It’s a good video! And whether or not you agree that Payne deserved to make the rounds of all the talk shows, receive nationwide attention, and get showered with praise and prizes, you can’t argue that she didn’t make all of us happy — even for just one second.
When Ken Bone first hit the big-time (after asking a polite question at the second presidential debate while wearing a now-iconic Izod sweater), no one really knew what to make of him. Some people loved him, some people hated him, and the rest of us were just comforted by the fact that the guy we saw on TV and the guy Ken Bone is in real life are exactly the same — kind, exceedingly courteous, and a consummate delight to interact with. After we asked him for a five minute interview at the height of his fame, Bone gave Uproxx 25 minutes of his time, speaking about everything from why he was an undecided voter to how he planned on handling life once the fame died down.
The nice thing about Bone, who’s since gone on to turn his fame into endorsement deals (ironic, considering he’s famous for endorsing neither presidential candidate) is that he’s not trying to insert himself into the spotlight now that his 15 minutes are up. Will he do a commercial? Hell yeah! Will he be pleased that he’s got 239,000 followers on Twitter? Sure! But the guy’s pretty much gone back to living his day-to-day life, which consists of hanging out with his family, tweeting about charities, and misspelling the name of the new Star Wars film (it’s not Rouge One, Ken!)
Most impressive is how Bone handled the backlash he received for doing literally nothing wrong except asking a question at the debate. After being turned into a meme, Bone used his actual Reddit account to do an AMA, leading users of the site to discover that he liked pornography, had looked at Jennifer Lawrence’s leaked nudes, and did not have a full understanding of the Trayvon Martin case. Bone apologized, moved on, and continues doing his own thing. True inspiration, this guy.
Oh, Harambe. (R.I.P.) Where to begin. What started out as a legitimately really sad and unfortunate incident in which a small child fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, turned into a saga that sparked national outrage at both the zoo employee for making the decision to shoot Harambe to his death and the parents for ostensibly not taking care to supervise their child. Quickly, tributes to Harambe began to surface online, and somehow — between the pubic outrage and genuine sorrow due to a majestic beast tragically having been killed — a meme was born.
Harambe ended up playing a role in the presidential election, was paid jokey tribute to by CHVRCHES, became the inspiration for a hologram hoax, had an awesome pair of cleats made in his honor, and set sail to countless Photoshopped memes online — all of which led to the Cincinnati Zoo to plead with the internet to leave Harambe alone.
Oh, great, great Harambe. He may be lost, but thanks to the power of the internet he’ll never be forgotten.