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Yodeling Walmart Kid
Every generation has its subcultures, and in 2019, Gen Z’s was undoubtedly VSCO girls. The aesthetic comes with a number of signifiers: scrunchies (piled high on the wrist), Hydro Flask water bottles (covered in stickers), puka shell necklaces, oversized T-shirts, Crocs, Fjällräven backpacks, metal straws (save the turtles!), Carmex lip balm, and the ubiquitous catchphrases, “sksksk — and I oop.” The easy-breezy look, named for the photo editing app VSCO, was essentially “Tumblr girl” meets “basic white girl.” Though the style became trendy in earnest through Instagram and internet stars like Emma Chamberlain, it catapulted to popularity (and mockery) on TikTok. —J.R.
Twitter Sign Bunny
Doggos and Puppers
The point of bros icing bros was simple: At any point during the day, present a warm bottle of Smirnoff Ice to your bro, and he has to get down on one knee and chug the cursed beverage. However, if he produces his own bottle immediately, he is exempted, and it is you who must chug. This prank was the peak of IRL-memeing in 2011. Smirnoff denied any sort of marketing stunt, which makes sense if you consider that the central conceit is that being forced to drink a Smirnoff Ice is a form of punishment. The meme threatened a resurgence in 2017, but never really caught on again. —K.N.
Bone App The Teeth
Kim Kardashian Breaks the Internet
Alex From Target
Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles”
Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge
“Haven’t Heard That Name in Years”
If you dumped a bucket of ice over your head in summer 2014, it was probably to raise money for ALS research in the Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge involved participants dousing themselves in ice water on video, then nominating others to either do the same or make a donation to fund ALS research. Many did both, using the viral videos to promote the cause, and the ALS Association wound up raising more than $100 million in a month. The rare meme that did demonstrable good. Sadly, the man who inspired the meme died in December 2019. —J.R.
“I’m in Me Mum’s Car, Broom Broom”
The Rent Is Too Damn High
“What Does the Fox Say?”
Hot Dogs or Legs
Fun fact: The symbol in the center of the shruggie is a Japanese Katakana character called “Tsu.” It’s commonly used in Japanese fiction to represent the end of a line of dialogue. Kind of perfect right? Nothing left to say? Shruggie time. The shruggie was the perfect emoticon of the Obama era: a slightly worried-looking, yet pleasantly numb smirk, throwing its hands up at everything’s lack of meaning. Also, it just looks really cool! Things are going to probably only get worse over the next decade, so I say we bring the shruggie back. Let’s all really get into casual nihilism. I mean, everything’s fucked, so why not, right? ¯_(ツ)_/¯ —R.B.
Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”
Infinity War Memes
Binders Full of Women
There’s Always a @dril Tweet
Game of Thrones Memes
You Know I Had to Do It to Em
For a brief time in early 2017, people were transfixed by Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, who would slice steak and sprinkle salt on it, but, like, in a sexy way? (See #13) A still image of “Salt Bae” tossing on the salt like it’s fairy dust became a meme representing any time we’re being our most extra selves. (Oh yeah, and then he hugged Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at his restaurant and Marco Rubio doxed him for it. Becoming a meme is a rich tapestry.) —J.R.
Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams
Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life”
Cropped Gay Porn
Cash Me Ousside
Spider-Man Pointing at Spider-Man
“Come to Brazil”
Guns or glitter? Touchdowns or tutus? One of the most inescapable party themes of the 2010s was that of the gender reveal. At gender-reveal parties, expecting parents and their loved ones gather to find out what kind of genitals their unborn child will have. This is often accomplished by cutting a cake, with pink or blue frosting revealing whether it was a boy or a girl.
Party planners tried to one-up each other, sometimes executing the big reveal using explosives — which, as you might guess, often had disastrous results. In 2018, a father-to-be accidentally ignited a wildfire in Arizona. The following year, a grandmother was killed in an explosion, and there was even a gender-reveal plane crash.
As our understanding of gender (and how it was not the same thing as sex) evolved over the decade, so did criticism and mockery of gender-reveal parties. And some people had changes of heart; in 2019, Jenna Karvunidis, the lifestyle blogger who had the first viral gender reveal in 2008, criticized the parties, which she said put “more emphasis on gender than has ever been necessary for a baby.” She added, “PLOT TWIST, the world’s first gender-reveal party baby is a girl who wears suits!” —J.R.
This Is the Future Liberals Want
Ted Cruz, the Zodiac Killer
Confused Math Lady
“Old Town Road”
American Chopper Yelling
Brands Acting Like People
A meme that mocks someone’s shoes might seem to be more mean-spirited than other memes of the decade. It’s a catchphrase to laugh at someone for wearing ugly footwear, after all. But the most effective examples of the meme, including the Instagram video (and then Vine) that started it all, are always about punching up — taking a small shot at someone more powerful, like a teacher, a celebrity, or even Jesus.
But like “on fleek” and other viral catchphrases and memes, the “what are those” meme spread without any control from its creator, Brandon Moore. In a 2018 interview with HuffPost, Moore said that he “felt sick” when he heard his catchphrase in the movie Black Panther, because it was a reminder of how he had missed a chance to copyright or watermark his video and had seen his creative work monetized by others without him benefitting at all. Six months after the interview, Moore died in his sleep at age 31. —K.N.
Blinking White Guy
“Do It for the Vine”
Why You Lyin’
“This Is Fine” Dog
Smash Mouth’s “All Star”
What makes “on fleek” a crucial meme for understanding the 2010s is not simply why the meme was catchy, but what happened to the meme after it left the hands of its creator and what that says about the commercialization and monetization of memes — i.e., who gets paid and who gets credit. Kayla Newman, who goes by Peaches Monroee online, was a teen when she posted a Vine musing that her eyebrows were “on fleek” because she thought she looked good. The Vine caught on because it’s simple and fun and enjoyable. Soon, brands were using the phrase on their social media. IHOP tweeted “pancakes on fleek.” Denny’s tweeted “Hashbrowns on fleek.” JetBlue and Taco Bell also used it, and the phrase all of a sudden seemed inescapable in marketing. Corporations were using Newman’s invention of a phrase without giving her any credit or compensation.
In the Fader, Doreen St. Félix wrote how “on fleek” is an example of an endless trend of black teenagers creating the memes, lingo, and jokes that make up internet culture, and how those black teens are often uncredited and don’t profit when brands use their creative works. This is in contradiction to a handful of white teens who also went viral around the same time: The “Damn, Daniel” boys got free Vans and appearances on talk shows; the Walmart yodeling boy got a record deal, as did Danielle Bregoli, the “cash me ousside” girl.
In 2017, Newman started a GoFundMe campaign to launch a beauty line, but it only raised around $17,000 of the $100,000 she was hoping for. In a 2017 interview with Teen Vogue, Newman said if she had known the phrase would catch on like it did, she would’ve been more aggressive about it, adding that she was trying to trademark the phrase. —K.N.
Pepe the Frog
Dec. 14, 2019, at 19:59 PM
T. Kyle MacMahon’s name was misstated in an earlier version of this post.
Drake starred in Degrassi: The Next Generation. An earlier version of this post misstated which Degrassi series he was on.