1. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Dancing
2019 memes got their start nice and early with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s fire dance moves. On Jan. 2, a right-wing QAnon conspiracy theorist tweeted a clip of her dancing on a rooftop when she was a college student in Boston. The original video was part of a 2010 meme in which people danced to the Phoenix song “Lisztomania.” The QAnon tweet was intended as a smear against the newly elected lawmaker, but it backfired spectacularly, with tons of people embracing AOC’s goofy and joyous dance moves. One person even made a whole account called “AOC Dances to Every Song.” Getting in on the joke a couple of days later, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a video of herself dancing outside her new congressional office in Washington, DC.
It’s not every year you get an honest-to-god cultural panic, but that’s what we got with Momo. The “Momo challenge” was a YouTube hoax that claimed children were being encouraged to self-harm by a creepy nightmare creature who would appear in the middle of otherwise benign kids’ videos. There’s no evidence these videos were actually a widespread issue — at least until attention was drawn to it. Warnings were circulated in the media, mostly in British tabloids but also in more reputable outlets like CBS and BBC, launching an international hysteria which, of course, soon became prime fodder for parody and memes.
3. "Sorry to This Man"
Much like Mariah Carey gave us “I don’t know her” in the early 2000s, Keke Palmer gave us “Sorry to this man” in 2019. In an interview with Vanity Fair during which she was hooked up to a lie detector, Palmer was asked who was a better vice president: True Jackson, VP (a character she played on a Nickelodeon show of the same name), or Dick Cheney.
“I hate to say it — I hope I don’t sound ridiculous — I don’t know who this man is,” Palmer said of former vice president Cheney. “He could be walking down the street, I wouldn’t know a thing. Sorry to this man.”
The unintentional diss cracked people up and quickly became a meme. Palmer herself even posted one on Instagram.
4. Kombucha Girl
Among the biggest changes in 2019 internet culture was the prevalence of memes that originated on TikTok and then found their way to Twitter or Instagram. One of the most prominent was a TikTok often referred to as “kombucha girl.”
In the July TikTok, 22-year-old Brittany Tomlinson tastes kombucha for the first time. She goes through so many stages of emotions — curiosity, uncertainty, disgust, hesitant enjoyment, back to disgust, a split second of reconsideration, and then laughter — and it all happens so fast. The whole sequence of facial expressions was so relatable and applicable to so many scenarios, hence it swiftly turned into one of the most well-known reaction memes of the year.
“I would describe it as disappointing pleasure,” Tomlinson told Vulture of her kombucha experience. “Will I try kombucha again? Probably. Will I like it? Probably not. Will I keep drinking it? Yeah, most likely. You know? One of those.”
5. “Old Town Road”
Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was arguably the biggest song of the year. It broke records, challenged critics, made history, and became a favorite of kids and adults alike. After it was disqualified from the Billboard Hot Country chart over claims that it did “not embrace enough elements of today’s country music,” the artist released a remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, and it only became more of a viral hit.
Both a cause and effect of its success, the song inspired a ton of memes, particularly on TikTok. One of the biggest involved teens listening to the song while drinking from a cup labeled “yee-yee juice” and transforming into a cowboy.
The song was an anthem of the “yeehaw agenda,” a meme that sprung up last year describing a reclamation of cowboy aesthetics for black Americans in response to their erasure from depictions of the Wild West as overwhelmingly white (when in fact, 1 in 4 cowboys was actually black).
6. Area 51
After a Facebook event titled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop Us All” drew millions of RSVPs, people went alien crazy. “If we Naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets,” the event description so sensibly explained.
As the date creeped closer, remote desert towns in the area braced themselves for chaos, and officials warned the potential Naruto runners that those guarding the secretive military base would not hesitate to use force against anyone caught trespassing. The event was eventually canceled for being a “possible humanitarian disaster” the likes of Fyre Festival. Still, a few believers came out in their tinfoil hats for the festivities.
7. VSCO Girls
We got a whole new youth subculture this year thanks to VSCO girls. The aesthetic — the 2019 lovechild of basic white girls and Tumblr girls — was earnestly trendy among teens but quickly became parodied, particularly on TikTok. Among its signifiers: big T-shirts, puka shells, candy-colored Fjällräven backpacks, wrists full of scrunchies, sticker-encrusted Hydro Flasks, Crocs, Carmex lip balm, metal straws (save the turtles!), and the catchphrases “sksksk” and “and I oop” (which were co-opted from black queer culture).
8. Generously Buttered Noodles
“These generously buttered noodles, sprinkled with just a quarter cup of parsley for color and freshness, are the perfect blank canvas for practically any stew or braise,” reads the recipe’s description. It became a bit of a copypasta (no pun intended) in the recipe’s comments section, before it was noticed by writer Ariel Dumas and turned into a meme on Twitter. It may not be the biggest meme of 2019, but you can’t deny that these generously buttered noodles, sprinkled with just a quarter cup of parsley for color and freshness, are the perfect blank canvas for practically any stew or braise.
9. Hot Girl Summer
The summer of 2019 was Hot Girl Summer. The phrase, made popular by Megan Thee Stallion (and later turned into a single by her), was more mood than meme, and it was everywhere on social media. The concept was best explained by Ms. Stallion herself in an interview with the Root in June: “It’s just basically about women — and men! — just being unapologetically them, just having a good-ass time, hyping up your friends, doing you, not giving a damn about what nobody got to say about it. You definitely have to be a person that can be, like, the life of the party, and, you know, just a bad bitch.”
10. Christian Girl Autumn
Like winter turns to spring, Hot Girl Summer turned to Christian Girl Autumn in 2019. The extremely specific “basic white girl” fall aesthetic — think blanket scarves, riding boots, hair curled just so, and a Starbucks PSL eternally in hand — became a meme in August. The term sprung up from a tweet that trolled bloggers Caitlin Covington and Emily Gemma, using a photo of them in their Christian Girl Autumn–est outfits in 2016. It went viral, and they got massively roasted, with many people characterizing them as racist, anti-gay, Trump supporters who would want to speak to your manager.
To their credit, Covington and Gemma actually got a kick out of the memes and told BuzzFeed News the negative assumptions about their beliefs aren’t true. “I’m white and Christian but none of the tweets were accurate,” said Gemma. “I laughed at all of it but...none of it’s true. We don’t ever want to speak to the manager!”
11. World Record Egg
At the beginning of 2019, a picture of an egg became the most-liked photo on Instagram after setting out with the goal to do just that. It currently has over 54 million likes, beating out the second most-liked — Kylie Jenner’s first photo of her baby — which has just over 18 million. It broke the record in just 10 days.
The “world record egg” was shrouded in mystery at first, which only added to the fervor it sparked on social media, but it was later revealed to have been created by British advertising creative Chris Godfrey and sponsored by Hulu.
12. Keanu Reeves
2019 was Keanu’s year. The 55-year-old actor has been in the business for decades (and was a meme signifying sadness at the start of the decade), but it was only this year that he earned the title of the internet’s boyfriend. Though he came out with John Wick 3 this year and had a memorable cameo in Always Be My Maybe, his renewed popularity was largely centered around the mysterious, kindhearted, everyman persona he exudes. He made headlines for road-tripping with a bunch of strangers after their flight made an emergency landing and for speaking beautifully on The Late Show on what happens after you die. He also inspired a lot of viral tweets about his goodness, which people said includes being exceptionally sweet to bookstore and movie theater workers, and not being creepy to women.
13. Gay Rat Wedding
The buzziest wedding of the year was on the kids’ TV show Arthur when teacher Mr. Ratburn married his boyfriend. After the plot was announced, Alabama Public Television announced it would not air the episode because it would "violate" its viewers’ trust. Backlash ensued, and almost 30,000 people signed a petition for the episode to be aired.
14. Shen Yun
You probably have never seen Shen Yun, but you almost certainly know about Shen Yun, which is why Shen Yun is a meme. The Chinese dance troupe’s flyers and billboards are inescapable if you live in or near a major city. Asking the hard questions, like, “What actually is Shen Yun?” and “How do they get this many flyers up?” and “Like, should we go see it though??”, people turned the mysterious, ubiquitous show into a meme this year. It even made for a pretty spectacular Halloween costume.
15. Cats Can Have Little a Salami
“Cats can have little a salami.” The goofy, wholesome, syntactically incorrect phrase was somewhere between meme and mantra in 2019. It originated with a small salami company’s 2017 blog post, which advised people who were thinking of feeding their cats salami that cats can have “a couple pieces of salami as a treat.” It must have had some good SEO, because the post is featured up top on Google when searching whether salami is safe for cats.
A screenshot of that Google result went viral on Reddit and Tumblr before spreading to Twitter. The phrase was basically 2019’s version of “they did surgery on a grape” — delightful, versatile, and simultaneously nonsensical and completely self-explanatory.
An important note: The phrase “little a salami” was regularly bastardized into “a little salami,” which broke the brains of the already-broken-brained meme pedants of the internet (regretfully, myself included).
16. Lizzo's "Boys"
Lizzo was one of the breakout artists of 2019, but one of the biggest memes she inspired actually comes from one of her 2018 songs, “Boys.”
“I like big boys, itty-bitty boys, Mississippi boys, inner-city boys, I like the pretty boys with the bow tie, get your nails did, let it blow-dry,” she sings in the second verse. That line became a huge meme on TikTok, where tons of people made videos depicting each of the aforementioned “boys” (frequently as dogs).
17. Fyre Festival Blowjob Guy
Oh, Fyre Festival — a shitshow so historic, may it never be forgotten. At the beginning of the year, Netflix and Hulu released competing documentaries about the 2017 disaster of a music festival. In the Netflix documentary, we were introduced to event producer Andy King, who said in an on-camera interview how far he had nearly gone to “save this festival.”
According to King, the festival founder Billy McFarland (who is now in prison) asked him to give a Bahamian official a blowjob in exchange for drinking water for the festival. “I got to his office, fully prepared to suck his dick,” King said. He apparently begged the documentary producers not to include the scene, but they did anyway, saying “without that scene, there isn't a documentary.”
Obviously, the scene went viral practically overnight. Even for those who hadn’t watched the documentary, King’s face alone became a meme symbolizing how far you’d be willing to go to get what you want. A true King.
18. OK Boomer
“OK boomer” was the simple, perfect clapback Gen Z’ers coined to mock baby boomers, the older generation they blame for worsening issues such as climate change and inequality. It rose in popularity on TikTok, became a common retort to politicians on Twitter, and inspired multiple trend pieces. Obviously the boomers weren’t so keen on it, and one radio host even went as far as calling “boomer” “the n-word of ageism” (it is...not). “OK boomer” soon became ubiquitous but was eventually overused, most notably by millennials, who co-opted and killed it as a meme even faster than they killed chain restaurants and boobs.
19. Kylie Jenner’s “Rise and Shine”
In a YouTube video in October, Kylie Jenner took us on a tour of her Kylie Cosmetics HQ. Toward the end of the video, she shows one last room: the playroom where she says her young daughter Stormi would be waking up from a nap. She flicks on the lights and sings three words that would go on to be the three-second track of the year.
“Hhhh-Rise and shi-iiiiiine,” Jenner sings to Stormi, who is clearly awake, perhaps because there is already a cameraperson in the room.
It’s ridiculously funny. Jenner sings the three syllables as if they’re at least five. She gives it her all, riffing like she’s auditioning for The Voice. Stormi barely reacts. It became a meme pretty much immediately, with people turning the clip into all sorts of extremely good content and remixes. Ariana Grande and Lizzo even covered it.
In December, Jenner gave the people what they wanted and performed “Rise and Shine” live at an art auction with Justin Bieber, who went appropriately nuts.
20. Woman Yelling at Cat
The “Woman Yelling at Cat” meme is actually a hybrid of two memes: a still from a 2011 episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in which Taylor Armstrong is yelling at another Housewife and a 2018 photo of a cat named Smudge looking pretty upset. Each image had gotten some play individually as reaction memes in the past couple of years, but it wasn’t until 2019 that the two joined forces and made meme magic. “These photos together is making me lose it,” tweeted @MISSINGEGIRL, who first combined them. After that, the paired images took off as a meme on Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram, and even inspired a few Halloween costumes.
While Smudge and Armstrong have never met in person, Smudge’s owner, Miranda Stillabower, told Business Insider they have been in touch and discussed introducing the two at some point.
"If Smudge were able to meet her in person for a photo, I would definitely be interested," Stillabower said. "However, that would be Smudge's call."
21. Therapist Memes
The good news is apparently a lot of us were going to therapy in 2019. The bad news is, if the memes are to be believed, a lot of us weren’t listening to our therapists too well. Therapist memes got a lot of play on Twitter in July, usually formatted as a dialogue with the therapist, who asks “what do we do” to deal with a difficult situation.
What do we do? Buy a bunch of plants, text our exes, or simply say “That’s show biz, baby,” among a bunch of other bad coping mechanisms. May we all disappoint our therapists less in 2020. I believe in you.
22. Cliff Wife
Another year, another meme, another Wife Guy. In May, YouTuber Shonduras (aka Shaun McBride) posted an absurdly dramatic video titled “JENNY FELL OFF THE CLIFF.. scary moment for our family.” In the video, Shonduras said his wife had fallen 12 to 16 feet off a trail while hiking with their family in Hawaii. She got a few minor scrapes and bruises, but the couple called it a “near-death experience.”
It wasn’t supposed to be funny, but, ugh, it really was. Yes, the fall looked scary, but calling it a “cliff” seemed to be a bit of an exaggeration (and in fact, the title was changed from “CLIFF” to “TRAIL” after people mocked them). It was so melodramatic, people couldn’t help but turn it into a meme. He was, of course, inducted into the Wife Guy hall of fame.
23. Peloton Wife
In December, the luxury exercise bike company Peloton got dragged for its holiday commercial that people called “dystopian” and “like a horror movie.” In the ad, a husband surprises his wife with a Peloton for Christmas and she takes videos of her fitness journey throughout the following year. People thought it looked like a hostage video.
It went ridiculously viral, and tons of memes came out of it featuring the woman’s terrified face and parodies of the video. There were also “Peloton Wife” jokes because, of course, it was the Year of the Wife Guy.
24. “Act My Age” Dance
In February, a video of a mom and her two sons dancing to One Direction’s “Act My Age” became a huge meme. The clip was originally a Vine in which the family danced to “Drop” by Atlanta rappers Freco & Merlo.
The mother, Willona Za'Vier, told BuzzFeed News she had fond memories of filming the video with her two sons in 2014. "I had just moved and gotten a divorce and moved into my new home, and I was dancing around with my sons," she said. "I've danced all my life, but they help me with the new dances."
25. Megan Rapinoe
Whether you were a soccer fan or not, few things felt as good this year as cheering the US women's World Cup soccer team on to victory. People became huge fans of the team members — particularly the captain, Megan Rapinoe.
After scoring her first of two goals just five minutes into their game in Paris, Rapinoe sprinted to the corner of the field and threw up her arms in a triumphant pose. It became an instant classic of sports photography, and it became an incredibly victorious meme.
26. Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic was a meme in 2019, and he was horrifying. The iconic blue hedgehog made headlines in April with the release of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie trailer. Fans who’d waited to see how the character would look in CGI immediately noticed something was...off. He looked weirdly human, in an uncanny valley sort of way. And, oh yeah, he had A FULL SET OF HUMAN TEETH.
Sonic was mocked mercilessly by fans who were viscerally revolted by the little blue guy. It actually got so bad that within days, the director announced they would completely redesign Sonic. Fortunately, the second time was the charm, and the glowed-up, way-less-creepy Sonic got the thumbs-up from fans in November.
27. Me Explaining
This one was a meme for anyone who’s ever tried really hard to convince their mom to let them do something. The photo on the left is YouTuber Quenlin Blackwell, who said it was taken when she was struggling with her mental health. On the right is Shirlene “Ms. Juicy” Pearson, who stars in the Lifetime reality show Little Women: Atlanta.
Like the “Woman Yelling at Cat” meme, this was another two-panel meme where the images came from two completely different places. In March, the two came together for the first time in a “me explaining to my mom” meme by @sxturnsailor on Twitter. After that, it became one of the year’s most recognizable memes for any time you’re trying to explain something.
28. I’m Baby
“Adulting” is hard; being baby is easier. “I’m baby” was a meme about giving up and allowing yourself to be taken care of, but it was also just a silly thing to say and the best possible excuse for waiting to the last minute to file your taxes or not snaking the shower drain, because, well, I’m baby!!!!
The meme has surprisingly dark origins. According to Know Your Meme, the phrase comes from a misspelled text message a mom sent to her 14-year-old daughter in 2017, which said “I’m baby. Call 911.” The teen had texted her mom asking her to call the police after a burglar broke into the house while she was babysitting, ABC7 reported. Neither the teen nor the child was harmed.
29. Summoning Circle
Casting spells on Twitter was all the rage in 2019. “Summoning circle, hope this works,” people would tweet, with the thing they sought surrounded in a bunch of candle emojis.
30. 30–50 Feral Hogs
It’s weird that we got a meme from a weekend of two mass shootings, but that’s 2019, I guess? After country musician Jason Isbell spoke out in support of gun control on Twitter in August, Willie McNabb — an Arkansas man who describes himself in his bio as a “Husband / Father / Christian / Libertarian” — hit back. “Legit question for rural Americans,” he asked. “How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?”
For those who haven’t been in such a predicament, it was really funny, and people tweeted a ton of riffs on the phrase. The thing is, McNabb’s question wasn’t wholly ridiculous. Just a few months later, a swarm of feral hogs actually killed a Texas woman. They have become such an invasive species in Texas that laws have been passed that allow licensed hunters to mow them down from above in helicopters.
31. Nooo You’re So Sexy Aha
Fact: 2019 was a horny year. And with the horny theme, one of the smaller but funnier memes of the year was “nooo you’re so sexy.” The phrase referred to all the times dudes will hit on women at even the most inappropriate times. “guys r like don’t kill urself ur so sexy aha,” read the first viral tweet in the meme by @drowzygf (whose account is no longer active). What started as a meme about ill-timed flirtation soon morphed into being an extremely good copypasta.
This meme didn’t get as big as others this year, but it’s one of my personal favorites. Nooo don’t stop being a meme in 2020 you’re so funny aha.
(Honorable mention for horny meme of the year goes to “What If We Kissed…”)
32. Marie Kondo
33. “Ight Imma Head Out” SpongeBob
SpongeBob memes have given us some of the biggest reaction memes of the decade, and this one perfectly captures those moments when you would really like to get the fuck out of a situation. The phrase originated in a tweet about leaving a hangout when you’re really high — a reply shared a screenshot of a SpongeBob parody from an Indonesian improv show, which then morphed into the meme we all recognize.
Honorable mention for SpongeBob meme of the year goes to “SpongeBob Traveling the World in Drag.”
34. Wrong Answers Only
35. Here’s The Motherfucking Tea
“Here’s the motherfucking tea” was another huge meme that started on TikTok. In the video, Sammie Lewis, who was 18 at the time, goes on an epic rant about wearing eyeglasses. But more importantly, she starts it off by swirling a bright pink Starbucks drink, taking a long sip, and then tapping her phone with her acrylic nails so hard you think she’s going to shatter her screen. People on TikTok turned the highly recognizable audio into all sorts of creative videos, and it got parodied a bunch on Twitter.
Even though a lot of people were making fun of her, Lewis told BuzzFeed News she got a kick out of all the memes.“It doesn’t bother me at all,” she said. “I think it’s really funny when people go ahead and make their own content, so why would I bash on someone who’s also trying to be funny and make a joke?”
36. Are You in the Right Headspace?
Are you in the right headspace to read about this meme? This one originated with a Twitter thread by feminist writer and activist Melissa Fabello, who shared a script for how to respond to friends when you don’t have the emotional energy to hear them vent. Though some saw it as good advice for creating healthy boundaries, many others saw it as a rather clinical way to treat a friend and mocked it into memedom.
The meme got even bigger just a few days later, when Twitter user @yanabirt shared some advice about how to reveal some difficult news to a friend (in a screenshot of the most terrifying text you could ever send me): “Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you?” it said. Similar to Fabello’s script, many saw it as cold and robotic. “I would literally start crying if I received this message,” one person replied, and, you know, same.
Much like bad things come in threes, so do widely roasted tweets. The third and final in the “right headspace” text tweets came from writer Suzannah Weiss, who shared a script for how to get consent when initiating sexting: “I’ve been having some sexual thoughts about you I’d like to share over text if you’d enjoy that,” it said. The trifecta of well-meaning but cringey tweets was complete and was thus memed to oblivion.
37. Marianne Williamson
It may have been 2019, but the 2020 race was already in full force for much of the year. At the first round of Democratic primary debates in Miami, much of the world was introduced to self-help speaker and bestselling author Marianne Williamson. Her new age-y, Goop-approved message stood in wild contrast to that of the other candidates (she said, for example, that she would "harness love for political purposes”). With politics feeling pretty bleak, people memed her as their crystal-clutching, moon-worshipping, chardonnay-sipping sorceress queen. It was fun to faux-stan for a night, but people mostly cut it out after it was revealed that she has said some questionable things about vaccines, antidepressants, and AIDS.
38. Hate to See It
We hated to see a lot of things in 2019: a rough hairdo, gender norms, Hodor dying, the list goes on. The phrase, expressing a mild sense of disappointment or disapproval, took over this year. It also, of course, could be used in a sarcastic tone for things you do not, in fact, hate to see. According to the New York Times, its origins lie in sports broadcasting, and it went mainstream in 2019 after hitting Black Twitter and Game of Thrones Twitter. You love to see it (“it” being a good meme).
39. Will Smith as the Genie
Sonic wasn’t the only blue movie star to get roasted in 2019. At the end of 2018, Entertainment Weekly shared a first look at the live-action Aladdin movie. Will Smith appeared decked out in gold jewelry, sporting a goatee, wearing regal blue clothing — but he himself was not blue, as Disney’s original Genie played by Robin Williams was. Fans were not pleased, but Smith reassured them on Instagram that he would actually be blue in the movie — this was just the Genie’s “human/disguise form,” he said.
But be careful what you wish for. In February, the trailer debuted, and Genie Will Smith was finally revealed in all his giant blue glory...and people still made fun of it. Smith was compared to a smurf, Shrek, and Tobias from Arrested Development after he “blue [him]self.”
40. Vibe Check
2019 was all about vibe checks, which generally meant you or a buddy checking in about how you’re doing, but was also used as an exclamation before straight-up decking someone. Vibe checks elude a precise definition, which meant a lot of people were really confused about what it meant and probably failed their vibe checks.
41. Marriage Story
Marriage Story, the Netflix divorce drama starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, only came out this month. But even if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ve probably seen the memes. In one standout scene, the two leads get into a brutal screaming match and Driver punches a hole in the wall. Stills of this scene have become a huge meme, with people writing their own text for the fight. It’s essentially the spiritual successor to the American Chopper memes of 2018.
Another smaller but growing meme from the movie is a clip of Johansson dancing, jubilant and carefree. “Drug commercials when the side effect includes death,” @wezzzworld captioned it.
42. Baby Yoda
Baby Yoda was one of the year’s most uniting memes. The extremely online loved it. The normies loved it. As soon as the show came out, the internet was flooded with memes and GIFs of the little cutie (who, I am required by nerd law to note, is not actually Yoda but rather a member of the same alien species). You could even appreciate it if you weren’t watching the show — just look how adorable he is! I may not have seen the latest Star War, but you bet your bottom-dollar I want to babysit this little green nugget and kiss him atop the head.