clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Image: Sony Pictures Animation via Polygon

Filed under:

The best memes of 2019, so far

From Powerful Shaggy to Hot Girl Summer, a catalog of the year’s essential memes

The fast-paced and transient nature of the internet means that memes are being churned out quicker than ever, with new ones popping up every few days before filtering into the ether. With so many memes and so little time, it would be easy to miss the gags, tweets, riffs, and emoji gold being mined on a weekly basis. That’s why we’re collecting them all for your (re-)viewing pleasure.

Summertime has been defined by a few broad, overarching event memes — particularly Megan Thee Stallion’s Hot Girl Summer — with a few typical Twitter fixation moments that explode for a few days, then trickle off. But some, particularly easy to copy formats like “Me explaining to my mom” and “Just Kidding...unless” lasted beyond their two day moments of fame.

As more memes trickle in, we’ll keep this list updated with the ones worth paying attention to. Here are the very best memes of 2019.


J.K. Rowling tweeting

After the, uh, overly gratuitous Pottermore revelation that wizards in the Harry Potter world once shit their pants before embracing the Muggle technology of toilets, a Twitter user posted the first format of this meme.

People began to riff on J.K. Rowling’s tendency to offer incredibly minute details about the Harry Potter world. Some went even more ridiculous and explicit; others used it as commentary on Rowling’s tendency to retroactively add diversity to the books.

Learning to be Spider-Man

Academy Award-winning film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gave society many, many things, including one iconic meme. In the movie, Miles wants to learn how to be Spider-Man from Peter B. Parker. He listens intently as Peter describes a plan, and copies his posture.

The first instance of the Spider-Man meme popped up in early January on a subreddit designed to pump out mass-produced memes. The original setup was that the younger figure was copying or ripping off the older one, which made for some hilarious comparisons.

Reddit via u/RoseBladePhantom

But as the meme proliferated off of Reddit to Twitter and Tumblr, it took a more positive approach, with the younger figure intently listening or admiring the older one — which seems more in line with the way it played out in the movie.

AOC dancing

One of the many efforts to undermine Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political momentum involved unearthing a video of her dancing in college. Tickled by the fact that a dancing college kid could possibly be a big political scandal, many admirers remixed the video with other songs. The possibilities were endless: “Africa” by Toto, “Rock Lobster” by the B-52’s, and “What Dreams Are Made Of” from The Lizzie McGuire Movie.

A whole account dedicated to creating and retweeting these remixes popped up, posting an impressive amount of them in one single day.

Even Ocasio-Cortez herself got in on the meme action, recreating the video while in her Washington office.

Sasuke (from Naruto)

No year is complete without a Naruto meme. The screencap of Sasuke being choked originally appeared in the 2004 episode “Hate Among the Uchihas: The Last of the Clan!” in which Sasuke’s brother, Itachi, pins him against the wall and calls him weak because he lacks hatred.

In January, this 15-year-old screencap got a second life when Twitter user mazaernai posted a juxtaposition of Sasuke and a cat.

Variations of the meme exploded over the next few days, featuring real-life celebrities, other fictional characters, and our co-workers.

Powerful Shaggy

The culmination of a long gestation period, Powerful Shaggy roared to life at full force in late January. For those not in the know, it came out of nowhere, but the Shaggy meme actually had roots far longer than most were aware. Across Reddit, Tumblr, and Twitter, the Powerful Shaggy memes exploded, even getting Shaggy’s actor Matthew Lillard involved. He was resistant at first, but eventually came around.

Shen Yun

If you exist in some capacity in the United States, you’ve probably seen ads for Shen Yun papered around public spaces. The dance troupe (which is put on by an opposition party to the Chinese government, a whole other can of worms you can read about in The Guardian) is overzealous in its marketing, and everywhere you look there will be a Shen Yun poster. This is especially true of bigger cities, but Shen Yun posters also pop up in smaller towns, so their reach knows few, if any, boundaries.

The seeming universality of Shen Yun started to generate memes, mostly about how the advertising is just everywhere. Which, in turn, just provided more advertising for the company, making it even more ubiquitous. Though the Shen Yun memes started in January, they continue to trickle through.

I’m so Dummy Thicc...

The phrase Dummy Thicc — a state of thiccness that is so extreme that it must be dummy — has been around since 2018, but the variation that expanded upon the state of one’s thiccness to include the clap of one’s ass cheeks came about in January of this year. The meme slowly gained traction across online spaces and continued into April. It still continues, actually, a novelty in the meme space.

“I’m so Dummy Thicc” comes from simple origins: Twitter user @Snow_Radish shared a post written from the perspective of Solid Snake. Another person on Twitter, hachikosyndrome, decided to record the phrase.

Soon variations popped up for every dummy thicc character out there. The constants of this meme are the narrator being “Dummy Thicc” and the sound of their ass cheeks alerted something. Some created videos; other simply edited or drew pics of their dummy thicc faves. For instance, Winnie the Pooh. Or Luigi.

A Tumblr blog dedicated to favorite characters who are “dummy thicc” popped up, as did incorporations of this meme that went beyond simple copypasta, such as an item idea for Dungeons and Dragons. This meme is reminiscent of the “One thicc bih” meme from summer of 2017. A character is selected and declared to be “thicc,” prompting videos from the Ditty app. Let’s celebrate some dummy thiccness.


Let Me In

This 2016 clip of comedian Eric Andre trying to bust into the Democratic National Convention has been used as a reaction GIF/video from late moments of 2018 to early 2019, but we’re counting it as a 2019 meme because the actual screencaps coupled with text that became so popular originated this February, specifically in response to 21 Savage’s detainment for an overstayed visa.

The format caught on, especially given the success of previous Eric Andre memes that continue to be used to this day. The meme trickled off of Reddit and onto Tumblr and Twitter. Eric Andre just has a presence that screams meme star.

Buff ASCII bunny bodyguard

ASCII rabbits go way back, and the actual buff bunny dates to 2013. But the version of a little tiny bunny poking his head out from behind the big, buff protector rolled out in February. A version of the “don’t talk to me or my son ever again,” the meme adds a level of friendship and comradery in the form of a lil’ bunny. Really, we’re all the lil’ bunny in one way shape or form.

Me: :)

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how this meme started, and it doesn’t really have a specific name. Maybe it’s inspired by a massively popular tweet by artist Jonny Sun, in which he conveyed his happiness at watching his plants grow via emojis, coupled with the same sort of energy of last year’s Unicode sparkle meme.

The format is simple. Me starts off sad, something small and glittery exists, the Me is reminded to be happy — a sprinkling of soft, aesthetic positivity in dark times.

Pokémon Galar U.K.

The reveal of the upcoming Pokémon games meant not only new Pokémon, but a new region called Galar. The region’s farmland combined with an industrial aesthetic, as well as certain landmarks, had many fans theorizing that Galar is the Pokémon equivalent of the United Kingdom.

Since many U.K.-specific memes already exist (Scottish Twitter and Cheeky Nando’s, for instance), combining them with the newly revealed region was only natural.


Summoning Circles

Emoji memes continue to be ever popular. The summoning circle memes are easy to create and while the first iterations continued the format, others experimented with it. These memes show the current state of meme culture: It goes beyond the recreation and distribution of memes. Often, the best versions play with the pre-established format.

You are not immune to propaganda

The Garfield image with the phrase “You are not immune to propaganda” was first created in 2018 by Tumblr user markvomit. Why does it count as a 2019 meme? March saw a massive resurgence on Tumblr, to the point where people started making memes of the meme. Much like Shaggy beforehand, this is a meme with a longer gestation that took off in a new way.

Before this year, the image was used as a reaction to hammer deconstructions of brands posting #relatable memes in this day and age (which the image is still used for), Tumblr began to create riffs of the meme. From self-aware revamps to fandom-specific jokes, to riffs on other aspects of culture, more serious callouts, and of course, interlaced levels of meme absurdity.


Celebs as Things

The first instance of the comparative meme was posted by a Beyonce stan Twitter beylesssons, who shared a thread of Beyonce photos as sea sponges. According the KnowYourMeme, the format really took off in the first week of April, when “Mariah Carey as Whisks” got the popstar’s blessing on Twitter.

The format is simple and fun — and even though the game is absurd, the meme still ramped up the absurdity to eventually cross the meta threshold. Stage 1: Jeff Goldblum as Poptarts! Stage 2: Taylor Swift as redacted portions of the Mueller report! Stage 3: Celebs as things as M&Ms!

“Old Town Road”

The rise of “Old Town Road” to the top of the country music Billboard chart and subsequent burst from the ashes like a phoenix was the talk of the (old) town at the beginning of April. But the song’s reach can be attributed to its meme status on TikTok, which started earlier in the year.

The story starts with humble origins: in December of 2018 Atlanta-based soundcloud rapper Lil Nas X uploaded the song to YouTube, set to scenes from Red Dead Redemption Online.

The song achieved meme status in early 2019 when TikTok user nicemichaels uploaded a video, which essentially defined the format of the subsequent TikTok memes. The user starts off dancing to the song in regular clothes and when the bass drops, they switch into some form of country clothes. As with any meme, there are subversions and variations, but the basic set-up is the same.

Compilations of the TikTok meme ended up on YouTube and the meme itself trickled to Instagram meme pages.

Though the meme format started earlier and really took off on TikTok and Instagram in March, I’m slating it as an April meme, because of the whole Billboard chart debacle, which brought the song from TikTok to the mainstream. In a nutshell: the song debuted on the Billboard Country Music chart on March 9, but ended up being removed due to Billboard deciding it wasn’t country enough. This prompted outrage not only from fans of the song, but from established country musicians. In early April, Lil Nas released a remix of the song, featuring Billy Ray Cyrus — which prompted a new wave of Twitter reaction memes.

Black Hole Memes

On April 10, the National Science Foundation released the first image of a black hole. When encountered with this incredible look into the great universe beyond us, a reminder of the fleeting, ephemeral nature of our own existence in comparison to the all consuming black hole, the world ... made memes.

Because, hey, doesn’t the black hole look a lot like the Eye of Sauron?

The black hole secretly being the Eye of Sauron was probably the most common comparison, but others pointed out it resembled various foods, such as bagels and Spaghetti-Os. Pop culture references still permeated though, with comparisons from HAL 9000 to the Super Smash Bros. logo.

As Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” What Nietzsche may not have anticipated is that the internet age deals with vast feelings of existentialism by making memes.

Ah shit here we go again

If we want to get very technical, this meme started way before 2019, and after being used on and off as a reaction from 2015, gained small traction on Reddit in September 2018, but never escaping the gravitational force of isolated subreddits. The format that kicked off on Twitter — namely video edits instead of just text over image reactions — started in April 2019, when ChaoticGeekCG on Twitter uploaded a green screen version of the Grand Theft Auto clip.

The memes took off when the clip was accessible and easy to edit. Some focused strictly on showdowns and fighting. Others took a zanier approach.

Others used the format, but subbed in other video game characters or set it to favorite music.

Passive-aggressive Daenerys

The second episode of Game of Thrones season 8 featured a conversation between Sansa Stark and Daenerys Targaryen, in which Daenerys reacts with a smile. Out of context, the screencap becomes the epitome of passive-aggressiveness.

Prompted on Twitter, people began to caption the image, which resulted in a Twitter moment. While it is a typical text caption meme, it’s centered around an entertainment hallmark ending this year, it’s a worthy addition to this collection. What will we do without Dany’s smug squint?


Gay Rat Wedding

PBS Kids’ Arthur made headlines in May with the wedding of Arthur’s teacher Mr. Ratburn to Patrick, a chocolate store owner.

Alabama Public Television had an issue with the depiction of a loving wedding ceremony between two fictional men and refused to air the episode. AL ran a story about the censorship, referring to the episode as a “gay rat wedding.” The publication since edited the headline, but not before Twitter caught wind of it.

Me explaining to my mom

The format of this one is simple, yet so versatile. The slightly frenzied younger woman on the left side passionately explains something to the slightly confused older woman on the right.

Contrary to what this meme is called, the two individuals depicted are not related. The double screencap of this meme actually comes from two separate posts made a year apart.

The image of the younger woman comes from a video from Twitter user quenblackwell, posted in 2018 and captioned “sometimes you just have to let it out..scream if you have to.” The image of “mom” comes from Little Women: Atlanta star Ms. Juicy’s Instagram, where she posted a picture of herself in January 2019, enjoying a football game with her favorite blanket.

The two came together for the first time in March, according to KnowYourMeme, when a Twitter user adapted a tweet of the younger woman and the caption “Yo explicándole a mi mamá el porque es indispensable que vaya a la peda” to add the image of Ms. Juicy as the mama.

It didn’t kick off on English language Twitter till May via a since-deleted meme, where the “kid” explains Club Penguin to the “mom.” Since then, the format exploded, and while some posts still include “me” and “mom” others branch off, from basic “me” and “my cat” to ... well you’ll see the Tumblr redux.


Just Kidding...Unless

A simple format birthed from a simple tweet, Just Kidding... Unless has proved to be an incredibly versatile meme. The original tweet (now deleted, but view the screenshot below) also coincided with the summer Minecraft renaissance which probably contributed to the surge in popularity.

a screenshot of a tweet reading “What if I put my minecraft bed next to yours...haha...just kidding...unless?” KnowYourMeme

The first few iterations of the meme usually used fictional characters with the original Minecraft-flavorted copypasta, though many began to spring up that swapped out some of the words to fit more niche situations.


Storming Area 51

In early July, a Facebook event entitled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” became viral. Birthed from the anonymous moderators of shitpost group on Facebook and a Twitch streamer named SmyleeKun, the event page itself is simple and unassuming. As the name suggests, the event prompts attendees to show up to the infamous Area 51 military base and storm it. The event description reads:

“We will all meet up in Rural Nevada and coordinate our parties. If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens.”

The joke event did its rounds on Facebook, gathering up loads of attendees, before percolating onto Twitter and more mainstream social media. People posted the event page to Twitter, made detailed “plans” about the best way to attack, and just posted general tomfoolery about what they’d do when they got to the base.

And, of course, some people thought that this shitpost Facebook event was serious, including news outlets that reported on the proposed raid as if it were legit. But all that really did was propel the gag even more into the spotlight. At its peak, the event boasted 2 million attendees.

During the middle of the Area 51 hype, rapper Lil Nas X — already the subject of an entry on this article for his viral hit “Old Town Road” — released an animated music video for “Old Town Road” in which he and collaborators Billy Ray Cyrus, Mason Ramsey, and Young Thug stormed Area 51.

The event slowly trickled off the meme high, though it should be noted that there are 1.5 million still marked as attending on the page. Instead of storming Area 51 on Sept. 20, though, there will be a music festival called Alienstock.

Hot Girl Summer

It’s hard to confine this one to one single month since it essentially defined summer 2019 as a whole. I’m tossing it to July since that’s roughly the middle of the summer (and the search term itself peaked around mid-July).

The phrase can be traced back to rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who refers to herself as “H-town hottie” or “Hot Girl Meg,” and her fans as “hotties.” After the art for her upcoming album featured the phrase “Hot Girl” prominently, a few of her fans began to post pictures with captions about “hot girl summer. It took off. Meg gave an interview to the Root (below) about what it meant to have a hot girl summer.

The phrase took off beyond just Megan Thee Stallion fans and eventually trickled into mainstream. People used it as an excuse to post hot pics, of course, as is the spirit of hot girl summer, though others riffed on the concept. Still, there was something empowering about claiming a hot girl summer — women knew they were hot, men embraced femininity. It became the phrase of the season.

As often happens with popular memes, brands started to cash in on the trend. Don’t do this, brands.

Many speculated what would come after hot girl summer — sad boy autumn? Witch bitch autumn? Christian girl autumn?

To tie things nicely up with a bow, Megan Thee Stallion released a single and then a music video for Hot Girl Summer, solidifying her claim over it.


Where y’all sitting?

The meme features an image of a high school cafeteria with labeled tables, prompting people to pick which one they’d sit at. It started with Kpop songs and idols, but has since expanded to include every possible category, from TV shows and albums to brands of water bottles and fanfic tropes.

Gordon Ramsay even weighed in on the action, retweeting a version by First We Feast.

30 - 50 Feral Hogs

Country musician Jason Isbell posted a tweet about assault weapons, to which one man replied with a tweet that would become an unintentional gift to the community. In response to Isbell’s tweet, user @WillieMcNabb posted:

Legit question for rural Americans – How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?

For better context, Willie McNabb is from Arkansas, which is rampant with wild hogs. But that didn’t stop the rest of Twitter from exploding in hog frenzy. Surely 30-50 feral hogs was too many feral hogs? For basically three days, that was all anyone could talk about. Hogs! What type? Feral! How many? 30-50, of course.

VSCO Girls

Earlier this year, e-girls were all the hype. Enter the VSCO girl. Named for a popular photo editing app,the VSCO girl is the spiritual antithesis of the e-girl, the mainstream to the e-girl’s counter culture. Instead of bright neon hair, the VSCO girl keeps hers natural. Instead of heavy dark eye makeup, the VSCO girl uses Mario Badescu facial sprays for a fresh, dewy look. Instead of cosplay, band shirts, and fandom merch, the VSCO girl wears oversized t-shirts and Brandy Melville crop tops. Instead of being plugged in online, the VSCO girl takes pictures with nature.

It’s the age old set up of preps and emos, jocks and goths, basic and alt, but now adapted for a social media world.

There is nothing wrong with being either a VSCO girl or an e-girl. Let teens be teens! However, much like e-girl before, the VSCO girl catapulted to fame through TikTok. Specifically, this TikTok, which hits on the common tropes of a perceived VSCO girl: the hydro flask, the puka shells, the “sksksksk” (a slang phrase used to express excitement, similar to a keysmash, but spoken out loud).

This was the video that brought VSCO girl to the mainstream, which then prompted those not in the know to question just what a VSCO girl was. TikTokers continued to post lighthearted VSCO girl videos; people not on TIkTOk continued to enjoy them and uncover more about this new teen subculture. Thus the vocabulary, like e-girl before, entered the common lexicon, along with common VSCO girl phrases, sksksksksksksksk among them.

It lands a spot on this list because there is a whole genre of videos on TikTok making light fun of VSCO girls. But like this Tweet points out, maybe the VSCo girls are the ones who have it all right. Sksksksksksksksk, indeed.


Alright this one is...something. It specifically stayed within Tumblr, which means that it’s absolutely batshit.

Basically, this post made its rounds on tumblr, referencing the medical mystery of 18th century Frenchman Tarrare, who had an appetite so insatiable it is rumored that he once ate an infant.

(Here’s where the NYMag thing comes in if you’re wondering).

Not everyone knew this, which prompted research and then posts about the revelation, which of course then prompted more people to look it up and more memes to be made. A weird cycle of memes and learning niche facts about history, but that’s Tumblr for ya — the site that Yahoo bought for one billion dollars that was more recently sold to Automattic for allegedly much, much, much less.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon