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The best memes of 2019, so far

From Powerful Shaggy to Game of Thrones’ remixable moments, 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 out into the ether. With so many memes and so little time, it would be easy to miss the gags, tweets, riffs, and emojis gold erupting on a weekly basis. That’s why we’re collecting them all for your (re-)viewing pleasure.

As we approach springtime, the year’s biggest memes are looking more and more like the culmination of a long-gestation period. Sure, we still get two week Twitter fixations on Celebs as Things, but there’s also the five month saga of “Old Town Road” that stirred up the music industry and challenged preexisting genre notions of popularity. Meme culture is pop culture in 2019.

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.

January

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.

February

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.

March

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.

April

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?

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