Polygon’s latest series, The Masterpieces of Streaming, looks at the new batch of classics that have emerged from an evolving era of entertainment.
When Vine first launched in 2013, people were immediately intrigued by the concept of a video sharing platform containing endlessly looping six-second videos. Yet with videos being restricted to such a short timespan, how much substance could each one actually contain? That constraint ended up being one of the platform’s greatest strengths. Creators constantly found new ways to push those six seconds to their limit.
Vines draw your attention because they’re short and easily digestible, making them much less of a commitment to watch than something like a YouTube skit. If a Vine wasn’t good, six seconds was a negligible amount of time to have wasted on it. If it was good, you could watch it over and over again, and in turn stretch those six seconds out to however long you wanted it to be.
Even though Vine got shut down in 2017, its brand of content paved the way for the micro-video format. Its four years of existence may sound inconsequential in comparison to the staying power of the bigger social media sites, but the cultural impact that it had during that time has far exceeded its relatively short lifespan and marked a crucial turning point for web creators. The platform legitimized micro-video as something that could be impactful and draw a wide audience. Most importantly, Vine paved the way for TikTok, which is now much bigger and more lucrative than its predecessor ever was.
People used Vine to create a variety of videos — pop star Shawn Mendes got his start posting song covers there — but its main draw was funny videos. Many Vine creators seemed to understand implicitly that Vines didn’t actually have to be self-contained stories; in fact, sometimes they were more effective because they were missing something. The constraints of the format necessitated cutting something out and leaving it up to the viewer. Some Vines omitted the beginning of a scene; others ended abruptly. One of the challenges of comedy is sustaining the joke for long periods of time, but with Vine, that wasn’t even a factor. Few Vines ever had to follow up on their punchlines, purely because there wasn’t enough time. Those that were self-contained jokes rarely followed a typical joke structure for similar reasons, often straying into absurdist or anti-humor. Vines were reliant on a new kind of comedy, one that could only be achieved on the internet.
Vine’s specific form of micro-video storytelling was tied to its founders’ original intent for the app, albeit unintentionally. Vine was originally conceptualized and developed as “a way to help people capture casual moments in their lives and share them with friends,” rather than a site for comedy sketches. Of course, many popular Vines did end up being impromptu moments captured on video, but that basic idea of sharing snippets also formed the foundation for the video style that Vine pioneered. People still quote and reference Vines in casual conversation, to the point where even a still frame of a Vine can convey an entire message. It was the perfect video format for a time when our attention spans were rapidly growing shorter — and yet, paradoxically, so many of them continue to live on in our collective consciousness, even years later.
[Ed. note: Though Vines still exist on the platform, they’re no longer playable as embeds. To deliver the instant satisfaction of our picks, we’ve linked to the original Vine videos, but embedded YouTube versions for accessibility.]
Vines we quote
Each of these Vines contributed to the collective vocabulary of people who were on the internet in Vine’s heyday. Some became meme formats, some became quotes, and others popularized words and phrases that people still use today. Many of them are immediately recognizable; you can share just one frame from Jared Friedman’s Vine of a guy turning to the camera and saying “wow”, and that’s usually enough for anyone who’s seen it before to hear it in their head. You’ll also sometimes hear people say that they wish they were “Jared, 19” upon seeing something that makes them wish they never learned to read.
The impact that these Vines had wasn’t just limited to the internet. The term “on fleek”, as popularized by Kayla Newman (known online as Peaches Monroee), has since become an entry in several dictionaries. The “what are those?” meme originated by Brandon Moore and made popular by a Vine made it all the way to Marvel’s Black Panther. However, the widespread impact of these Vines and others by Black creators all too often came without proper accreditation or compensation. They were some of the most influential creations of the digital age, but they also became modern examples of how the innovations of Black creators can quickly be commodified and ultimately distanced from their originators, something that continues to be a pressing issue on micro-video platforms like TikTok.
“Eyebrows on fleek” (PEACHES MONROEE/Kayla Newman)
“Road work ahead?” Uh, yeah, I sure hope it does! (Drew Gooden)
“This bitch empty. YEET” (source unknown)
“You know what? I’m just gonna say it” (Andrew Proctor)
“Wow.” (Jared Friedman)
Slices of life
These Vines used the platform as it was originally intended to be used: capturing little moments in life and sharing them to be enjoyed for years to come. Their entertainment value came from how genuine they felt. Watching them feels like peering into moments in other people’s lives, whittled down to the best six seconds. In an era during which the feeling of authenticity on social media felt increasingly precious, it’s not hard to see how so many of these became popular.
Time constraints also meant that these Vines were usually devoid of context, and imagining what preceded and followed the six seconds was part of the experience. Few of the people featured in these impromptu Vines became stars, but you can’t help but watch some of them now and think, “I wonder what the ‘I love you, bitch’ guy is doing now.”
“It’s an avocado! Thanks…” (Jeffery Walter)
“Back at it again at Krispy Kreme” (King Kumo)
“I don’t even know which way the Quiznos is” (source unknown)
“I love you, bitch” (source unknown)
“Stop, I could’ve dropped my croissant” (Terry McCaskill)
“Is this allowed?” (Daniel Gomez)
“Did he bite you?” (Nick Mastodon)
The Vines featured here were clearly more thought-out, with some resembling short comedy sketches. It’s an understandably difficult task to pack an entire self-contained joke into six seconds, but many Vine creators got used to playing around with this limitation and became experts at working with the format. Planned-out Vines were often either utterly absurd – see Adam Perkins’ bewildering “Hi, welcome to Chili’s” Vine as a prime example – or they moved at breakneck speed in order to cram everything in.
Most of all, Vine skits felt like their own little worlds. The automatic loop meant that there didn’t need to be a follow-up to the punchline, and the joke never needed to last longer than six seconds. There was no pause for laughter or any transition to the next joke. It simply happened, and then it happened again – as many times as you wanted it to.
“Red Robin” “Yum” (Danny Gonzalez)
“Judas! No!” (Ben Taylor)
“My name is Michael with a B…” (Faisal Ahmed)
uncaptioned (Luke Abercrombie)
“guy who keeps forgetting about dre” (Demi Adejuyigbe)
“Hi, welcome to Chili’s” (Adam Perkins)