We had a lot of fun on the internet this year, diving into subcultures, highly specific content, and of course, tons and tons of memes. We’ve decided to share some of our favorites from the past year.
Our taste spans platforms and genres — everything from anime to funny pets to Twilight behind-the-scenes footage. Many of us sunk deep into TikTok in 2021, so these short-form videos make up the majority of the list. This list isn’t exhaustive, of course. The internet is the gift that keeps giving, and it would be practically impossible to catch them all. But what these all have in common is that they made us laugh, during a difficult year where many of us could really use a bit of relief, or some measure of escape.
This list is for anyone who sent a friend a TikTok of a pet doing cursed things, or had to explain Gojo’s entire backstory on the internet. Here are Polygon’s favorite memes of 2021.
Now look at this
Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘n’ Nite” was a hugely popular TikTok sound this year. Creators used the “now look at this” bit of the song, and made edits that highlighted something worth paying attention to — from cute animal footage, to absurd comedy.
One of our favorite versions involved Twilight fans sharing behind-the-scenes footage — like Taylor Lautner wearing a morph suit when shooting the scenes where he was CGI’d as a wolf. The behind-the-scenes footage captures Kristen Stewart having to pet Lautner in the morph suit while he performed as his werewolf-sona. This also includes funny footage of Robert Pattinson being unable to do a basic summersault, in scenes where Edward and Bella are both vampires.
Though the Twilight series was thoroughly dragged when it first came out, it’s safe to say it’s now a stone cold classic. So many elements have gotten their sparkly time in the sun.
Around the release of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, users on Twitter participated in a trend where fans pretended to tweet and talk online as if Pokémon were real. Many of the posts cracked jokes about just how weird it would be to have the eccentric monsters doing everyday things like eating lunch. It’s a fun joke format that later on was adapted to more games, like Bloodborne.
Here comes the BOYYY
Hear the intro melody of “Here comes the ...” and you might have an idea of what follows: An adorable pet rounding the corner, basking in sunlight, or otherwise looking cute as hell. The remix of the song (which I like to think of as the “goblin version”) turns the audio into a semi-screamed absurd rendition, which TikTokers used to expose all the weird, chaotic things their pets do.
There isn’t a single version of this audio, when attached to a pet video, that isn’t pure perfection and that we won’t instantly watch. And then rewatch, and rewatch, and rewatch.
Undertale creator Toby Fox decided to toss fans a bone after a hard time this year: A surprise release of one more chapter of his new game, Deltarune. The release of Chapter 2 did more than introduce a new set of chiptune bangers and quirky characters, it also reinvigorated a dormant fandom.
One product of this included a new meme format where Suzie, an angry school bully, shouts at the other main character, “God FUCKING DAMMIT Kris where the FUCK are we.” The trend caught the attention of fans, and soon people photoshopped the two in a wide variety of games like Pokémon and Doki Doki Literature Club!.
Please stop casting Chris Pratt in these movies
Once Chris Pratt was cast as the voice behind both Mario and Garfield, no movie or show seemed safe. If the actor could be cast in such eccentric roles, what else would be fair game for him to be cast in?
This is the question that a new series of memes centered around. The images simply joked that Pratt had been cast in various films and projects that seemed like a longshot for the actor’s participation. People joked that he had been cast in projects like the animated adaptation of Critical Role. It even got to a point where one producer confirmed that Pratt would not be involved with an upcoming Netflix anime series.
Simlish pop songs
If you’ve played even just one Sims game, then you know Sims speak their own gibberish language, Simlish — and that pop artists have created Simlish version of their hits, which are featured as music in the game. On TikTok, talented singers created their own versions of pop songs in their interpretations of Simlish. And their versions are pretty convincing.
You just got Gojo’d
Ever since the release of the anime Jujutsu Kaisen, Satoru Gojo has become a staple of TikTok trends and memes. In the show, he’s a suave and all-powerful Jujutsu sorcerer. On TikTok, he’s the butt of nearly every joke under the sun. You can find one of the biggest trends nestled under a sound titled, “gojo horror film” where folks use an audio of him talking in Japanese along with a shitty AR filter that added him to the scenery. That single voice line inspired other spinoff trends, like one imaging the character Makima from the manga Chainsaw Man saying the same line.
Another trend included “You just got Gojo’d,” where TikTokers would Photoshop Gojo’s ice-blue eyes and outfit onto photos. These include gonzo subjects like the Eiffel Tower and Shrek. There is another version of this trend as well, where people would pull a mask over their friends’ eyes to “Gojo” them, since he regularly wears a blindfold. As for this prank, the Gojo version is not the only version of this trend — TikTokers would also use phrases like “You just got Coconut Malled” which is a reference to the Coconut Mall track in Mario Kart Wii), to Rickroll people with the popular Mario game.
Denis Villeneuve’s Dune came out this year, in an explosion of Melange, recycled still-suit water, and boxes of pain. Mr. Dune got a lot of attention this year (I know his name is Paul Atreides, please just go along with this), as the well-received film adapted the first half of one of the most influential works of science fiction.
But it was Duncan Idaho, the charismatic swordmaster who first appeared in the 1965 novel, whose moniker stole the show. In a world of futuristic inventions and namesakes, “Duncan Idaho” stood out as particularly comical, and became the subject of a number of Twitter jokes.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is as strange as its title might suggest. The anime series — which got a new season on Netflix this year — features fabulously flamboyant characters with a sharp sense of style that looks straight off of a runway for an experimental fashion show.
Based on Hirohiko Araki’s manga, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure skews towards the absurd — early in the first season a vampire fuses with Jojo’s dead grandpa. It’s only fitting then that the characters and rock-inspired soundtrack inspired a TikTok trend. In it, TikTokers see how far back they can lean back (as if in an extreme form of limbo), to the track, “Giorno’s Theme.” The trend is a fun ode to the ridiculous and contorted poses struck by the anime’s characters.
2021 brought lots of unexpected twists and turns. One of them being: the revival of B.o.B.’s and Hayley Williams’ 2010 hit, “Airplanes.” What brought it back, you ask? Oh that’s simple! It was a fanart of Mordecai from Regular Show and My Little Pony’s own Twilight Sparkle. The inter-franchise “ship” — a term for when fans pair characters romantically — was depicted via a crude digital drawing, which included lyrics from the popular song. It soon took over TikTok with a plethora of variations playing on the two.
You smell like a baka
“You kind of smell… like a baka… Eren Yeager.”
These lines, uttered by a squeaky mouse-like voice, echoed endlessly throughout our brains this year. The sound is a love letter to the more cringe parts of anime fandom — “Baka” is the Japanese phrase for idiot and Eren Yeager is a character from the popular anime Attack on Titan. The sound is connected to other anime related trends — like shouting Eren Yeager at the movie theater and manga fans going to hang out in the Barnes & Noble. However, as with many anime-related sounds on TikTok, this one went mainstream and eventually incorporated a wide variety of pet videos online, too.
Big mouth bass pop songs
Do you remember those wall mounted animatronic bass that sing “Take Me to the River” — complete with a tail tapping to the rhythm? Well, people figured out how to hack the Big Mouth Billy Bass to sing other, more contemporary songs. Complete with the mouth moving to the lyrics of that song. A wall-mounted fish performing “Down with the Sickness” by the Disturbed, looks pretty out of place, but in the best way possible.
Into the Thick of It / Castaways
If you listened to songs from the children’s show, Backyardigans, this year, TikTokers are likely to blame. Users on the platform catapulted songs from the Nickelodeon show to new heights this year. Tracks like “Into The Thick Of It” and “Castaways” were being spun into content from top creators and bonafide celebrities like pop artist Lizzo. The bewildering craze even shot the songs up onto the top of music charts on Spotify. Each song has its own set of trends, with folks wiggling their hips to the playful bops. It also spawned satirical covers with lyrics like, “I’m fucking sick of it.”
Dwayne the Croc Johnson
This one is pretty self-explanatory — it’s right there in the name. But here’s a little context: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has built such a strong action hero career, over the years, (including a recent turn in Fortnite as The Foundation) that he’s also become a kind of meme figure. And one particular TikToker has used a 3D printer to commemorate a particularly salient meme.
Dwayne “The Croc” Johnson looks just like a regular Croc except for one key distinction: the bust of Dwayne Johnson bursting out of the top. Perfect all occasion wear, in my humble opinion. Let’s goooooo.
Henry Cavill loves Warhammer
Henry Cavill has made it very clear that he loves Warhammer — he has apparently played Total War: Warhammer 2 six times, according to PC Gamer — and that he’s spent a significant portion of the pandemic painting his miniatures. A character in the Warhammer 2 DLC is even inspired by him. That said, every time the news comes up again, it’s a pure delight. And this year, during a WitcherCon interview (to chat about his role as Geralt in the Netflix series) he once again mentioned his abiding love for the game — such is the depth of his passion, that it has emerged on press tours for various other projects.
NSFW Ankha and Camel By Camel
Oh sweet, beloved Ankha, you never did anything to deserve the attention that would come your way. Earlier this year, a pornographic animation of the Animal Crossing villager created by the popular digital animator, Zone, blew up on TikTok. The clips became so big that the trend also coincidentally popularized the song in the video, the 1985 track by Sandy Marton “Camel by Camel.” Zone released the video in early 2021, but it found new life on the platform last fall. It was one of 2021’s biggest trends — and we only hope that the poor villager finds peace.
Dungeons & Dragons archery styles
There is a thriving Dungeons & Dragons TikTok scene with tons of subcommunities and memes, from short-form videos of people’s play sessions, to dice makers showing off their process, to alignment chart memes. And some of these revolve around what a certain character class would do with a specific weapon — like this TikTok of various archery styles across D&D character classes like rangers, monks, bards, rogues, and barbarians.
Bella! Where the hell have you been loca
This year, Twihards also revisited New Moon’s wonderfully ridiculous plot. Edward leaves town hoping Bella will forget him and continue living her human life. Instead, she seeks out near-death experiences — like driving a motorcycle off a cliff — which allow her to hallucinate him. Her sexy werewolf friend Jacob is the only one strong enough to save her. In this iconic scene of their reunion, Jacob greets her with the famous, completely unwarranted line “Bella! Where the hell have you been loca.” In 2021, TikTokers, YouTubers, and Twitter users rediscovered this line and launched it into the stratosphere — which led to it taking up a life of its own on shirts and cakes, and other merch.
Waking up in the morning, thinking about so many things
This audio took over TikTok this year, as the perfect soundtrack for users to share some of their funniest cringey childhood memories, or other embarrassing or drunk moments. Even celebrities got in on the trend. The audio comes from an episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, which originally aired in 2011. A 10-year-old Gia Giudice sings this song at her sister’s birthday party. The rest is history.