Where would we be without memes? In our increasingly digital lives, memes have become a shorthand for expressing our feelings in a way that feels both relatable and familiar to hundreds if not thousands of strangers online. We can throw down a certain template, put our own spin on it (or share someone else’s), and get that immediate dopamine boost from mutual friends and randos online who either share the same feelings or appreciate our skill at flipping the original concept.
High culture it’s not, but we deserve a little stupid, mindless fun. Especially after a year like 2021.
Even if you’re one of those rare few on this planet who are able to keep their screen time in check, you’ve probably shared a good dozen or two memes amongst your family, friends, or coworkers these past 365 days. Your parents probably even attempted to throw down a meme or two. Badly, but hey, bad parent memes are a meme within themselves! So in celebration of all the meme-idge of 2021, here are the 14 best memes of the year, how they impacted us, and what they say about us (if anything at all).
Bernie Sanders At The Inauguration
those Bernie Memes had me dying but this one took the cake pic.twitter.com/3EWfOOGxVI
— nxthxnie1 (@nxthxnie1) January 22, 2021
Kicking off our list is a meme that’s still making the rounds nearly a year later. When Bernie Sanders rolled up to the Biden Inauguration in a comfort-focused fit, a homely pair of mittens and a basic surgical face mask, all sorts of political pundits and center-left Twitter personalities attempted to roast the senator for exhibiting such a gloomy attitude during Biden’s big day. Flash forward 11 months and it feels downright prophetic. Although we’ve got Trump out of office, things are largely the same — grim. Bernie was ahead of the game, thumbing his nose at the shallow pageantry that comes along with electing a new president. (Or maybe he was just an old dude who didn’t want to freeze.)
The Bernie meme was soon recontextualized into all sorts of weird and wacky scenarios — Bernie at the Met Gala, etc. At the end of the day, it’s just a funny image. One popular enough to inspire cardboard cutouts in storefronts and murals on walls in cities across the country.
Kathryn Hahn/Agnes Harkness Winking
"If we win the Presidency, Congress, and the Senate, we'll enact progressive policies" pic.twitter.com/l7Pmv8oWD0
— Zack Bornstein (@ZackBornstein) March 4, 2021
You don’t have to be a WandaVision fan to fall in love with this exaggerated wink from Kathryn Hahn in her role as Agnes Harkness. Case in point, me! I have no idea who Agnes Harkness is, I’ve never seen WandaVision, and I don’t plan to but I’ve been known to Kathryn Hahn wink at all manner of things!
The scene this was taken from first appeared in the debut WandaVision trailer and since people first got a glimpse of that wink, they’ve been repurposing it. Most people used the Hahn wink anytime they were openly lying, whether to their friends, their employers, their families, and, most often, themselves.
"Could we jump on a call to discuss…" pic.twitter.com/hr9eAUcLE6
— Lilly Dancyger (@lillydancyger) March 8, 2021
Oprah is a meme machine. For as long as memes have been a popular form of internet discourse, we’ve been recontextualizing GIFs and photos of Oprah. In March of this year the famous journalist sat down for an exclusive interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Upon hearing that members of the royal family expressed their concern over the possible complexion of Meghan and Harry’s baby, Oprah threw her hands up in shock and disbelief.
Then the internet took it and used it for any shocking moment we had to deal with this year. The thought of jumping on a call for a conversation that could just as easily be held over email? Oprah shock! The possibility of another lockdown or another covid variant? Oprah shock. Standing next to an anti-masker while they cough and sneeze in line at Target — Oprah shock! That entire interview was filled with moments ripe for meme-ing.
DogeCoin and Meme Coin Cyrptocurrency
Everyone always asks… “What’s Dogecoin doing?”
But nobody ever askz… “How’z Dogecoin doing” pic.twitter.com/ZukEpnHte4
— Matt Wallace (@MattWallace888) December 29, 2021
Earlier this year, a bunch of people on Reddit, Twitter, and Discord came together and decided to bet big on GameStop shorts and it threw the entire stock world for a loop. The play resulted in a lot of real money and it also gave birth to a whole bunch of “stock bros,” people whose entire identities revolve around talking about stocks.
First came GameStop, then AMC, then the rise of the meme coin cryptocurrency, resulting in all sorts of ridiculously named virtual money like DogeCoin, Shiba Inu, CumRocket’s Cummies, Dogelon Mars, MonaCoin, Loser Coin, Pepe Cash, and… really just way too many to name. Are any of your friends who care about cryptocurrency meme coins rich? No (except the DodgeCoin millionaire!), but I bet they won’t shut up about NFTs.
Sadly, everyone’s sudden obsession with checking their Robinhood account can be attributed to the fact that a lot of people are struggling financially right now. We all desperately want to believe we can get lucky and flip a few thousand into tens or even hundreds of thousands and be set for the years ahead. It’s certainly possible, but we wouldn’t bank on it.
My Fall Plans/ The Delta Variant
my fall plans // the delta variant pic.twitter.com/lqqW9AViqG
— Fossil Locator (@FossilLocator) August 12, 2021
This simple framework was used aside a bunch of different stills from cartoons, television shows, and movies that at the end of the day boil down to one singular feeling — despair. It touched on the optimism we all felt for the early months of 2021 when the vaccine was being rolled out and it looked like we were actually going to have a regular summer, and how quickly that all faded away with the Delta variant.
It was a serious situation, but the meme helped us all cope just a little bit. Then came Omicron.
French Dispatch Premiere Meme
pitch, first draft, final proof, comments section pic.twitter.com/4IFQgO0DB3
— Ferris Jabr (@ferrisjabr) July 14, 2021
Taken during the Cannes premiere of Wes Anderson’s French Dispatch, this photo was snapped of the film’s director standing alongside cast members Timothée Chalamet, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray, and the foursome couldn’t look more like they were part of completely different worlds. Timothée looked like a modern-day Hollywood celeb (so basically, a dude from the ‘90s) Tilda Swinton looked like Bowie during his poppy ’80s era, Bill Murray looked like he toured the country following the Grateful Dead, and Wes Anderson looked…well like you’d expect Wes Anderson to look.
Soon the internet took this photo and used it as a basic template to show the stark differences between anything they felt the need to compare. This is one of those memes that got old painfully fast. In fact, we’re sorry we even brought it up and made you relive it.
Anakin Skywalker & Padme Amidala, ‘For The Better, Right?’
People might not be able to agree on whether the Star Wars prequel trilogy is any good, but one thing we can all agree on is that it’s a goldmine for memes. GIFs of Jar Jar being a jackass, anything with Ewan McGregor looking overly emotional, the phrase “I hate sand,” there is a lot of good material fit for memes! This year gave us this gem, a four-panel template from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
The original scene concerned Anakin and Padme’s differing views on the Galactic Republic, then it made its way to Twitter with altered dialogue as a sort of proto version of the Red Flag Emoji meme. Now people use it as a simple four-scene joke where the punchline is always shared by panels two and four. The above example doesn’t follow that simple rule, but it’s a masterful use of the tempalate.
Anakin Skywalker as a character goes through probably pop culture’s greatest heel turn, and as such the meme is usually used in reference to people or ideas we previously thought were good and universally loved but have a darkness lurking beneath them. Like the internet itself.
Mary Jane Defending Peter Parker
The title of this meme is a bit deceptive, Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane isn’t actually defending Peter Parker here, she’s talking to her boss Enrique, but context doesn’t matter to the internet. Instead, this scene has been repurposed by anyone looking to defend someone else over something they might otherwise get bullied for. The context it’s now used in is always a bit lighthearted, as such, there isn’t a lot of depth or a deeper meaning here — it’s not a mirror that reflects where we are as a society or anything like that. It’s just a silly meme that people like to have fun with.
Sometimes that’s all we need.
Kim Kardashian Met Gala Outfit
— merry kristen (@kristen_siebs) September 14, 2021
You have to give it to Kim Kardashian, she has a certain skill for breaking the internet. We have to think a small part of her knew that she’d inspire the internet to give her the meme treatment when she rolled up to the Met Gala in a full-body black Balenciaga fit that made her look like a Dementor from Harry Potter. Soon every photo of her snapped at the Met Gala became a template ripe for memes.
Our favorite is this photo of her standing next to younger sister Kendall Jenner, soon the two figures began to represent the duality of our own identities.
Red Flag Emoji
When me hear someone say they don't like cookies
— Cookie Monster (@MeCookieMonster) October 14, 2021
The Red Flag Emoji meme was widespread to the point of exhaustion. It was the buzzing fly of your social media feed, always showing up with a tired joke that felt a week too late, but hey, we’ve got to give credit where credit is due — people got a lot of mileage out of this meme.
What started out as a wholesome attempt on TikTok about legitimate dating red flags became shorthand for separating yourself and your interests from those with differing views. It was a way to have a take and be entrenched on your side without explanation. Ultimately it was a less imaginative and less funny version of the Anakin and Padme meme. As such, it was considerably more popular.
Two Guys On A Bus
Credit goes to Brazilian cartoonist Genildo Ronchi, who illustrated this image way back in 2013. The original caption read, “escolha o lado feliz da vida!” Which roughly translates to “Choose the happy side of life!” How that cartoon became a meme template in 2021 is anyone’s guess. The image circulated with swapped text within Brazilian Twitter circles back in 2019, according to KnowYourMeme, but didn’t appear widespread in the US until this year where countless people used it to represent the duality of choice. It’s a modern-day choose your own adventure.
Some people hit this meme solely for the laughs, while some used it in some seriously dark ways. Are we always better off in life for making the “right” decision? You decide.
Fat Joe — Yesterday’s Price is Not Today’s Price
“Yesterday’s price is not today’s price” pic.twitter.com/Kcsn5RwPGk
— Wongisimo (@whereswongo) August 6, 2021
This is a meme that is surely near and dear to the fans of Verzuz. The phrase was uttered by Bronx rapper Fat Joe during his Versuz battle with Ja Rule. Consensus says that Ja won that battle, but the only thing anyone really remembers from that battle is all the beautiful Fat Joe memes we’ve gotten out of it. It then hit the stratosphere when Joey crack yelled it after seeing Jadakiss singlehandedly demolish the LOX vs. Dipset Verzuz.
This clip, where Fat Joe says “Yesterday’s price is not today’s price” to us represents the way many of us stopped taking shit from our employers this year and started viewing ourselves as the invaluable assets that we are. When you’re working hard in the midst of an almost three-year-long pandemic and it seems like your employers are doing everything they can to put you in harm’s way while raking in all the profits, you’ve got to ask yourself — is it really worth it? The heroes amongst us let our bosses know this year that yesterday’s prices aren’t today’s, so pay up.
The Feminine Urge
the feminine urge to purchase another unnecessary item in the name of self-care
— ᴋᴇᴇʙᴀʙʏ (@da_keebabyy) December 27, 2021
For the better part of a year, whether you spend your time on Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Tumblr, or Instagram, you’ve probably been hearing about the feminine urge to… do pretty much anything. That soon morphed into the less often used “masculine urge” and “non-binary urge,” but for the most part, it’s all about the feminine urge.
This isn’t a meme that is divided by gender and it doesn’t even really need to make sense to be funny. Some of the most successful implementations of this meme have to do with seemingly nonsensical urges that have nothing to do with feminity or masculinity. The more absurd the better.
If you’re not super keyed into memes, you might not know that the Yassification meme — which took Twitter by storm last month — has been brewing for quite some time. In late 2020 the term “yassification” first started making the rounds on social media platforms and by February of 2021 people were comparing minor celebrities to super celebrities and referring to them as the post-yassified form.
But the yassification meme was arguably in its most popular form by the fall of 2021 when people would “yassify” photos of celebrities through a Face App filter that made them look otherworldly attractive. We did it to everyone, from the cast of Seinfeld to Shrek, to Joe Biden. In an ugly year, it represents our need to surround ourselves with beauty, no matter how banal.