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31 Great Memes That Defined 2016

In meme-oriam.

Originally posted on
Updated on

1. Dat Boi

Dat Boi unicycled into our hearts in April, rising to popularity on Tumblr and uniting us all with his trademark battlecry, "O shit waddup!!"

The iconic, chill-as-shit frog has its origins on Animation Factory, a decade-old site specializing in weird animated clip art.

“Essentially, as an artist, we were told ‘make whatever you want,'” Ryan Hagen, who worked at Animation Factory during Dat Boi's creation, told Select All. "And we were all a bunch of weirdos so you got weird things, like frogs riding unicycles or doing push-ups.”

2. Arthur's fist

When you've got the AUX, the bass is about to drop, and it fades out to "In a quarter mile, make a left on…"

Arthur memes of all kinds had their heyday in 2016, but none even came close to the ubiquity of Arthur's clenched fist. The image comes from the episode "Arthur's Big Hit," and was first used as a meme in July.

3. Petty Skai Jackson

Him: I'm going out Her: I know that's why I got dressed

Skai Jackson is already a super-famous 14-year-old Disney Channel star, but she was hurtled into meme fame this year when she posed for this truly iconic pic in April.

People immediately turned it into a meme to illustrate the pettiest of situations: when you show up to office hours begging for extra credit, when you try and sneak in after curfew, when your mom shades the hell out of you to her friends, etc.

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4. Harambe

Cecil and Harambe fighting in heaven they are enemies

On May 28, a gorilla by the name of Harambe was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after attacking a 3-year-old boy who climbed into the enclosure.

The incident dominated the news cycle and quickly became a meme — perhaps the year's biggest. People made concept videos of Harambe's lit AF funeral, honored him in their yearbook photos, and even painted murals in his memory. All the world's dicks were firmly out for Harambe.

Of course, an injured toddler and a dead gorilla aren't usually fodder for laughs, but Harambe become something practically post-meme — surreal, unfunny, yet completely funny in and of itself.

As The Atlantic explained, Harambe "became the perfect meme" by essentially being about nothing:

During its summer peak, merely dropping the word “Harambe” into an online conversation was sufficient to manufacture a surreal moment.

Harambe, in other words, is the perfect meme. In a reversal of Marshall McLuhan’s classic dictum, Harambe is the message that became a medium, capable of carrying any signal, without becoming identified with any of them. A meme in the original sense intended by Richard Dawkins: a cultural signifier that spreads simply because it is good at spreading. It is neither worth spreading the way a TED talk aspires to be, nor particularly worth resisting. It spreads because it can.

5. Damn Daniel

"Damn Daniel" is the meme your mom is probably still quoting. The viral video involves 16-year-old Josh Holz following around his friend, 14-year-old Daniel Lara, and repeatedly shouting, "Damn Daniel, back at it again with the white Vans!" in a bizarre voice.

The 30-second clip reached more than 330,000 retweets, and was followed by remixes, an appearance on Ellen, and (of course) #brands. Damn.

6. Running Man Challenge

instagram.com

The "Running Man Challenge," a viral dance craze set to Ghost Town DJ’s 1996 hit, “My Boo,” was started by two New Jersey high school students, Kevin Vincent and Jeremiah Hall, when they were bored in class one day, they said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The dance craze majorly took off in April when two Maryland Terrapins players posted their own take on the challenge. Police officers, dogs, and even a member of Fifth Harmony gave it a shot. The 20-year-old song regained such popularity that it even found its way back in the charts.

7. Blurry Mr. Krabs

When your mom leave you in the line to get eggs and the cashier says "next"

Perhaps the realest reaction face there's ever been, blurry Mr. Krabs is you at your most confused/overwhelmed/low-key fucked self. The image comes from a scene in SpongeBob episode "Patty Hype," and was first born into memedom in January.

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8. Bone app the teeth

Her: babe I want sushi Me: bone app the teeth

In 2016 and hopefully forever, the pinnacle of comedy was creating disgusting food monstrosities and captioning it "bone apple tea," "bone app the teeth," or some other phrase that vaguely/barely sounds like "bon appétit."

9. Obama and Biden

"barack please don't leave me with them" "joe you're leaving when I leave" "oh right lmao love u"

The tightest bromance on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. served as a bit of comic relief during the election, with people imagining the conversations Barack and Joe totally definitely have had.

10. Gavin

Gavin's got a reaction face for anything you're feeling. The 5-year-old rose to prominence on Vine thanks to his uncle, Vine star Nick Mastodon.

“We’ve had a few people notice at school and we’ve worked with his teacher to make it so it’s not distracting,” Gavin's mother, Kate Thomas, told the Daily Dot. “We want him to still be a normal kindergartner — as much as we can.”

11. Evil Kermit

*ice accidentally drops in kitchen* Me to me: kick it under the fridge

We've all got a dark side, and "Evil Kermit" (or Constantine, as he is officially known in the movie Muppets Most Wanted) represents that.

In a since protected tweet, @aaannnnyyyyaaaa kicked off the meme in November. Countless people followed, using it to depict their darkest urges, such as eating all the macaroni before it's gone and wiping your hands on the decorative towels.

12. If I see a clown...

#IfISeeAClown they gonna catch these hands.

The nation went into hysterics after creepy clown sightings were reported in more than 20 states. Naturally, on Twitter, people geared the fuck up and said what they would do #IfISeeAClown.

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13. Mannequin Challenge

Colony high school 😂😂😂#MannequinChallenge

November had people everywhere freezing in place to the beat of Rae Sremmurd's "Black Beatles." Started by a group of teens in Florida, the challenge was eventually attempted by dogs, toddlers, the New York Giants, Hillary Clinton, and even Blac Chyna...while she was giving birth. Can't get more dedicated to the ~meme lyfe~ than that.

14. "Roses are red..."

Twitter got a little poetic this year thanks to this rhyming meme that is as simple as it is delightful.

15. "Tea lizard"

Does #CryingLeBron join other meme greats like #tealizard, #CryingJordan and #smockin / the mask? Tweet us!

The Kermit "but that's none of my business" meme has been around since at least 2014, but it got new life in June when Good Morning America mistakenly (and hilariously) referred to him as "tea lizard."

Naturally, the good folks of the internet had a field day of calling out GMA — mainly for not knowing who the fuck Kermit is, but also for apparently THINKING. HE'S. A. LIZARD.

UPDATE: It has come to our attention that the history of “tea lizard” is a bit more complicated than previously thought.

About six months before GMA’s tweet, Twitter user @trillballins tweeted a joke about “tea lizard.” He, and many of his followers, tweeted jokes about “tea lizard.” The joke didn’t exactly reach meme proportions, largely staying within his followers.

GMA's social media editor Jeff Lowe told BuzzFeed News that, in fact, he knew exactly what he was doing when he tweeted "tea lizard" and that everyone thinking GMA got it wrong actually got trolled by the morning television show.

But, an insider at ABC told Mediaite that the social media team there actually wasn't aware of the "tea lizard" joke beforehand. They found it when they searched “crying Jordan” while looking for memes to include in the tweet, saw @trillballins tweet, and that’s when they found out about “tea lizard."

16. Ted Cruz, Zodiac Killer

whew! went on a great run today :)

2016 was a pretty rough year for Ted Cruz — mostly because of that whole election thing, but also because a bunch of internet weirdos accused him of being the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified serial killer who terrorized California in the late '60s and early '70s.

The conspiracy theory (which was first floated in a 2013 tweet but didn't go viral until Cruz ran for president) was totally satirical — Cruz wasn't born until 1970, making the theory easily debunkable. Still, it persisted.

Cruz's wife, Heidi Cruz, defended him to Yahoo News, saying: “Well, I’ve been married to him for 15 years, and I know pretty well who he is, so it doesn’t bother me at all. There’s a lot of garbage out there."

17. Conceited

Me: *spends $200 plus+ online shopping* Shipping: $5.99 Me:

Phone battery doing the least? Employers expecting you have years of experience right after college? This incredibly versatile meme of rapper Conceited, known for his work on Wild 'N Out, just gets it. The image was first used as a meme in September.

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18. Don't talk to me or my son ever again

don't you ever talk to me or my son again

Also known as juxtaposing one thing with a tiny identical version of that thing will always be funny. The meme has existed in some form since 2014, but really took off in March.

19. Pepe

Pepe, the cartoon frog who first appeared in a 2005 web comic by Matt Furie, has been a mainstay of meme culture for nearly a decade, but had a dark resurgence this year with the so-called alt-right.

The story of Pepe's journey from good-natured cartoon frog to neo-Nazi darling is a long and strange one. It starts with with 4chan trying to reclaim their beloved meme from the normies by associating him with Nazi symbolism, and ends with Trump retweeting a rare Pepe drawn in his liking, and the Anti-Defamation League naming it a hate symbol.

"When mainstream culture gets in on the joke ... the joke is ruined forever," the Daily Beast explained. "The campaign to reclaim Pepe from normies was an effort to prevent this sort of death, but it also had the effect of desensitizing swaths of the Internet to racist, but mostly anti-Semitic, ideas supported by the so-called alt-right movement."

20. Confused Math Lady

Straight: I accept you but don't fall for me Gay: Don't worry I don't like you Straight: Aren't you gay tho? Gay:… https://t.co/gtPrN92EXs

In a truly mind-boggling year, we needed a meme just as mind-boggled as we were. Enter “confused math lady,” a meme that originated on Brazilian telenovela Senhora do Destino.

21. TZ Anthem Challenge

instagram.com

Set to 16-year-old Zay Hilfigerr and Zayion McCall's "Juju on That Beat," the TZ Anthem Challenge was one of the year's biggest dance crazes.

After the artists made a video dancing to their song, teens everywhere began posting their own attempts at the dance.

22. Ken Bone

"How will you protect my job as a card in Guess Who?" #debates

No one encompasses the rise and fall of internet fame quite like Ken Bone, an undecided voter who went viral after asking a question during the second presidential debate. Almost immediately, his iconic red sweater sold out, "sexy Ken Bone" Halloween costumes were made, and he even sold out to Uber.

Less than a week later, Bone held a Reddit AMA, that led to the discovery of some not-so-savory info on the guy — namely, an interest in pregnancy porn and suggestions that the killing of Trayvon Martin may have been "legally justified," (but "not in the moral sense," he later said).

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Here's how the Washington Post explained how the Ken Bone meme was "ruined":

The fact that the Ken Bone meme isn’t as pure and fun as it once was shouldn’t surprise anyone with an Internet connection. Every meme has a cycle that ends with the meme being “ruined” in some way. That can happen through overexposure, brands swooping in to take advantage, or the simple march of time. (These days “being co-opted by Nazi trolls” is also an actual meme endgame.) But when the Internet turns a real human being into a meme, the end of that cycle can be particularly vicious and swift.

23. "Haven't heard that name in years"

Gwen Stefani? i havent heard that name in years...

Borrowing from a classic film noir trope, "haven't heard that name in years" memes are all the hilarity of random subjects looking broken, beat-down, and tired while puffing a cigarette.

24. *Record scratch*

*Record scratch* *Freeze frame* Yup, that's me. You're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.

Another meme based on a film trope, 2016's weirdest, funniest, and most awkward pictures were granted the *record scratch* *freeze frame* treatment.

25. Primitive SpongeBob

when ur at the doctors office with ur mom and the doctor asks if you're sexually active

Primitive SpongeBob, also known as "Caveman Sponge" or "SpongeGar," first appeared in a 1999 episode of SpongeBob. It rose to meme prominence this May when it was posted on r/BlackPeopleTwitter, according to KnowYourMeme.

26. Get you a man who can do both

"The meme, seemingly celebrating the importance of a varied wardrobe, began by advising people to find a partner who owns at least two outfits and, you know, possibly more than one pair of shoes," BuzzFeed News explained back in March.

Starting off with pics of Drake, the meme evolved into the juxtaposition of any subject (Spongebob, this well-dressed dog, etc.) "doing both" — aka looking fancy and looking chill.

27. Wholesome memes

Meme culture has always leaned towards the dark and snarky side, and the overall dumpster-fire vibes of 2016 pushed this towards the mainstream. Wholesome memes hilariously countered this with purity, kindness, and quite a few declarations of "I WANT TO LOVE AND SUPPORT YOU."

28. Bottle flipping

@Mike_Senatore FLIPPED A WATER BOTTLE FOR OUR TALENT SHOW AND ITS THE MOST LIT THING IVER EVER EXPERIENCED

2016 was the year teens flipped bottles. While a few bottles had been flipped in years passed, the meme went wild this year after high school student Mike Senatore, in the above video, wowed his classmates with a perfectly executed flip.

While the original bottle has since been disposed of, a signed "replica bottle" reportedly sold for at least $11,100 on Ebay.

29. Honey Bun Baby

When you drop your phone, pick it up and your screen isn't cracked

Joining Gavin in the ranks 2016's most viral children, the "honey bun baby" — aka Ashton Howell — is a bit of a meme origin mystery. The baby's photo was first shared on his uncle's Instagram, and eventually moved to Twitter as a reaction image.

Ashton's mom, Ariel Griggs, told Alabama.com that her son has no clue how famous he's gotten.

"He doesn't know what's going on," she said. "He still wants his nap time. He's still cranky in the morning. And getting on the potty is still big business."

30. Bee Movie

YouTube

The 2007 movie starring Jerry Seinfeld has always been a bit of a joke online (on Tumblr especially), but hit the mainstream this year with some pretty fantastic YouTube tribute videos.

Also, Tumblr discovered that you can buy a T-shirt with the entire Bee Movie script on it and got PSYCHED. You can buy it here.

31. 2016

me at the beginning of 2016 vs me at the end of 2016

As 2016 drew to a close, people showed how this year has aged them with side-by-side images representing themselves "at the beginning of 2016 vs. at the end of 2016."

2016 has been a lifetime. At least we had memes.

UPDATE

This post has been updated to provide further context about the origins of the "tea lizard" meme.

Julia Reinstein is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Julia Reinstein at julia.reinstein@buzzfeed.com.

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