[Note: This post — the fifth annual in a series! — is a list, not a ranking, so please don’t yell at me if your favorite is #33 or whatever. But if you’re going to yell at me, please let it be to debate the spelling of “Mi Pan.”]
1. “Mi Pan”
First of all, sorry for getting this stuck in your head again, if it ever even left. For much of the summer, TikTok was overtaken by one particularly catchy tune, which sounded something like a high-pitched voice singing a cappella, “Mi pan, zu zu zu, zu zu zu / Mi pan, yakakus, ñam ñam ñam.” The track rose to fame when it was paired with an oddly entrancing TikTok of a dancing CGI llama.
But what was the mysterious song, and why was it so catchy? Originally it was a mid-2000s jingle for Kellogg’s Honey Loops, sold as “Miel Pops” in Russia. In May, singer Rozalia (aka @chernaya.princessa) turned it into a jazzy, stripped-down arrangement. Then the tune got pitched up, went viral, inspired a lot of TikToks about bread, was remixed by Charlie Puth, and became perhaps the most iconic audio of 2020.
2. “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
One of the few shining lights of 2020 had to be Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” charting again (I love you, Stevie!!!). That was all thanks to Nathan Apodaca, aka @420doggface208, who reignited our love for the song in September when he posted his iconically chill TikTok lip-synching to it while skateboarding and drinking straight from a half-gallon of Ocean Spray cran-raspberry juice.
“It‘s crazy that all this can come from a video on TikTok,” Apodaca told Hola in November. “I’ve actually gotten work, I’ve been able to get a house.”
3. Dancing Pallbearers
Memes got a little morbid in 2020. The Ghanaian pallbearers became one of the year’s most recognizable and defining ones; footage (from the BBC in 2017) of the dapper group dancing while carrying a coffin — set to Russian techno song “Astronomia” — was juxtaposed with moments where people seemed to be flirting with death.
The meme began its spread in February, when TikTok user @lawyer_ggmu posted a video with the song, featuring a clip of a skier on the brink of a wipeout paired with footage of the pallbearers. People then found lots of utility for it during COVID times, using it to mock officials for not taking safety precautions seriously. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the meme got a ton of use when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Donald Trump each tested positive.
The troupe’s members have embraced their meme status, even making a PSA in May thanking healthcare workers and urging fans to practice social distancing. “Remember, stay home, or dance with us,” one of the pallbearers, Benjamin Aidoo, said with a laugh.
4. Sexualizing the USPS
The US Postal Service was thrown into crisis in August after Trump attacked the already struggling agency and opposed a federal stimulus bill to fund it in an attempt to suppress mail-in voting. People fought back by signing petitions, calling their representatives, and buying stamps to support the Postal Service.
They also sexualized the USPS in order to save it.
The result was what happens when stan culture meets political activism meets pandemic-induced chaotic horniness. People created sexy mail truck fan art, twerked on mailboxes, suggested the agency start an OnlyFans, made K-pop–style fancams, and even posted (NSFW) mail carrier–themed thirst traps. For Halloween, Yandy released costumes for a sexy “postal babe” and a sexy mail-in ballot.
5. “Lose Yo Job”
On Feb. 5, Johnniqua Charles was detained outside a club in Dillon, South Carolina, and wound up launching one of the biggest musical memes of the year. “Why are you detaining me? You about to lose yo job,” Charles tells the security guard in the video before breaking out into an improvised song and dance. Charles was ultimately not arrested, and the guard posted video of the incident on Facebook later that day, saying he was not mocking her but “posting it cause that rap was lit.”
Months later, the video exploded in popularity in June after several DJs created remixes of it, the most popular of which has been played on Twitter more than 14 million times. At the time, people in all 50 states and around the world were protesting police brutality against the Black community, and Charles’ defiant words were sung at demonstrations and displayed on signs.
Charles told BuzzFeed News that she’d been homeless and dealing with a drug addiction, and the viral video helped her reconnect with family and get back on her feet. “Other people keep telling me I helped them so much, but they don’t understand — nobody understands — how much this video going viral like this is helping me,” she said, “because it’s giving me the breakthrough I so badly needed for so long.”
6. “Nature is healing, we are the virus”
In March, as the pandemic brought global activity to a grinding halt, scientists reported that pollution rates had dramatically dropped as an unintended result (though, sorry to say, not enough to prevent climate disaster). Despite the fact that thousands of people had already died, some environmentalists celebrated. Images of elephants and dolphins spread on social media, with people falsely claiming the animals had returned to cities. “Coronavirus is the Earth’s vaccine. We’re the virus,” one person said in a now-deleted tweet. The sentiment was widely denounced as ecofascist for minimizing the loss of human life in favor of the environment.
If you’re a middle-aged white lady with chunky highlights who would like to speak to the manager, has the police on speed dial, and posts anti-vaxxer Minion memes on Facebook, we regret to inform you that you might be a Karen.
It’s not totally clear how the name “Karen” became a meme; the name has had a place in comedy for quite some time, notably in a 2005 Dane Cook bit about “the friend nobody likes” and in a 2018 “Black Jeopardy” SNL sketch concerning a white friend who brings unseasoned potato salad to the cookout. Jay Pharoah has claimed to have coined the term in his 2015 comedy special, in which he used the name to refer to entitled white women.
But in May, the name took on a whole new level of meaning when a white woman, Amy Cooper, called the police on a Black man, Christian Cooper (no relation), after he asked her to leash her dog in Central Park. The man’s sister, Melody Cooper, tweeted a video of the incident, derisively calling the woman a “Karen.” From there, the name became a catchall for the kind of white women who dangerously threaten to call the police on Black people who are just living their lives, much like “BBQ Becky” and “Permit Patty” in 2018.
Arthur memes have a long history (they were in my first-ever edition of this annual series, back in 2016!), but none of them have the longevity and versatility of the show’s preschool nightmare dressed in pink, Dora Winifred. This particular image of D.W. was first noted as a meme in 2016 by Sydney Gore in Nylon, who described it as an “accurate depiction of FOMO in real time.”
That description has held true in 2020 — as isolation and longing became the universal vibe soon after the pandemic was declared, the image became a hugely popular meme in late March to express the things we were missing.
When Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” dropped in August, it was an instant viral hit. The song became the basis of perhaps the biggest TikTok dance of the year, started by choreographer Brian Esperson, with people doing high kicks, splits, and twerking to pull off the killer routine. Cardi herself stressed about how difficult the dance is, writing on Instagram: “now I gotta learn it and the kick finna make me fart.”
P.S. Jack Black did it.
10. Everything is cake
Few things felt totally certain in this disconcerting year — and then we suddenly had to grapple with the knowledge that delicious cakes might be lurking wherever we least expect them.
The chaos started on July 8, when Tasty tweeted a video that showed someone slicing into seemingly normal objects — toilet paper, a potted plant, a Croc — and revealing that they were actually cakes made by Turkish baker Tuba Geçkil. It wound up spiraling into a surrealist meme about our collective loss of a grip on reality. After all, if everything is cake, is nothing real?
Gritty has ruled over the city of Philadelphia since 2018 (he even appeared in the 2018 version of this story!), and he has been claimed by leftists as a symbol since his early days. But in November 2020, when Pennsylvania went blue and delivered President-elect Joe Biden a victory over Trump, the wild-eyed mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers was elevated to national hero status. Parties broke out in the streets of Philly, with people waving Gritty signs and dressing up as the orange beast himself.
Gritty memes have exploded online this year, with people crediting him with Biden’s win, suggesting him for Cabinet positions, and demanding he take the place of Confederate statues and get to hold the inauguration Bible. A French newspaper even had to explain who Gritty was to its readers.
12. Home Depot’s 12-foot-tall skeleton
When the Black Death swept through Europe in the 14th century, killing millions, what followed was a fixation with death reflected in the “Danse Macabre” artistic movement, which depicted death’s inevitability through paintings of skeletons, hand in hand with the living, dancing their way to the grave.
Feels only fitting that such a dark aesthetic would have a resurgence in 2020, as it did with the popularity of Home Depot’s 12-foot-tall skeleton. It’s unclear when the hardware retailer first started selling the enormous $299 lawn ornament, but a write-up in BestProducts.com first launched it to renown on July 30. The giant bones went on to become the hottest item of the Halloween season, particularly after a Sept. 9 TikTok of it being disassembled for purchase went viral. The skeleton sold out before the end of the month, but not before becoming the subject of envy (and memes) all over Twitter and TikTok.
13. Gossip Girl
I hope this website exists 50 years from now, so when my grandchildren ask me, Oh Grandma Julia, what was it like living in the great pandemic of 2020? How did you bear it? I can direct them to number 13 on this list and show them these Gossip Girl memes. We were all clearly going through it this year — and, as a result, some of the memes were just so truly, wonderfully stupid.
There isn’t much to explain about Gossip Girl memes: On the top, it’s a warped image of Serena van der Woodsen asking a nonsensical question, and below that, it’s Blair Waldorf responding with a badly photoshopped anagram of the show’s title. The meme originated in April in the “Useless, Unsuccessful, and/or Unpopular Memes” Facebook group, according to Know Your Meme, and knocked it out of the park from the get-go with:
S: i have to pee
B: go piss girl
14. “Who’s next?”
So many powerful people lost or resigned their jobs in 2020 after being called out for their racist behavior. As each announcement rolled in — from Bon Appétit’s Adam Rapoport to CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman — there was one inescapable, delicious soundtrack: “Go! Go! Go! Who’s next?”
The song, which comes from the mid-2000s children’s show Hip Hop Harry, first went viral on TikTok in May as a dose of nostalgia. But when protesters turned out for racial equality demonstrations over the summer, it became a celebratory anthem for justice being served, as we all asked: who would be next?
15. “I am once again asking…”
An election year wouldn’t be complete without some election memes. At the end of 2019, Sen. Bernie Sanders posted a campaign video on Twitter asking for donations so he could stay in the race. “I am once again asking for your financial support,” he said.
The still image and phrase took off as a meme in February, with people using it to declare the things they were once again asking for. Sanders himself even had some fun with it, going viral in July after tweeting, “I am once again asking you to wear a mask.”
16. “Da Vinky?!”
2020 was the year of the himbo, and few exemplified that ideal as flawlessly as 27-year-old Hungarian-Canadian twins Chris and Patrick Vörös. In September, the duo made a TikTok reacting to the trivia question “Who painted the Mona Lisa?” As “da Vinci” pops up on the screen, the two exclaim in unison: “Da Vinky?!”
It was perfect. It was hilarious. It was all of our last two brain cells exemplified. The video racked up more than 2.4 million views on TikTok, and that doesn’t even begin to count all the people who used the audio, all the times it was watched on Twitter, and all the memes it launched.
For what it’s worth, the brothers insist they know how “da Vinci” is pronounced and just wanted to make people laugh. “We made the entire world laugh for a week now, and if during this time, people could get a good kick out of us,” they told BuzzFeed News in September, “and if it makes people feel smarter than us, then that’s fine.”
17. What ___ are you?
Look, we were all really bored this year. One of the most wholesome ways we combatted the tedium was in July, when everyone was sending each other personalized Instagram posts from accounts such as @whatdogyouare and @what_frog_you_are. As more and more animals were taken up, the accounts got wackier, and soon people were able to find out what sandwich they were, what cursed image they were, and what haunted doll hosts their soul. Great fun for like a week.
18. World War III
Dark humor memes got their start pretty much immediately in 2020 when, on Jan. 3, the US killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike. Amid the confusion and anxiety about whether Iran would retaliate, teens coped by making memes about getting drafted into WWIII.
The jokes were really funny, but also pretty bleak, and sparked some backlash from those who thought they were inappropriate. But for a lot of young people, the memes served as a way to feel a little less helpless in a frightening world.
“Making a meme about the potential catastrophe or climate change makes the thing seem less threatening, just for a moment,” Anastasia Denisova, a University of Westminster lecturer who studies memes, told BuzzFeed News in January. “It helps when others react to this humorous take in the same way — it gives us this best feeling: that we are not alone.”
19. Draw 25
The “Draw 25” meme originated on Facebook on Jan. 4 thanks to Damien Jones, Know Your Meme first reported. The two-panel image then became a way to demonstrate the things we so desperately do not want to do that we’d rather get demolished in Uno over it.
Jones, 36, told BuzzFeed News his wife’s cousin snapped the pic of him on Thanksgiving last year during a particularly heated game of Uno (Jones was down to one card left when another cousin, who had about 15 cards, hit him with a “swap hands” card). On Facebook in January, Jones saw the image on the left of a custom Uno card reading “call/text your recent ex or draw 25” (he does not recall where it came from, and BuzzFeed News could not determine its source) and, using the photo that’d been snapped of him during that game, created the first-ever version of the meme.
Jones may have created one of the first memes of 2020, but he was not so lucky in the now-iconic family game. “I lost, definitely,” he said. “The guy who I switched with, he won, because he had one card.”
20. “This claim is disputed”
In an effort to push back against disinformation after Trump repeatedly lied about winning the election, Twitter began labeling Trump’s tweets with the disclaimer: “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”
21. “Never seen two pretty best friends”
The audio basically became the 2020 version of a rickroll, popping up in TikToks where you’d least expect it. Eventually, it morphed beyond the sound, to only the phrase unexpectedly being used, and then got even more abstract, with the mere concept of the impossibility of two pretty best friends being used as a punchline.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News in November, Scott said that in spite of his now-viral philosophy, he thinks “all women are queens regardless.”
22. Bong Joon-ho’s kissing Oscars
One of the rare good and pure memes of the year, Parasite director Bong Joon-ho gave us a beautiful and memeworthy moment in February when he won two Oscars and immediately went “now kiss.” 😙😙
23. “We did it, Joe”
On Nov. 7, Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. That day, Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted a video of herself congratulating Biden. “We did it, Joe,” she said. “You’re going to be the next president of the United States.”
The video went enormously viral, and on TikTok, people had a lot of fun making parody versions, memeing the audio, and even saying grace with it around the dinner table. Just the phrase alone has become a near-constant on Twitter (and in my brain).
24. Wash Your Lyrics
The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, or about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. But why not pick a better song? In early March, William Gibson, a 17-year-old in the UK, made the website Wash Your Lyrics, which generated a handwashing poster with the lyrics to any song you want.
Tons of people made charts that let them get squeaky clean to Carly Rae Jepsen, Queen, TLC (“No Scrubs,” fittingly), and tons more. Some artists even made versions for their own songs, including Miley Cyrus and Blink-182.
“It just felt so sad singing Happy Birthday to myself every time I washed my hands,” Gibson told the BBC of his inspiration.
25. Mike Bloomberg Instagram memes
This is not a list of the best memes — it is a list of the most defining memes. That distinction is why I must include a meme that frankly sucked and was cringe. Sorry!
In February, then–presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg paid more than a dozen huge Instagram meme accounts, including @FuckJerry and @Tank.Sinatra, to post sponcon for his campaign. Not every meme account was in support of the billionaire’s campaign — @TheFatJewish publicly criticized it and said he’d declined to participate based on Bloomberg’s record, which includes stop-and-frisk policing and mass surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers.
Honorable meme mention for corporate memes goes to Planters’ “Baby Nut” marketing stunt, whose virality was manufactured through spam Twitter meme accounts that the company (lol) planted.
26. Private island
There was no content more viral in 2020 than the coronavirus (sorry I had to!!!!!). On Sept. 4, Walking Dead actor Daniel Newman got absolutely skewered for posting a photo of 25 of his closest pals having a lovely beachy vacation/possible superspreader event. “Summer fun! 🏖❤️ (*private island all tested negative multiple times wear a mask❤️ ),” he wrote.
The post was lambasted for its failure to read the room during a global pandemic, and he quickly deleted it, but not before people posted screenshots and their own parodies of the cringey tweet (including the literal state of New Jersey, bless them).
New life was breathed into the meme just a month later, when Kim Kardashian flew her “closest inner circle” to yet another private island for her 40th birthday, and everyone was like, “Kim, there’s people that are dying.”
27. Lin-Manuel Miranda lip-biting selfie
And now for the first of two memes in which TikTok teens bully adult theater kids for being cringe (see “Matthew Morrison,” mentioned in #37). Lin-Manuel Miranda has tweeted a shocking number of lip-biting selfies over the years, and has been occasionally roasted for them since they first graced the internet (and especially when he sold some of them as prints in his merch shop).
But when Hamilton dropped on Disney+ on July 3, TikTok was flooded with jokes about the musical and its writer and star. The lip-biting selfie took off as a meme on the 13th, according to Mel Magazine, when @okayelisabeth posted a screen recording of her phone filled with a sea of the LMM selfies. Almost immediately, the pic was everywhere, being used on TikTok as a sort of rickroll.
Miranda acknowledged the kinda-mean-kinda-funny meme in a freestyle rap he posted July 17, rapping “bit my lip, aw shit, TikTok hates when I do that.” Exactly 16 minutes later, Miranda announced he was taking a break from Twitter, leaving his memers to wonder whether they’d actually bullied the Tony Award winner off the internet.
28. Mike Pence fly
The 2020 election was bleak as hell, so when a fly landed on Vice President Mike Pence’s head during the Oct. 7 debate and stayed there for two minutes, people lost their minds at the brief moment of levity. The internet got overtaken by fly memes for like a week, the Biden campaign immediately started selling fly swatters, “fly on Mike Pence’s head” parody accounts abounded, SNL did a whole sketch about it, and people (including Lizzo) even dressed up as the fly for Halloween. 2020 voters can have a little debate meme to help them survive the election, as a treat.
29. Smooth brain
Our poor little brains had to process a lot in 2020. Online, some sought refuge from the constant anxiety and trauma with a simple mantra: “no thoughts, head empty.” Having a “smooth brain” has been recorded as slang since at least 2011, according to Urban Dictionary, but memes surrounding the phrase became ubiquitous in 2020 as a kind of escapism. The meme even got a reference in The Good Place, when Jason Mendoza said his brain is “smooth as an egg.”
30. Dolly Parton Challenge
Between a Netflix documentary, a Christmas movie, and funding a COVID-19 vaccine, Dolly Parton had quite the busy year. And still, she found time to contribute to the 2020 meme arsenal when, on Jan. 21, she posted a four-panel image showing four photos of her, labeled LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Tinder. “Get you a woman who can do it all,” she wrote.
The #DollyPartonChallenge, as it came to be known, took off online, with people posting similar arrays of photos showing how they’d portray themselves on each platform. Celebrities got really into it, including Kerry Washington, Mark Hamill, and Martha Stewart.
31. Cultural reset
When something in pop culture is so iconic it completely changes the game, that right there is a cultural reset. The phrase first started popping up on K-pop stan Twitter at the tail end of 2019, but started to really take off at the end of December and January. By the spring, the phrase had become a mainstream and pervasive meme.
Oddly enough, the phrase “it was a cultural reset” actually comes from an interview from March 2019 in which Rose McGowan used it to refer to the #MeToo movement. Audio of McGowan saying the phrase went viral on TikTok, with people using it to depict the cultural moments that changed them and the things that have upgraded their lives.
32. Wipe It Down
One of TikTok’s biggest challenge memes this year was without a doubt the “Wipe It Down,” in which people filmed themselves in a mirror, transforming their looks as they wiped down the glass to BMW Kenny’s “Wipe It Down.” The meme got its start April 26, according to Vulture, when TikTok star Romina Gafur posted a video where she wiped her mirror to Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” briefly appearing in the mirror in a white mask.
The trend became what we know today when YouTuber Liane V posted a version with BMW Kenny’s song and promised $1,000 to anyone who followed both of them on Instagram and then made their own “#WipeChallenge” video. Loop giveaways are far from unusual on Instagram as a way to (sorta shadily) boost engagement, but within the following weeks, it genuinely turned into one of the year’s biggest memes on TikTok. Over 3.7 million TikToks have been posted using the audio, including ones by Jason Derulo, Drake Bell, and JoJo Siwa. Will Smith’s take on the trend wound up being one of the most viral TikToks of the whole year.
33. Toxic Future texts
When cities everywhere started going into lockdown in March, there were a lot of people who decided it was the perfect time to hit up their ex. To those people: this meme is for you.
This photo of the rapper Future on his phone had a fleeting moment of memedom during the 2019 holiday season, when it was paired with texts written from the perspective of a toxic ex just “checking in” to say Merry Christmas. But in March, when everyone started getting texts from their ex wishing them well in “these crazy times,” and “no need to respond, hope you’re well,” the meme really found its footing. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health even got in on it.
34. Fajita Wife
Every rose has its thorn, and every year has its Wife Guy. 2020’s title undoubtedly went to Jason Vicknair, who became Twitter’s main character of the day on June 27 while out to dinner with his wife at a Mexican chain restaurant in Allen, Texas, for what he said was their first date night “after 3+ months locked up on quarantine.” In his since-deleted tweet, Vicknair complained that his wife had been waiting nearly 20 minutes for a side of shredded cheese “as it’s the only way she can eat fajitas.”
“We gotta quit blaming #COVID19 for crappy service,” Vicknair concluded, tagging the restaurant and also sharing a photo of his wife looking terribly sad in front of her uneaten plate of fajitas.
The tweet got hugely roasted. People were pissed off that anyone would give restaurant workers such a hard time during a pandemic — but also, it was just a super goofy tweet, and people had a lot of fun turning it into a I'm one of the 1%. We should support Biden in raising our taxes
The 39 Most Defining Memes of 2020 have 4673 words, post on www.buzzfeednews.com at December 11, 2020. This is cached page on WP Discuss. If you want remove this page, please contact us.