The 35 Best Memes of 2021
What is the internet, but memes persevering?
The best way many web denizens have come up with to cope with how simply TERRIBLE this past year has been is, well, to meme about it. As we spent more and more of our waking lives hunched over in our home offices this year, we had more than enough time to make jokes about pretty much anything that crossed our paths. Bean Dads found shrimp tails in their Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Paul McCartney composed "Get Back" on the bisexual Ikea couch, and the boat stuck in the Suez Canal was Agatha All Along. We've rounded up the very best posts of the year in this list we're just going to call the Best Memes of 2021.
Need more memes? Check out the Best Memes of 2020, the Best Memes of 2019, and the Best Memes of All Time. And if you want recommendations for things to watch, check out our lists of the Best TV Shows of 2021 and Best Movies of 2021.
35. Once COVID is over
The end of this pandemic, so they say, is on the horizon, but for those of us who like to keep our expectations low to avoid disappointment, all this crowing about what plans people are making just a few months into the future sounds like wishful thinking. The vaccine is COMING, it's HERE, hope is REAL, and yet we still feel like Sisyphus pushing our silly little rocks up our silly little hills.
For a brief moment as everyone was reeling from months in lockdown, sea shanties became the hottest track on TikTok. The affection for these antiquated boat tunes began when a 26-year-old Scottish postal worker and musician named Nathan Evans posted a video of himself singing "The Wellerman," a 19th Century whaling song originating in New Zealand. Soon there were remixes, versions featuring Kermit the frog, and think pieces. Shanty culture was inescapable, and very very catchy.
33. Cat zoom filter
As Rod Ponton awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed on a Zoom conference call into a tiny cat. The Texas county attorney was briefly stumped during a hearing by a Zoom filter that turned his face into that of a kitten, making his plaintive cries of "I'm not a cat" that much funnier. He eventually figured it out, but only after the whole thing was recorded and then immortalized by the internet.
32. Bean Dad
An overly long thread about a father turning his hungry young child's inability to use kitchen tools into a "teachable moment" that lasted for hours backfired when Twitter turned on the author, podcaster John Roderick, telling him to stop torturing his poor kid. The fracas caused Roderick to delete his account amid accusations of anti-Semitic and homophobic tweets, popular podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me recorded a new theme song, and somehow interim Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings also got involved?
31. Burger King International Women's Day tweet
Holidays are times when we can be together with friends and family, support and honor marginalized groups, and take some much needed time off from the daily grind. They are also times when corporate entities can make dumb posts on the internet. On International Women's Day this year, the official UK account for fast food monarch Burger King tweeted "Women belong in the kitchen." It's probably a joke, and it was definitely funny, though the response was much funnier.
30. Stimulus check
People were dreaming up big plans for when the $1,400 stimmy finally hit their bank account. It was no longer enough to purchase a new TV or some nice shoes you've been eyeing; we need one of those big red concrete balls that sit outside Target. Microsoft Word's universally loathed virtual assistant Clippy? He's mine. Seafood franchise Legal Seafood? You better believe fourteen-hundo buckaroos are buying me the secrets to the illegal seafood.
29. My fall plans // the Delta variant
Just when we thought we were out, the Delta variant pulled us back into lockdown for a time over the fall, summarily canceling even our best laid plans. What could we do but post? Like the aliens from Signs and the doomed little sister from Hereditary, we were again laid low by circumstances beyond our control. At least staying in and watching TV for a few more weeks is better than a telephone pole to the head.
28. The feminine urge
It's important to be in touch with all the sides of your persona, but over the fall internet denizens were subjected to a barrage of feminine urges. The feminine urge to equate silly little items with self-care, the feminine urge to ask if someone's mad at you, the feminine urge to keep your towel on forever after you shower.
27. RIP to ___ they would have loved/hated ___
What started as a tweet from late 2020 about Princess Diana probably loving the video game Total War: Warhammer 2 if she was alive today steamrolled into a very funny meme format in March of 2021, predicting what other deceased famous people would have liked or loathed with surprising accuracy based on topline facts about them. Nikola Tesla would have hated Elon Musk; there's not a doubt in my mind that Karl Marx would have loved Britney Spears. Albert Einstein? Absolutely a fan of Mariah Carey's E=MC2.
26. Stages of smoking a joint
For those who partake in recreational Mary Jane, it's mainly a chillaxing agent—a means to some form of calm and deadened awareness, whether that be social or solitary. But those who partake also know that you're always toeing the line between supes chill vibes and rampant uncontrollable panic attack: Stray too far into the tall grass and you'll end up sitting rigidly on your couch for an hour, desperately wondering which of your friends hates you the most. In these times, it's important to remember that it's all in your head. Probably.
25. Myanmar coup fitness instructor
Times are still pretty dark, and, fittingly, our extremely online sense of humor is even darker. As if *gestures broadly* everything else going on wasn't enough, the nation of Myanmar had a military coup d'etat at the start of February. Along with the news of the military taking control of the government came this video of a fitness instructor teaching a live class, totally unaware that there are tanks breaching the barricade behind her. "Me," we all said, as we all try to go about our days while absolute chaos is erupting around us.
24. Cinnamon Toast shrimp
When comedian Jensen Karp tweeted a photo of something, uh, fishy amongst his crunchy squares of Cinnamon Toast, he ignited a furor that occupied the #1 trending spot on Twitter for two days. Finding shrimp tails in your just-opened bag of cereal is one thing, but then Cinnamon Toast themselves had the audacity to claim it was just accumulated cinnamon-sugar, resulting in a back-and-forth that may still be going on. The saga was written up in The New York Times, Karp himself was discovered to be married to Topanga from Boy Meets World before he ended up getting sort of canceled, and millions of citizens doggedly searched their bags of bran for more mysterious passengers for a week afterward.
23. "It's me, Ben Affleck"
Before he got back together with Jennifer Lopez and basically reenacted the "Jenny from the Block" music video, Ben Affleck was apparently surfing the apps for some human connection. When a girl blocked him, probably because she (understandably) didn't believe she was actually speaking to BEN AFFLECK, he sent her a video plaintively proving his identity. Obviously, the video wasn't meant for all of us to gawk at, but… it is funny. Here's hoping his current relationship works out do he doesn't have to go back on the apps again.
22. Suez Canal boat
When the 1,300-foot-long container ship Ever Given got stuck in the Suez Canal for days, it stopped up global supply chains everywhere but released a stream of memes that could fill an entire list. The Big Boat was the only thing anyone was talking about for nearly a week in March as many of us were just starting to venture out of our homes again, and the incremental measures taken to free the Ever Given's prow from the Suez mud—a prow so big it made industrial machinery look like children's toys—looked so hilarious we couldn't help but post through it.
21. Zola tweet text
The Twitter thread that Zola is based on came out way back in 2015, but after A24 finally released a full trailer for the film A'Ziah King's immortal opening line—"Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out?! It’s kinda long but full of suspense"—got a new viral life. After one Twitter user posted those words next to photos of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin from The Social Network, everyone started joining in using those sentences to illuminate their favorite feuds, fictional or otherwise. Even Jeremy O. Harris, the co-writer of Zola, got in on the fun with images of Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth as Elphaba and Glinda in Wicked.
20. You had to be there
Look, you just had to be there! A meme that sprung up randomly in celebration of nostalgic and bizarre objects and shows from our past is just what we need to get us through the next few weeks, endlessly scrolling through reminders of the awful clothing we used to wear, the accessories the fashion world sold to us, and the truly weird TV we used to watch. The '90s kids are at it again.
19. Being vaccinated does NOT mean...
When Hot Vax Summer rolled around, those of us who were fortunate enough to receive the jab were ready to channel all the pent-up energy of two and a half years indoors into rampant misbehavior. Good thing Twitter was around to remind us all what was and wasn't appropriate to do to celebrate our newfound freedom, using popular movie plots to illustrate their point. Convince a bunch of high schoolers to compete in a battle of the bands?? Nope. Blackmail a whole dinner party with an attempted murder?? No! Hit up Sweden's midsummer festival? Not with all those travel restrictions.
18. Ted Cruz on Mars
Early in the year, Texas found itself in the throes of an unseasonably cold winter, as power outages and dangerous weather conditions nearly stopped the entire state in its tracks. Texas' senator Ted Cruz took the opportunity to make an ill-conceived trip to Cancún while his constituents suffered, and was summarily flamed online for it. At the same time, the Mars rover Perseverance was landing on the surface of the red planet, prompting Twitter users to post many a joke about Cruz's plane making a pit stop on his return trip, using photos snapped of the senator sheepishly dragging a suitcase through the airport. When the stars align, memes are born.
17. Oprah royals shocker
Oprah's interview with royal couple Harry and Meghan was full of revelations, from the mental health afflictions brought on by intense public scrutiny to the couple's critique of the monarchy as an institution. Oprah herself was rapt, providing perfectly timed reactions to each of their statements—in other words, the basis for a great meme format. There's a teapot in the palace that's fifth in line for the throne. Peeta revealed to all of Panem that Katniss is going to have their baby. Vision and Other Vision debate the Ship of Theseus. It's enough to make anyone throw up their hands in shock.
16. Vin Diesel loves family
Even if you've never seen a Fast and Furious movie in your entire life, you probably already know two things: They're about cars, and they're about family. Nothing is more important to street-racer-turned-international-man-of-mystery Dominic Toretto than his family, a fact he reminds the audience of at least three times per film. On the advent of the latest film in the franchise, F9: The Fast Saga, internet users imagined what other popular franchises would be like if you inserted Dom Toretto and his monomaniacal love of his familia into them.
15. Sardaukar chant
One of the densest and most forbiddingly esoteric philosophical science fiction novels all time lending itself handily to meme making wasn't the result anyone expected from director Denis Villeneuve's fabulous adaptation of Dune, but it turns out the movie is a hit, if the posts are any indication. Of particular note is how everyone adopted the guttural throat-moaning Sardaukar chant as a certified club banger, crafting remixes and Relatable Posts out of one of the weirdest parts of any movie released this year.
Back in January before we all had the misfortune of knowing what an NFT is, the year's first meme stock, involving a bunch of redditors buying up GameStop and AMC shares to fuck with hedge fund bros, was riding its wave. A meme stock will, of course, spawn more memes, and thus stock market bf/astrology gf was born, quickly leading to the most uncanny version of the concept in Elon Musk and Grimes, though Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers, Frye and Leela from Futurama, and plenty of other celeb/fictional couples made the cut too. Related entries include: e-girl gf / podcaster bf, 10-step skin care routine gf / 3-in-1 shampoo bf, and a thousand other iterations.
13. Don't worry about what's in the vaccine
A year into a global pandemic, you'd think there would be near-universal celebration with the advent of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. Naturally, thanks to our culture's penchant for conspiracy theories, there are plenty of people questioning how "safe" the vaccines themselves actually are, given how quickly they've been formulated and approved. "BuT wHaT's iN tHEm??" they ask. According to this meme, chances are, you really don't have to worry about it.
12. Beatles composing
The most remarkable scene in Peter Jackson's Beatles documentary Get Back is undoubtedly the short scene in which Paul McCartney sits down with a guitar and composes the titular hit single from nothing. But what would happen if he had composed something else, like, for example, the holiday earworm "Wonderful Christmastime," or the skeletons song from I Think You Should Leave? Chaos, that's what.
11. Immortal snail
While the meme itself is not new, derived as it is from a hypothetical scenario introduced all the way back in 2014 on the Rooster Teeth Podcast, TikTok users have resurrected the "immortal snail," an ageless gastropod that will follow you around—at a snail's pace—if you accept $10 million dollars, killing you if it touches you. Many would take the money and go on their merry way, perhaps deriving special tortures for the killer snail to slow it down.
10. Bisexual IKEA couch
Pride Month is a time for queer people everywhere to celebrate their identities and pay homage to the trailblazers who came before, and it's also, apparently, a time for corporations to deeply embarrass themselves on the Internet. Right at the tail end of the month, just when we thought we were free, IKEA Canada unveiled a series of artist-designed Pride loveseats, which were, at best, aesthetically displeasing, and, at worst, well… Taken out of context, the line from poet Brian Lanigan's spoken-word piece about bisexuality, "When you change OR to AND, nobody believes you," which was printed on the handsy cushions of the Bisexual Couch, just sounds like a weird taunt.
9. Oprah no/yes
Oprah's interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was a historically significant moment, the rare look inside the British monarchy and the insidious racism that resides within. It was also very good for memes. The prevailing meme to emerge was this one of Oprah at first rejecting a notion, and then deeply pondering it. It's a 2021 version of Drake's no/yes meme from the "Hotline Bling" video, and, thank goodness, because we were in need of a new format.
Bernie Sanders came to the inauguration of President Joe Biden perfectly bundled for the frigid DC weather. But when a photographer captured him waiting for the festivities to begin—knees crossed, mittens on full display—he became an instant meme. Easily removed from context, Bernie could be impatiently waiting anywhere. He could be a member of the cast of The Sopranos or Sex and the City. Put him in Uncut Gems! Any spot is a good spot for Bernie.
7. Agatha All Along
Kathryn Hahn was the not-so-secret MVP of WandaVision from the first episode, but when it was finally revealed that her nosy neighbor was not a suburbanite but actually a witch named Agatha Harkness, she turned into the biggest star on the internet. That's largely thanks to Agatha's incredibly catchy theme song written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, which was quickly turned into a trap banger. Couple that with the wonderfully loony image of Agnes/Agatha winking from an earlier episode and you've got a sensation.
6. For the better, right?
There is an entire subsection of the Internet dedicated to Star Wars prequel memes, an endless scroll of in-jokes upon in-jokes that has formed a strong community in the years since those movies premiered. Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? What about the droid attack on the Wookies!?Hello there. The most recent of these, and the first to gain popularity amongst the general public, is a photoset taken from screenshots of Episode II: Attack of the Clones, during the scene when Anakin and Padmé are frolicking around in that sunny field. Anakin says something, Padmé attempts to confirm it, and grows concerned when Anakin offers no response, skewering everything from Macbeth to The Thing.
5. The Weeknd's Super Bowl halftime show
The Weeknd's Super Bowl halftime show was extravagant and off-putting, the perfect amount of weird for a very weird year. No part of the concert captured the hearts and minds of mememakers more than the moment that the pop star disappeared into a tunnel of lights and sang "Can't Feel My Face" directly into a camera while it spun around. The perspective was slightly nauseating but also made for great joke fodder.
4. March 2020 / March 2021
It's been a whole year, but also it's been March this entire time. And yet, though the month is the same, the 365 days between Pre-Pandemic Us and Post-Pandemic Us has left people permanently altered. We don't know how to make small talk anymore, we still submerge all our groceries in a bleach-and-vodka bath before eating them, and our hair has grown so, so long.
3. The beach that makes you old
Just imagine, you've touched down in a tropical paradise with your family for some much-needed R&R, and head down to the water only to realize that you're stuck on the beach that makes you old! Said beach was the silent villain of M. Night Shyamalan's outrageous summer thriller Old, in which a group of people get stuck on a beach that sucks the years from their lives with every passing second. The phrase "the beach that makes you old" is inherently funny anyway, and when Twitter got wind of it, well. Some things just never get… you know.
Bimbofication's dark sister Yassification took over social media in the final months of 2021, Instagram face-ing everything from Georges Méliès' moon to Patrick Bateman to The Beatles. David Lynch? Yassified. The Thumb Thumbs from Spy Kids? Yassified. Low-res Hagrid from that Harry Potter video game? Yassified. Saturn Devouring His Son? Yassified.
1. Pondering my orb
No internet joke is ALWAYS funny EVERY single time, but "pondering my orb" comes pretty close. Launched from a tweet that used an image from the cover of a Lord of the Rings roleplaying book of a wizard gazing thoughtfully into a glowing blue ball, orb pondering is now a national pastime, as people Photoshop variations of the wizard and his orb into Seinfeld, American Psycho, and The Shining, and add it into other memeformats. With our era's constant barrage of interaction and information sucking our energies dry, pondering an orb offers a slightly sinister yet meditative respite from everyday chaos.