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Illustrations by Alex Castro / The Verge

The best memes of 2018, according to The Verge staff

Is this... another year-end list?

With the sheer deluge of online creativity this hellish year has inspired, picking the “best” memes of 2018 feels a little futile. Do you pick the most creative ones? The most popular? The most influential? The ones that became part of our everyday vocabulary? The most emblematic of where we’re at as a culture? Go with any one of these, and you’re letting a lot of really excellent memes go unrecognized.

In 2018, a lot of memes, viral videos, and all-around excellent content were shared among the staff of The Verge. A Slack channel — #goods-tweet — was even made for them, a happy place we could all visit to take a moment away from the aggressive grind of the day’s news, to celebrate Tumblr teen ingenuity, viral tweet genius, and the perfect Gritty meme. The memes we shared there were a reminder of why we continue to log on every day, despite mounting evidence that the internet is Bad. So instead of publishing a roundup of the best memes of 2018, we present our personal favorites, the ones that got us through the year.

Devon Maloney, Internet Culture Editor: Dancing Haircut Pup

Judging on utility alone, “is this a pigeon?” has certainly yielded the greatest dividends for me as an editor. Instead of haranguing my writers to PIOTS (Put It On The Site), I can simply respond to their slightly off-task riffing with “[butterfly emoji] is this a post?” and get my point across. True Genius reporter James Vincent even made the actual butterfly from the image a custom emoji for the Vox Media Slack, which only added to its efficacy. (Our tech editor Natt Garun will expand on this later.)

That said, the meme that undoubtedly inspired the most renewable joy in my blackened, shriveled heart this year is the tiny Pomeranian dancing to the Ducktales theme song while getting a haircut. The smol South Korean boi’s dance moves are such that they can abide a variety of different jams, from the original video’s soundtrack, GFriend’s “Time for the Moon Night,” to, uh … *squints at clipboard* “Slob on my Knob.” But the animated Disney series’ title tune is the undisputed perfect match: his little shoulders pop at all the right bass twangs, and when the scissors speed up, so do his moves. It’s a few extremely repeatable seconds of uncannily anthropomorphic glee, and dear god, did I need that.

Shannon Liao, Reporter: “You Should See Me in a Crown”

If you haven’t yet seen Chinese internet users don a crown, the “You Should See Me in a Crown” challenge highlights a line from Billie Eilish’s hit single and sets it to short clips posted on TikTok. As Eilish sings “you should see me in a crown,” each user transforms from looking bedraggled in their PJs to fully decked-out goddesses, devils ready for a Halloween party, or emperors in full Chinese regalia. They all had to perform a similar hand gesture of placing a crown on top of their heads as well. Some had real fun with it, including some gender-bending transformations, or people who already looked good transforming into... just themselves.

It followed in the footsteps of sibling meme “Karma’s a Bitch,” from back in January, when users would mouth the line from Riverdale before donning a cute outfit, hair, and makeup. The main difference is that “Karma’s a Bitch” made a lot less sense, whereas this challenge seems to tie up the loose ends and questions you might have after seeing the “Karma’s a Bitch” challenge, like what’s it for and why. “You Should See Me in a Crown” teaches us these memes are just for showing off moments when you’re feeling yourself and there doesn’t have to be a reason for it at all.

Tasha Robinson, Film / TV Editor: The American Chopper comic

My favorite memes are the ones that stick around long enough to iterate into really baroque, obscure versions of themselves, like 2017’s “distracted boyfriend” meme, which became so ubiquitous that it turned into an absurdist joke, a super-literal anti-joke, a framework for original-photography jokes, and eventually a meta-joke about its own fade to irrelevance. Granted, the problem with getting attached to a long-term meme is that people who pay attention to social media get really, really sick of it. So when I say that my favorite 2018 meme is the five-panel American Chopper fight, I expect a lot of people to react with instant knee-jerk groans. I know, it’s so over, it’s so overdone, there was so much of it, blah blah blah. But that’s what I loved about it — it hung around long enough and achieved enough cultural saturation to have entire cycles of absurdity. It covered pop culture, got co-opted by self-aware brands, got wholesomed and meta’d and turned into a complicated educational tool.

But the best part of it was that it wasn’t a single, one-panel image. Coming up with an entire five-panel dialogue took more effort than slapping “me” and “thing I like / thing I like more” tags on the “distracted boyfriend” image, and the results tended to be richer and more thought-through. The images were also long rectangles that got cut off by standard Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram framing, so users had to make the conscious effort to click on them instead of passively scrolling by. This was a meme that made everyone work just a little more for the funny, and the difference shows.

Russell Brandom, Policy Editor: “Ima keep it real with u, chief”

In this life, truth is a rare and precious thing. We’re surrounded by lies — exaggerations, self-deceptions, the background hum of advertisements. Sometimes it feels like we’re drowning in them. We yearn for a way to cut through to something real. We yearn for someone we trust, someone who can be truly honest with us.

Someone like Kermit.

The “Ima keep it real with u chief” meme had been bubbling since 2016, usually employed to deliver an unpleasant truth (e.g. “ain’t nobody clicking that shit”), but it didn’t truly break through until it embraced absurdity in the spring of this year. Now the punchline was increasingly implausible: “I have a gun in my ass,” for instance, or a stern warning about Japan’s declining birth rate. At the same time, the image itself degraded, growing more compressed and watermarked with more layers of text scribbled out and written over again. The overworked image became part of the joke, the punchline echoing through a maze of reblogs and photo edits. How could you keep it real under these conditions? But as it found more memes to feed on (including a prolific cross-pollination with the mesolethioma meme), Kermit’s hand on my shoulder became a source of surprising warmth. Please, keep it real with me, Kermit — no matter how weird it gets out there.

Julia Alexander, Reporter: “I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark”

Image via Know Your Meme

For anyone who spent the last 10 years dutifully following the lives of the mightiest Marvel heroes across the galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War was an emotionally devastating movie. It wasn’t just a culmination of every tiny battle each superhero fought in the ever-expanding mission to defeat Thanos, the most vicious adversary integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it represented a monumental stage of growth for some of the MCU’s most beloved heroes — like Tony Stark.

Infinity War was the moment Tony Stark went from billionaire, playboy, genius, and philanthropist into, well, dad. After years of messing around and tinkering with projects, he wanted to have a baby — but he was already a father figure, taking on that role in his newfound relationship with Peter Parker. Tony, sitting on Titan and watching Peter disintegrate before his eyes, his pseudo-son collapsing in his arms and saying, “I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark. I don’t want to go,” was devastating for Tony, the MCU, and us.

“I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark” is a perfect example of our ability to take the most painful moments from movies and TV shows, and turn them into comedy gold. Iterations of this meme included anguishing Doctor Who finales, sad Finding Nemo moments, and just about any other scene that made us well up in a theater. The meme was so easy to understand because it was based in a universal language — this sad moment isn’t as sad when characters are disintegrating.

Call it a coping mechanism, but it made dealing with Infinity War’s biggest losses a little easier, and turned into internet currency for months. It’s a meme that’s still used, including by Disney who used it in their trailer for Avengers: Endgame. That moment wasn’t supposed to be a joke, but it’s become one thanks to the internet, and that makes Peter Parker’s death a little easier to deal with right now.

Chaim Gartenberg, Reporter: Bongo Cat

Bongo Cat could only have happened on the internet. A random tweet from one user, remixed into a short joke by a second, gone viral off a YouTube video from a third — a kind of collaborative evolution that saw the humble, musically gifted cat grow into a small but potent web phenomenon.

At this point, it feels like one could type almost any song name into YouTube and find a Bongo-Catified version, adding an adorable spin to any song or meme (including my personal favorite, a mashup of the Screaming Cowboy song.)

But the best part of Bongo Cat is how wholesome the meme is. Bongo Cat isn’t used to hurt or mock — it just rocks out to the bongos (or piano or electric guitar or any of the other myriad instruments that the online legions have photoshopped into its hands). It was a golden week where all our feeds were filled with infinite variations on the same cute animated cat, sharing everyone’s favorite songs, and a small reminder that sometimes, the internet is still good.

Zach Mack, Senior Podcast Producer: Recontextualized porn clips

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Beautiful

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In response to the persistent darkness that was 2018, I spent much of my year seeking out humor that was equal parts absurd, silly, and ultimately about nothing at all. That’s how I discovered a particular brand of meme humor that I’ve enjoyed all year: when someone screenshots a scene from a porno (stay with me, now) and recontextualizes it for non-sexual situations.

These memes — most often featured on the @tindervsreality Instagram — use screenshots of porn to illustrate the mundanities of life, like the face you make while being woken up by your alarm, or having to make room for someone on the couch. Or, in the case of my personal favorite: using pornography to provide visual accompaniment alongside the Filipino pop band Orange and Lemons. I was previously unfamiliar with this band, this song, and this porno for that matter, but the timing and rhythm of it all are both impressive and hilarious — when all these elements came together, my god, it was pure magic. I’m not sure what came first — the song, the music video, or the porn — or who first saw this potential, but whoever you are, thank you.

Natt Garun, Technology Editor: “Is this a pigeon?”

In May this year, my colleague James Vincent added a peculiar looking butterfly as a custom emoji on Vox Media’s Slack. I knew I’d seen it repeatedly somewhere, but was too lazy to look it up. I chose to remain confused about it and as a result, I ended up as the subject of the actual meme itself.

So it is appropriate, really, for me to finally learn to embrace the meme after Sean O’Kane gave me one final roasting. The butterfly was a way of life in 2018! The more time I spend online, the less things I see on it make sense. Every tweet, meme, viral video, trending topic is some combination of inexplicable foolishness that sometimes choosing to being clueless is just the way to keep yourself sane. The less time I spend understanding why something gained internet attention, the more in touch I feel with reality. So thank you, confused butterfly guy. I stand with you.

Micah Singleton, News Editor: The King of R&B

Earlier this month, a little known but very talented singer named Jacquees proclaimed himself to be the “King of R&B” for this generation — despite not having a great album, or a hit, or even a memorable song that wasn’t jacked from someone else, let alone the continued existence of Frank Ocean and Miguel and Rihanna, as well as our patron saint of All Good Things Beyoncé. (NB: I’m a huge Jacquees fan.)

In response to Jacquees’ unmitigated gall, Black Twitter went into MEMECON 1, providing examples of “the real king of R&B” featuring clips from Maury, Oha from Coming to America, Varnell Hill from Martin, a very passive-aggressive sing-off, and a man trying to sing his way out of a prison sentence.

Literally anyone could be the one true king — just not Jacquees.

Patricia Hernandez, Reporter: Moth loves lämp

If 2018 was the year of “everything happens so much,” that was doubly true for memes. Viral jokes erupted and died within hours, only to have savvy brands feast on the corpse by day’s end. Where social media websites spent years urging us to connect more and more, many of us started seeking refuge in smaller communities within newsletters, finstagrams, and private Twitter accounts. Exclusivity became just as important as follower count, and that mentality filtered down to memes.

For an internet connoisseur, it’s not enough to be funny anymore. Anyone can generate an image with blocky text at the top and bottom. (Or, more often than not, just attach “who did this???” to whatever image you’d like.) Memes are now judged by how esoteric they can be. If you know, you know.

And so: the moth meme. Technically, it makes sense: moths are attracted to lights, which is something you can make jokes about. What drew me to this meme wasn’t legibility, though. It was that I had to chew on it, I had to grow an appreciation for it. Memes can now be an acquired taste, a marker of taste. Same thing with “they did surgery on a grape.” The joke is that there is no joke; if you say something enough times — THEY! Did surgery. On a grape? — it will become funny. The joke is that nothing makes sense anymore, but hey, at least we can still laugh about it.

Laura Hudson, Culture Editor: U want this?

The success of memes often depends on the flexibility and accessibility of their structure. The Distracted Boyfriend meme exploded in part because it provided a simple blueprint for expressing any sort of outrage around hierarchical priorities; if you’ve ever liked something more than something else, it was a meme for you. One of the more recent memes to sweep Twitter, sometimes referred to as “U Want This?” Bunny, relies on an even simpler and more relatable process: giving and taking. The bunny giveth, and the bunny taketh away.

In its earliest incarnation, the bunny offered love: a perfect, crimson heart extended from its ASCII body like a valentine waiting to be claimed. But this love came with a price: sometimes kisses, sometimes boba tea, sometimes the dismantling of white supremacist cisheteropatriarchal capitalism. Rather than the romantic philosophy of Jennifer Lopez, who once insisted that love don’t cost a thing, this bunny subscribes to the more pragmatic doctrine of Dolly Parton: that life isn’t free, no it isn’t free, that no matter what they say, somebody has to pay for love. “U want this?” the bunny asks. It knows that we do.

Bijan Stephen, Reporter: Gang weed, AKA “We live in a society”

GANG WEED BABY GANG WEED! WHOO! I’M FIRED UP. I LOVE THIS. I LIVE FOR THIS.

Did you know that we live in a society? Gamers rise up!!!!!

If the above doesn’t mean anything to you, that’s fine. It means you’re probably a well-adjusted person with an equally well-adjusted life, and that you don’t spend your time trawling some of the more ironic portions of the internet. Gang weed / “gamers rise up” is a telegram from the land of deep-fried memes: it’s meant to troll people who really think gamers are an oppressed minority, people who take the joker seriously: edgelords, in other words. Why so serious? used to be a phrase that couldn’t have been said by anyone but Heath Ledger with a straight face; nowadays, we’ve got extremely twisted jokers who somehow unironically believe that liking games and hating women adds up to a personality. (Remember 2014?)

This is why gang weed is good: it is a meme that mocks the “fake deep stuff that gets attention from baby boomers on Facebook and sapiosexuals on Reddit,” as Brian Feldman so eloquently put it at New York earlier this year. Those are the worst people on the planet. Memes that poke fun at them are, therefore, Good. I should know; I checked with the chief.

Megan Farokhmanesh, Reporter: Surprised Pikachu

Editor: Hey, your favorite meme contribution is due on December 20th

*December 21st arrives*

Editor: Hey, your meme blurb is late

Me:

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