Memes are the language of the 21st century. I don’t actually believe that, but I feel like I have to put the idea of memes over strong in this intro, since this is a list of the best memes of the 2010s. It’s true that social media dominated (and also demolished) this decade, and that memes are kind of the lingua franca of that blighted domain, but also memes are kind of a shortcut to humor for people who aren’t really funny on their own. I don’t know, I don’t want to be an asshole, I’m sorry, memes are awesome and everybody should do ‘em. Let’s all meme again, like we memed last memer, or whatever.
Hey! Here are the memes: the memes we like. This list is in no particular order. Sorry, I don’t get paid enough to rank memes. I do get paid enough to scrobble together a bunch of words and images and embed codes and then hit publish, and that’s exactly what I just did. Thanks!
If you don’t see your favorite meme on here, I’m sorry. Go make a meme about it, or something.
Okay, so once more, in no particular order, here’s the full, authoritative list of Paste’s favorite memes of the decade. Thanks to my assistant comedy editor Olivia Cathcart and Paste’s TV editor Allison Keene for their crucial insight, and a high-five to Paste’s assistant music editor Ellen Johnson for pitching in with a blurb. Yeah, this is a real team effort, from a real team.
Dig it!—Garrett Martin
Reaction gifs are a whole sub-set of meme-dom that deserve their own study, but one of the most pervasive (and useful) to break out in the past decade is Blinking White Guy. The guy is actually Drew Scanlon, who did a memorable double-take during a 2013 episode of a Giant Bomb show, and the rest is history. This mixture of surprise and confusion is a versatile combo, and can be used earnestly or ironically. —Allison Keene
In 2017 some dumb racist Twitter account tweeted something dumb and racist and voila a meme was born. A right-wing site tried to scaremonger some online points against liberals by sharing a photo of a Muslim woman and a drag queen with the caption “this is the future liberals want,” and only succeeded at giving birth to an all-purpose cudgel widely used to beat back against the hatred, ignorance and fear of far right ideologues. What makes this meme so potent is that literally any image gets across the point, which is that the original poster (and people who think like them) are complete fucking idiots.—Garrett Martin
The internet has long had fun with stock photos. Arguably the most iconic image on this list, one in a series regarding a doomed couple, was the basis of the Distracted Boyfriend meme. It blew up big time to the point even brands were trying (and often failing) to get in on the trendy fun of our distracted buddy. Like cosplay, you know a meme has hit gold medal status when laundry detergent makes one.—Olivia Cathcart
Like most good things on the internet, the Large Adult Sons meme started as a Dril tweet. That initial large sons sentiment was then augmented by the classic ClickHole quz, “Which One of My Garbage Sons Are You?” Even The New Yorker got in on the meme, mentioning the classic tweet aimed at Mike Huckabee’s actual large adult sons.
But ultimately the meme morphed, as many great memes do, and what came of it was the term “Absolute Unit.” The distinction is given to large humans or chonky animals (though usually the latter), and though it still thrives in 2019, it perhaps reached the pinnacle of the form in a tweet from the Museum of English Rural Life identifying an absolute unit of a historical ram. Round boys, chonks, units, and other such nomenclature have derived from this original source, and all of them are solid. —Allison Keene
You don’t win friends with salad. More than a meme, 2017 brought us a new phrase for the incredulous messes we encounter on a daily basis. “Right in front of my salad” was the hilariously improvised line from an actor in a porn film. Actress Nikki V. witnesses two men having sex in a kitchen across from her and her leafy green lunch. The internet loved her response, “Are you guys fucking? Are you serious?! Right in front of my salad?!” and thus the meme was born.—Olivia Cathcart
A post shared by Crying Jordan Meme Curator (@cryingjordanface) on
In 2009 Michael Jordan sobbed his way through his speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame inductions. The image of a blubbery, red-eyed, tear-streaked MJ slowly percolated through the underground memosphere in the early part of the decade, before hitting critical mass in 2015. It’s an image that works in literally any situation—whether you’re sad, happy, angry, confused, or feeling any other kind of emotion, Jordan’s watery visage will always accentuate your point. Like the most successful memes, it eventually attained a state of almost perpetual meta-ness, almost exclusively being used specifically as some kind of absurd twist or ironic statement on the existence of the meme itself. Jordan has been the best at almost everything he’s ever tried to do, from basketball, to hawking various products, to losing money in a divorce settlement, to losing money through gambling. (Baseball is the only thing he couldn’t conquer.) So it’s not surprise that he’d also be the greatest of all time when it comes to memes.—Garrett Martin
Truly a meme for these uncertain, exhausting times, This Is Fine came from K.C. Green’s Gunshow comic titled “The Pills Are Working” or “On Fire,” from 2013. The first two panels—where a dog in a small hat sits sipping coffee as his house burns down around him—percolated on Reddit and 4Chan before making the more mainstream leap to Twitter and Instagram, often paired with disparaging news. The sentiment remains one that is appreciated and unfortunately relevant, as we all just try and get on with things as the world burns. —Allison Keene
2019 has been a big year for Keke Palmer, based on two major events: First, her appearance in the critically acclaimed, Jennifer Lopez-starring movie Hustlers, and second, her inability to recognize former Vice President Dick Cheney. Palmer was taking a lie detector test for Vanity Fair’s interview series using the device. When shown a photo of Cheney, Palmer replied, “I hate to say it, I hope I don’t sound ridiculous, I don’t know who this man is. I mean, he could be walking down the street, I wouldn’t. Sorry to this man.” The clip quickly picked up steam on Twitter, gifting us one of the most versatile video memes of the year. Run into an ex? Or maybe a former classmate, or even Joe Keery after he got those heinous bangs? There’s really only one thing to say: “I don’t know who this man is.” Ah, to live inside Ms. Palmer’s brain—we’d like to forget about Dick Cheney, too.—Ellen Johnson
A variation of Me IRL, “it me” is primarily a Twitter meme paired with an image or comment that serves as a confession of sorts from the person sending it out. It connects awkward, lonely people across the internet to say, with sheepish truth, “this, too, is how I am.” Its lack of a verb lends it a beautiful simplicity that something of the vein of “I’m so like this!” would not properly convey. Nay, it is stronger and deeper than that—more pure. It me, therefore, I am. —Allison Keene
#butthatsnoneofmybusiness #noneofmybusiness #thatsnoneofmybusinesstho
A post shared by Kermit; (@thatsnoneofmybusinesstho) on
Kermit the Frog is one of the most wholesome members of the ever-wholesome Muppet crew, so it’s almost bittersweet how much he’s been turned into a meme in the last decade. The one that really rocketed to the top of the Twitter charts was the tea-sipping still from a commercial. Known as the “But that’s none of my business” meme, Twitter has been using the amphibian to spill some tea.—Olivia Cathcart
In a fresh 2019 meme that is going strong, we see The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast members Taylor Armstrong (yelling) and Kyle Richards (holding her back) juxtaposed with a photo of a cat (real name: Smudge) making a confused face while sitting at a table with a plate of vegetables. Credit goes to Twitter user lc28__, who first put these two images together (which had previously been pinging around other corners of the internet separately). It created a simple and hilariously effective combination of call and response captions, all of which are golden. Smudge’s little face is a whole 2019 mood. —Allison Keene
Humans, as a species, love fat cats. The term “love” might actually diminish what we feel for these substantial felines—we respect them, and hold them in a veritable kind of awe whenever we see them. And so, when an especially fat cat is suddenly charging towards us, the immediate response we have—indeed, the only reaction we can have—is a simple “Oh Lawd He Comin’.” The natural end point of the CHONK Chart, Oh Lawd He Comin’ quickly grew past cats to encompass any kind of especially large or rotund chonky boi. That cross-cultural bleed might be a mistake, though—there’s a purity to the original meaning, the incredulous gut reaction—part awe, part fear, part admiration—that we have whenever we see one of these magnificent beasts bounding across the plains.—Garrett Martin
One of the greatest tools of mockery from the past decade came via an anime screenshot. The still from The Brave Fighter of Sun Fightbird features an android trying to blend in and appear human. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t seem to recognize anything around him and — boom — we gotta meme. Not a single friend from college was spared from having their decor and social media habits ridiculed by Twitter and our dimwitted android pal.—Olivia Cathcart
#TheDress was one of those flashpoint memes that flew across the internet and ended up being discussed on morning shows, and got so big that even your parents and extended family knew about it and had an opinion. The simple question of “what color is this dress?” was not simple at all, as the optical illusion caused by a lightning change caused the white balance to go extremely off. It was the visual version of the Laurel/Yanni debate, in which everyone had to weigh in, and conspiracy theories started popping up immediately, and ultimately I still could not tell you what color that damn dress is actually supposed to be. Bizarrely, the meme eventually turned into a campaign to raise awareness about violence against women, so perhaps something good came of its sudden, otherwise silly cultural dominance. —Allison Keene
The most striking thing about Mario Kart 8 was what it revealed about Luigi, Mario’s good-natured but generally kind of useless (unless ghosts are involved) brother. The amiable goof apparently has a mean streak. Whenever he passes a freshly wrecked opponent Luigi demolishes them even more with a dark, merciless, withering glance. Dude’s eyes are as ice cold as his cruel heart. The Luigi Death Stare was the perfect complement to a good-old fashioned social media dunk back in 2014.—Garrett Martin
Grumpy Cat’s adorably sad face came to embody the feelings of those who were just over it. Discovered in a Reddit post, Grumpy Cat (real name “Tardar Sauce,” which …) became a fantastic template for statements like “I had fun once. It was awful.” Or just simply “No.” Unlike other Lolcats or meme cats such as Lil Bub, Grumpy’s owners allowed her likeness to be sold and commercialized into every conceivable piece of merchandise, which made her a household name. The super cute dwarf cat even got her own Christmas movie on Lifetime (and it wasn’t that bad!) Sadly, Grumpy died in May of 2019 at just 7 years old, but the spirit of her meme continues on. —Allison Keene
Some dingus whose name is too boring to type set himself up for some clever dragging via Photoshop. Posting up on a college campus looking for a debate, our guy foolishly employed a large white poster that read, “Male privilege is a myth, change my mind.” Twitter took over to have much, much more important discussions about things that actually deserve our attention like are pop tarts a type of ravioli?—Olivia Cathcart
“Math Lady,” or sometimes known as “Confused Lady,” was the go-to meme for the more truly bewildering moments of our lives this decade. Originally a scene from a Brazilian soap, our star was crafted into a four-panel still adorned with some math equations. She’s been popping up in still and gif form for the past four years and still going strong.—Olivia Cathcart
Not every meme requires a bit of Photoshop. The phrase “weird flex but ok” truly embodies the voice of Twitter, full of low-key sass. Originally a phrase used to call out people’s weird brags, it’s morphed into its own online joke structure.—Olivia Cathcart
Such funny. Much good. So Doge! The origins of Doge are murky, but this is what we do know: the slang of doge came from Homestar Runner in 2005, but that being paired with the smiling face of a Shiba Inu in this more recent decade is when the magic happened. Add some doge-speak phrases (“much amaze,” “wow,” “such excite”) in Comic Sans on top of it, and a meme is born. In terms of temperament, Doge is the opposite of Grumpy Cat. Where Grumpy frowns, Doge smiles. Where Grumpy laments, Doge is thrilled. Doge speak itself feels like a natural linguistic evolution from the days of “I can haz cheeseburger,” combining positive modifiers with regular words. Ultimately, Doge is the happy spirit we need in this dark world. —Allison Keene
Looking back, it’s clear now that Sad Keanu was the harbinger of the Keanu Reeves ascendancy. We owe it much thanks. The paparazzi shot of the actor looking dejected while sitting alone on a park bench eating a sandwich touched the hardened hearts of internet users in 2010. The image was photoshopped onto just about everything, and brought about a whole new class of memes like Happy Keanu and Cheer Up, Keanu Day, as the internet just wanted to bring the actor some joy. Though DMCA claims from the paparazzi agency that took the snap ended the meme’s run (to the point where it’s hard to find much evidence of it now), the good news is that Reeves—who does have a tragic past—is not just doing well, he’s thriving . —Allison Keene
So I have to come clean: I kind of hate memes. Yeah, a lot of them are funny at first, but almost every single meme almost immediately turns into a lifeless, soulless, fill-in-the-blank format for bad jokes created by witless internet strangers. It’s uncharitable and more than a bit assholish to say that memes are for people who don’t know how to make jokes, but there’s still a bit of truth to that. That’s why, for my money, “Here Come Dat Boi!!!!!! O Shit Waddup!” is the greatest meme of all time. It’s so perfectly absurd, so utterly without point or meaning, that it avoids all attempts at franchising or rebranding. The beautiful simplicity of this boi and his unicycle, and the extreme joy and excitement that his coming sparks within the speaker, can’t be perverted or diminished. Dat boi resists all attempts to change or commodify him, which gives it a purity no other meme can claim. Dat boi is perfectly surreal, surreally perfect, and the only meme I genuinely love.—Garrett Martin
This heated blowup between father and son might originally come from a 2009 episode of American Chopper, but in the hands of the internet it has become a timeless totem of all arguments past, present and future. The beauty of this meme comes from the contrast between the photos and the captions—not just when applying the fury of the Chopper men to arguments of mundane insignificance, but in imbuing their disagreement with an unlikely intellectualism. This is one meme that isn’t improved by self-mockery—this series of images is so open-ended and yet full of so much passion that it can’t be dismissed with a shit-eating smirk. It’s the rare meme that hasn’t really gotten old.—Garrett Martin
Sorry, it just is.—Garrett Martin