Disclaimer: For the sake of space, many quality memes have been left out.
Sad Keanu (2010)
Paparazzi photographed Keanu Reeves chilling lugubriously on a New York bench in 2010.
Nyan Cat (2011)
Everyone knows Nyan Cat, the euphoric flying Pop-Tart cat. However, what many don’t know, is the cat who originally inspired Nyan — Marty — sadly died in 2012.
Winter Is Coming (2011)
Originally from “Game of Thrones,” this meme has persisted through the decade like a stubborn grease stain. It stopped being funny the third time my 11th grade AP Language teacher used it in a Powerpoint (“Synecdoche Quiz Is Coming… Monday”). Boomers treat it like a consecrated object of worship.
Bad Luck Bryan (2012)
Bryan represents the worst in all of our lives, the moments when you’re straight up not having a good time because everything went invariably wrong. The picture was originally a seventh-grade school photo of a guy named Kyle.
Gangnam Style (2012)
Viral sensation “Gangnam Style” brought k-pop and the so-called “horse-riding dance” — which looks more like a mistranslated Kama Sutra position — to America.
Harlem Shake (2013)
Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” shook up the web when FilthyFrank’s music video inspired millions of people to dance like lunatics to it.
Much cute. Very dog.
The Fox (2013)
“The Fox” sounds like Ylvis recorded themselves farting then played around with the pitch and put it over a GarageBand beat. In other words, Tiësto for furries. The aural equivalent of eating an ice cream sandwich speckled with hair and filled with Old Spice. They made millions, but was it worth it?
Shrek Is Love (2014)
“Shrek Is Love, Shrek Is Life” tells the disturbing tale of a nine-year-old boy who prays for the infamous green ogre’s orgiastic love.
In Me Mum’s Car (2014)
Featuring a charming interaction between a British teenager named Tish Simmonds and her mum, who tells her to get out of her automobile, the short Vine clip “In Me Mum’s Car, Broom Broom” sped like a runaway truck onto the highway of popular culture. Then it crashed, when Simmonds quit Vine because of bullying.
Alex From Target (2014)
In early Nov. 2014, a picture of a teenager named Alex bagging items at Target went viral. It seemed innocuous, but then controversy struck when Breakr, a Los Angeles marketing startup, claimed they orchestrated the entire spectacle. Alex decried the accusations, but a definitive answer never emerged.
Deez Nuts (2015)
As it turns out, Dr. Dre’s chief contribution to the culture would not be his menacing gangsta rap or ecstatic g-funk, but a two-word phrase: “Deez nuts.” It comes from the skit “Deeez Nuuuts” off his 1992 debut album, “The Chronic.” Nearly 25 years later, the phrase resurfaced and went viral. “Deez Nuts” even ran for president in 2016 and polled at 9% in North Carolina.
Sanic is beautiful because he embraces the imperfections of life — showing it’s okay not to wear makeup, dress poorly or look like you’ve been drawn on MS paint by a six-year-old with no sense of proportions. As Sanic once said, “CUME ON STEP IT UP!!!!”
Here Comes Dat Boi (2016)
2016 was not ready for “dat boi,” otherwise known as a frog riding a unicycle who often yelps “o s—t waddup!” Interestingly enough, dat boi never cross-fertilized with Pepe or Kermit, the other significant frogs of the decade.
Matt Furie first drew the sad frog way before 2016, but it wasn’t until Donald Trump’s election campaign that Pepe fully defecated on pop culture as the mascot of the budding alt-right. The frog’s visibility peaked when the Anti-Defamation League labeled it a hate symbol.
Name A More Iconic Duo (2016)
It began with Kylie and Kendall Jenner, but has since expanded dramatically.
Arthur’s Fist (2016)
One time LeBron James used the fist, although he misunderstood it. He posted a collage of his fists pumped up in celebration after victories, along with a picture of Arthur’s fist balled up with rage in the bottom right corner, as if they somehow went together. “I like Arthur,” he said at the time.
Harambe was a 17-year-old gorilla tragically shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo when a child fell into his habitat in 2016. The fallout included movements like #JusticeForHarambe and “D—s Out For Harambe,” the hacking of the zoo director’s Twitter and over 11,000 people writing in Harambe in the 2016 election.
Damn, Daniel (2016)
Daniels had a moment when Josh Wolz’ Twitter montage, in which he coos “Damn, Daniel!” at his friend, Daniel, in Morrissey-like feyness over and over again, went viral. It’s hilarious for its absurdity, like a Samuel Beckett play in Vine format.
Evil Kermit (2016)
The “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” of memes, a low-brow guilty pleasure.
SpongeBob Memes (2016)
A strong contender for meme source of the decade, SpongeBob is the memetic equivalent of Post Malone dominating the Billboard Hot 100. Variations include: Confused Mr. Krabs, SpongeGar, mOcKiNg SpOnGeBoB, fake history, breathe in boi and more.
Galaxy Brain (2017)
The meme began with a play on the word “who” — a vertical series of expanding brains paired with more and more ridiculous spellings, like “whomst’d” — and quickly adapted to fit other subjects, still enduring today.
Confused Math Lady (2017)
This meme, featuring the Brazilian actress Renata Sorrah, is often used to express confusion.
Had To Do It To ’Em (2017)
Lucky Luciano: legendary power poser, firm hand clasper and, above all, the guy who did it to ’em. Many have done it to ’em since, but no one has done it to ’em quite like Luciano. He represents a genuine unself-consciousness endemic to frat boys and Logic fans.
Distracted Boyfriend (2017)
Originally a stock photo called “Disloyal man with his girlfriend looking at another girl,” Antonio Guillem’s influential snapshot of unfaithfulness inspired countless adaptations like “Distracted Girlfriend.”
Surprised Pikachu (2018)
Among the most wholesome memes of the decade is “Surprised Pikachu,” which reminds us to make light of our own idiocy.
Tide Pods (2018)
The spiritual successor to 2014’s “Fire Challenge,” in which YouTubers poured flammable liquid on their bodies and lit themselves on fire, 2018’s “Tide Pod Challenge” saw people eating laundry detergent.
No one: (2018)
me: writes this list
Evil Patrick (2018)
Evil Patrick, apparently actually called “Savage Patrick” (I refuse to call it that, out of respect for Patrick), deserves its own entry apart from SpongeBob. The way his eyebrows are contorted, mouth curled, pupils burning with malice — even Jordan Peele would be terrified.
Storm Area 51 (2019)
“Storm Area 51,” a fake Facebook event about raiding Area 51 is as much a meme as Hot Pockets are real food. Where’s the joke?