From crying Michael Jordan and Spongebob Squarepants to Eric Andre and Keke Palmer, these were the 20 memes that defined the 2010s.
The 2010s was undeniably the decade of the meme. As the decade wraps up it is very obvious just how integral memes have become to our everyday life. We often talk in memes now, using them to articulate something we’re trying to say or how we feel. Aside from often providing us with laughter and joy, memes also serve as a tool for communication and a way of bonding in the internet age. And the 2010s have given us many, many, many, memes that will likely live on forever.
But it’s also fascinating to see how the format of memes has changed throughout the decade. From the straightforward still image with a caption plastered on it, to the creation of GIFs or video clips serving as the meme, meme culture continues to change as technology becomes more and more advanced.
In honor of the 2010s and the memes that came with it, Okayplayer ranked the 20 most memorable memes to come from the decade. From 2019 standouts like Keke Palmer and Paul Rudd to more veteran memes like Antoine Dodson and Kayla Newman, these are the 20 memes that defined the decade.
20. Antoine Dodson
Antoine Dodson became one of the first popular memes of the 2010s after he spoke with a local news station in Huntsville, Alabama, about someone who attempted to rape his sister in her second-story bedroom. Addressing the camera directly, Dodson proceeded to say:
Well, obviously we have a rapist in Lincoln Park. He’s climbin’ in yo windows, he’s snatchin’ yo people up, tryin’ to rape ’em. So y’all need to hide yo kids, hide yo wife, and hide yo husband cause they rapin’ err’body out here.
It was this quote that took on a life of its own on the internet, primarily through music remixes — most notably The Gregory Brothers’ “Bed Intruder Song.” The song became so popular that it even reached number 89 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list. Still, Dodson’s virality showed the complexities that come with viral fame, especially as it pertains to Black people and Black culture. How decontextualized moments become on the internet and how these moments offer a sort of voyeurism for people who aren’t Black. Some good came about for Dodson: he wasn’t only credited as a writer on the “Bed Intruder Song” but received half the sales for the track, which allowed him to move his family out of the Lincoln Park housing project where the incident occurred. Dodson had some sort of autonomy through his viral success and was able to monetize it, something of a rarity when it comes to Black viral stars. It’s bittersweet considering what incited Dodson’s rise as a meme icon, but there’s no denying its foreshadowing of the likes of Bhad Bhabie or Mason Ramsey, and how a good meme can now be one’s foot into the music industry.
19. Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins’ “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
Similar to Dodson, Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins became a viral star via a local news interview. After escaping an apartment fire, Wilkins spoke with KFOR Oklahoma’s News 4 about the incident.
“I ran for my life and then the smoke got me. I got bronchitis, ain’t nobody got time for that!” Wilkins said. It was the latter part of the quote that propelled Wilkins into internet stardom, her “ain’t nobody got time for that” popping up on countless music remixes. Although Wilkins never saw any compensation for a song that sampled her likeness (The Bob Rivers Show had sampled her voice for their song “I Got Bronchitis,” which led to her suing Apple for $15 million), her meme did lead to her appearing in a handful of local commercials, as well as a spoof of the news clip that Jimmy Kimmel did, which also featured Queen Latifah (who portrayed Wilkins), Adam Driver, and Matt Damon.
18. Jasmine Masters’ “And I oop!”
Jasmine Masters’ personal YouTube channel has given us quite a few memes, most notably this year’s “And I oop!” This video is centered around the topic of people who can’t handle their liquor, but the viral moment comes toward the video’s end when Masters accidentally hits her balls.
Ancient Greeks after accidentally looking at Medusa pic.twitter.com/oKlv1Lt9Xx
— q (@quaddiequad) March 17, 2019
“And I oop!” Masters says before going quiet for several seconds. The meme hilariously came to represent that awkward moment when you’re trying not to be caught in a particular act. For example, accidentally looking at Medusa or Rose letting go of Jack in Titanic.
17. The Rent Is Too Damn High
Sure, Jimmy McMillan may now be known for endorsing Donald Trump for president back in 2016. But for a time he voiced a sentiment that still resonates today — the ever-increasing cost of rent throughout the world. “The Rent is Too Damn High” served as McMillan’s political slogan when he ran for New York’s state gubernatorial election in November 2010. The phrase rose to prominence following a 2010 New York Gubernatorial debate, where McMillan uttered the slogan several times during the event. After that, the meme took on different forms poking fun at everything from the computer gaming community to Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, otherwise known as the “Ancient Aliens Guy.”
Ten years later, and the rent is still too damn high. Maybe someday, we’ll know of a future where the rent isn’t too damn high. Until then, we still have McMillan’s meme to bring us comfort and laughter.
16. Drake’s “Hotline Bling”
Drake has birthed many, many, many memes throughout the decade. But the best is arguably the memes that came from his 2015 “Hotline Bling” music video, most notably the “Drake Approves” meme. The meme shows two still images of Drake: in one, he’s making a face of disapproval while waving his hand; the other shows him looking on approvingly. The “Drake Approves” meme continues to be popular, likely because of how simple it is to execute. It’s such a user-friendly meme, considering all you do is pair the responses accordingly to the images. You prefer eating meat over vegetables? Drake does too. You prefer ketchup being on the side of your fries instead of being sprayed across them? Drake does too.
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15. Arthur’s Fist
The year 2016, gave way to a handful of popular memes from the Arthur cartoon series. But was there any quite like the Arthur fist meme? Well, no. Nothing captured the anger and frustration of being a Frank Ocean fan or missing a “you up?” text quite like the Arthur fist meme. Taken from one of the darkest Arthur episodes ever (“Arthur’s Big Hit” where Arthur hits his sister D.W. after she breaks his toy airplane), the still image of Arthur’s fist became more lighthearted as it was transformed into a meme. But the beauty of it is how simple it is. A balled fist is a ticking time bomb, and the embodiment of pure, uncontrolled anger. It’s practically a universal symbol, and because of that it makes sense why the Arthur fist meme is probably still in our photos or a “Meme” folder on our computers.
when you wake up and see you missed the “you up?” text pic.twitter.com/Gxvb3hZ6d5
— FIONA (@fionabfhz) July 28, 2016
14. Confused Nick Young
There are quite a few memes on here based on confusion and the feelings that tend to come with it. Case in point — Nick Young’s confused face. In 2014, Young was the subject of an episode for the web series Thru The Lens. Halfway through the video, Young’s mother — Mae Young — recounted how he never practiced but had natural talent as an athlete, with one professional basketball player telling her, “If that boy ever take it seriously, he’ll be great.”
Happy Mother’s Day pic.twitter.com/sIwW3fhZXs
— All Def (@AllDef) May 13, 2018
“But he was a clown then,” Mae adds, the admission leading to Young making the face that immortalized him on the internet the following year. Young’s face says it all — it’s pure confusion, made all the better by the zoom-in on his face as he looks directly at the camera.
13. Distracted Boyfriend
Is the “Distracted Boyfriend” meme the best meme derived from a stock photo? Probably. The image was destined to be a meme because of how well the people in the photo play their parts. Shot by Spanish photographer Antonio Guillem in 2015, the photo was meant to be “a session representing the infidelity concept in relationships in a playful and fun way,” according to an interview he did with Wired.
The end result was “Disloyal man walking with his girlfriend and looking amazed at another seductive girl,” which can still be viewed in its original, pre-meme glory on Shutterstock. But the image transformed into the popular meme it’s known as in 2017, with people using the photo to poke fun at everything from capitalism versus socialism to people versus dogs.
— Omar Essam Lhc (@OmarEssamLhc) August 19, 2017
12. Caveman Spongebob
Ah, Spongebob. No cartoon series has a hold on memes quite like Spongebob Squarepants. Sure, the easy route would’ve been to just encompass all Spongebob memes into one ranking. But it’s more of a challenge to choose one definitive Spongebob meme, which goes to 2016’s Caveman Spongebob (also known as Primitive Sponge). First seen in the 1999 episode “SB-129,” Primitive Sponge is Spongebob’s ancestor. What makes him great is how intense he is, his facial expressions conveying everything he can’t say. One of those facial expressions is this one, where Sponge appears to look surprised and panicked. Pair the screenshot image of the character with captions like, “When you go to kill a spider and it disappears” or “When you’re at a house party and somebody yells ‘Cops,'” and you have a meme that hilariously captures that feeling of dread that comes with dealing with awkward or unpleasant situations.
When the teacher gives you a pop quiz pic.twitter.com/qz1I1cLWTX
— Caveman Spongebob (@Cavemanspogebob) June 5, 2016
11. Blinking White Guy
In 2017, Drew Scanlon’s face became one of the year’s most important memes. A video producer for popular gaming website Giant Bomb, Scanlon was transformed into the “White guy blinking” meme as a result of a Giant Bomb show he appeared on called Unprofessional Fridays. The episode, filmed back in 2013, shows Scanlon and his colleagues watching their editor Jeff Gerstmann play a video game called Starbound.
As he’s playing, Gerstmann says, “I’ve been doing some farming with my hoe here…” In response, Scanlon can be seen blinking in disbelief, his face ultimately being used to poke fun at our overconfidence in taking classes that end up being really tough or when someone makes a valid point during a fight.
When you’re in a fight and they make a good point pic.twitter.com/Lt7QdSrQi5
— Jen Lewis (@thisjenlewis) February 21, 2017
10. Eric Andre’s “Let Me In!”
Yes, Eric Andre’s “who killed Hannibal?” was a notable standout from the comedian’s beloved Eric Andre Show. But the best meme that has come from the series so far is easily “Let me in!” In 2016, Andre released a special titled “Near the DNC” where the comedian took to the Democratic National Convention. It was during this special that the “Let me in!” meme was born, where Andre screams “Let me in!” outside of the DNC.
It’s obvious as to why the meme became as popular as it did. Everyone has wanted to gain entrance into something, whether that be our cats trying to get back into our rooms or gamers trying to get into the next room of Princess Peach’s Castle. The beauty of Andre is how extreme he portrays himself in his show, and that’s best captured in this brilliantly absurd meme.
9. Confused Math Lady
Similar to Nick Young, 2017’s “Confused math lady” meme perfectly captures our bewilderment in the face of something that’s undeniably dumb. The woman pictured in the meme is Brazilian soap star Renata Sorrah, best known for her role on Senhora do Destino.
The origin of confused/math lady meme. Renata Sorrah playing Nazaré Tedesco in Brazil’s Senhora do Destino. pic.twitter.com/y8dTr85iKO
— 𝔇𝔢𝔵𝔵𝔢 (@Dexxe) December 22, 2016
On its own, the image is already strong. But the addition of the math equations make it that much better and amplify Sorrah’s confusion. We’ve all been there before: trying to comprehend something in real-time, our brain doing the mental gymnastics to try and understand something, only to be left more confused and dumbfounded than we already were. Sorrah’s bewilderment transcended the world of Brazilian soap operas and became a worldwide phenomenon, and the world is much better for it.
Straight: I accept you but don't fall for me
Gay: Don't worry I don't like you
Straight: Aren't you gay tho?
— anton🌺 (@oddIypsychic) October 2, 2016
When stangers see me in public and try to figure out my gender pic.twitter.com/pUVmptdgiX
— Shamir (@ShamirBailey) September 28, 2016
8. The Key & Peele Handshake
Key & Peele’s handshake meme stems from a 2014 sketch from Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key‘s comedy series Key & Peele titled “Obama Meet & Greet.” Peele, as Obama, meets a handful of black and white supporters, notably favoring the former over the latter. Hilarity ensues as Peele happily hugs his black fans — and even cradles a supporter’s baby — but remains formal with his white fans, offering nothing more than stern handshakes.
What makes the Key & Peele handshake meme so memorable is that every recreation took some time to do. From choosing what the topic would be and assigning the right item to each person to actually editing them into the video, the meme is a great example of how creative meme culture can be, with people ranking Sonic the Hedgehog games, Marvel movies, and more.
If Sonic Games Were People… pic.twitter.com/7yivDzWsKb
— PrEEZY™ (@premydaremy) September 27, 2018
best shit i ever made 🤣🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/BurNtpRqcm
— 𝗯𝗿𝘆𝗮𝗻 (@matte_blackkkk) September 22, 2018
7. Mr. Krabs
OK, so we couldn’t just have one Spongebob Squarepants meme on here. One of the early instances of the cartoon series’ inevitable takeover of meme culture, 2016’s blurry Mr. Krabs meme still lives on as one of the best memes to come from Spongebob Squarepants. Taken from the episode “Patty Hype,” in which Mr. Krabs dupes Spongebob into selling his lucrative Pretty Patties business for a failing Krusty Krabs, the meme differs from the actual scene in that it’s not blurry at all. But the blurred background only adds to the overwhelming dread Mr. Krabs feels as the once-successful business ends up turning everybody’s tongue a different color. And it’s that edit that helped transform the scene into a meme that hilariously captures the anxiety and worry we feel for scenarios ranging from your parents yelling at you as you wake up from a nap to when daylight saving time occurs.
when it went from 1:59 to 3:00 pic.twitter.com/BMFQo0lhmG
— queen. (@Deeedge) March 13, 2016
6. Lebron James Pointing
Before his move to the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James played with the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors during the NBA Finals. With less than five minutes left in game one, the Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith appeared to dribble the ball as time ran out of the game, with LeBron seeming to express disappointment at his teammate after the play.
But the image of LeBron stretching his arms out and facing J.R. with a look of absolute frustration and confusion quickly became a meme.
when my wife fails to notice I did exactly one chore pic.twitter.com/w0sNyND1RR
— BUM CHILLUPS, NPR CLASS PUNDIT (@edsbs) June 1, 2018
— Jessica Smetana (@jessica_smetana) June 1, 2018
James’ face says it all.
5. Kayla Newman’s “On fleek”
The phrase “on fleek” came to define 2014, and we have Kayla Newman (also known as Peaches Monroe) to thank for that. Newman was 16 when she first shared a Vine uttering the phrase, “Eyebrows on fleek,” and nothing was the same after that. Unfortunately, Newman was practically erased as the creator of “on fleek,” foreshadowing how language and slang invented by Black people and Black social media spaces become adopted in the mainstream so quickly nowadays. In recent years, she has managed to reap some benefits from her meme, having led a successful GoFundMe to raise money for a makeup line. But even in her cautionary tale, Newman’s “on fleek” showed just how effortless Black people seem to create, define, and redefine pop culture. Where a then-16-year-old girl invented a phrase that transcended a six-second video clip, and was uttered by Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B.
4. Paul Rudd’s “Look at us”
If there was any meme that defined this year it’d be this one. Toward the end of Paul Rudd’s interview with Hot Ones’ host Sean Evans, the pair decide to blend together multiple hot sauces that they then dip their final cauliflower wing into. It’s a sentimental moment that’s made all the more better by Rudd and Evans’ exchange.
“Hey, look at us,” Rudd says, with Evans repeating him.
“Who would’ve thought,” Evans says, with Rudd responding, “Not me.”
It’s this brief exchange that ended up going viral and used as a response to everything from partners deciding on places to eat to following through with brunch after a wild night. It’s a meme that perfectly articulates something we’ve all experienced: when you’re in disbelief at doing something that you totally had no faith was going to actually happen.
Me and my bank account after I've made $50 stretch for a week and a half pic.twitter.com/OrG3eIKkjp
— DJ against the advice of my team (@DJJordanJetson) October 20, 2019
When you make next morning brunch plans when you’re hammered and then actually follow through with them pic.twitter.com/dWu31q0CQe
— out of context ry (@Mr__Tweeets) October 20, 2019
3. Keke Palmer’s “Sorry to this man”
Keke Palmer’s “Sorry to this man” was another meme that also defined 2019. The clip is taken from a lie detector test Keke Palmer did for Vanity Fair, where she answered questions about her birthplace, her real name, and her dating preferences. However, when asked whether her character on the Nickelodeon show True Jackson, VP was a better VP than Vice President Dick Cheney, she had no idea who Cheney he was.
“I don’t know who this man is,” she said. “He could be walking down the street and I wouldn’t know a thing. Sorry to this man.”
The lie detector test determined that she wasn’t lying about not knowing who Cheney is, but, more importantly, it birthed a very important meme. It has since been used as a reaction to running into exes, dealing with student loans, and trying to keep up with the countless rappers whose names begin with “Lil.”
Whenever I’m asked about 90 percent of the rappers with Lil as part of their name
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 14, 2019
Me, coming across photos of my ex.
— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) September 13, 2019
(You can also buy a shirt of this meme.)
2. Conceited (rapper)
You’ve seen the face before — battle rapper Conceited making a face of displeasure and skepticism as he went up against Jesse James during a 2009 rap battle hosted by the Ultimate Rap League. Seven years later, and Conceited became one of the best memes of the decade.
Sure, it’s the face that he makes. But it’s also just how well-timed the zoom-in and zoom-out is when he makes the face, capturing all of the changes Conceited makes in such a short amount of time. That he captures the skepticism toward the goals we make for ourselves or the hesitancy a presidential candidate may have toward speaking on race is fitting because we all know we have made that exact face when faced with similar scenarios.
Me in the past: graduate college in 4 years at 21, have a career and make 6 figures by 24.
Me in the present: pic.twitter.com/pW83tstAVy
— BIG Trap (@Intertraptional) November 17, 2016
1. Crying Michael Jordan
Of course Crying Michael Jordan is the meme of the decade. Did you really think any other meme was going to take the top spot? It’s because of photographer Stephan Savoia that we have this incredible meme in the first place. Savoia snapped the iconic picture of the famous athlete during his 2009 Hall of Fame induction speech.
Then, in 2016, the image became one of the greatest memes to ever hit the internet, Jordan’s tearful face poking fun at losing football teams, losing Powerball tickets, and Donald Trump. It’s fair that people have called for the meme’s retirement, because it truly defined this decade, and made us laugh many a times when all we wanted to do was cry.
JULY 8tH pic.twitter.com/lLXDru8KfZ
— ScHoolboy Q (@ScHoolboyQ) June 14, 2016