So here we are, spinning into the soggier, mulchier portion of 2021, the year that was meant to be not like the previous year. How's that going? Yes, we're sick of it all, but one of the few bright spots of the last year was that all the extra time we had to devote to pottering around online led to some truly choice memes.
So, we've collected the best memes of 2021 here for you. The best memes from 2020 are right here, though we understand if you don't want to put yourself through all that again.
The happy side, sad side bus meme
A very simple one, which perhaps explains its brief ubiquity. There's something very cute about it, something very not-2021. That's probably because it comes from 2013, one of the years in Earth's existence you could accurately describe as 'not 2021'.
The original artist of the cartoon, the Brazilian Genildo Ronchi, uploaded his actual cartoon to Instagram recently in the wake of the meme's popularity.
It's titled 'Sometimes It Just Depends On Us', and the Portuguese legend overlaid on the cartoon reads: "Choose the happy side of life!" Which is nice, if a little overoptimistic if you happen to be sat on the grim side of the bus aisle during a grisly, jam-packed 7am Tuesday run through Warrington. There is no sunny side of the bus in Warrington.
A whole load of Beatles gags
The perfect storm of a Thanksgiving weekend release, a treasure trove of new raw material for memes and an undimming urge for daftness turned The Beatles: Get Back into a rich seam of very stupid memes. Some decided to subtly rewrite history.
Others appreciated big Mal Evans, the band's roadie, looking absolutely delighted to have the chance to bonk an anvil with a hammer to add some sound effects to rehearsals, or quite how intensely snoozy Ringo seemed for most of the Twickenham days.
Yet others gloried in the array of late-Sixties royalty who dropped in on sessions for Get Back: Peter Sellers, Linda McCartney, Yoko, Alan Parsons, and London's swingingest Shaguar driver.
Truly, the fifth Beatle.
This one's not so fantastic a concept in and of itself, but its mayfly existence is a fascinating encapsulation of the meme life cycle. First, you have your breakout hits like the one above. They tend to be easily legible to a massive number of people, so everyone knows the crack with the format, tone and intent of the meme.
This one's extremely simple. You say something you don't believe in quote marks, and then whack a load of red flag emojis after the statement to imply this is a reason you should be extremely wary of the
Now everyone knows what they're doing with it, they toddle off and start
Then you get the overexposure point, where the gag has been done to death and lost its in-crowd eligibility to become the kind of thing your auntie sends you. This happens to most memes; it's only a very select few Meme Hall of Famers, like Distracted Boyfriend, which transcend their popularity and stay funny in perpetuity even as their actual presence drains away. There is one very clear signal that a meme has gone full dad joke.
We've seen middle managers doing very snotty "cover letters with spelling mistakes in" gags for this one, which is deeply lame. At some stage either immediately before or immediately after this point, someone will point out why the thing everyone's doing is actually not brilliant. In the case of the red flag meme, it's the extremely reasonable point that people who use screen readers – those who are blind or visually impaired, for instance – were finding their Twitter feeds gunked up by these emojis which their readers would render as "triangular flag on post" repeatedly.
And then it's all over. The meme evaporates, its ones and zeroes reincorporated into the digital water cycle. The great cosmic ballet goes on.
The great Facebook and Instagram and some other stuff outage of 2021
For six days in early October, Facebook, Instagram and Messenger suddenly fell over and it was all very briefly exciting. Reddit went absolutely off its head for a bit. Twitter was the place to be, as if it was 2014 all of a sudden. There was a giddy, snow day vibe to everything. People memed. And then everything came back, and all was as bad as it was before.
When Andrew Neil signed off from his first two-week stint in the big chair at GB News, he told viewers they "ain't seen nothing yet". By god, how true it was.
After a strong showing in the ratings for the launch night, things rather went downhill. The sound was glitchy. The tech didn't work. At one minute to showtime one evening, Neill was told by his director all the external comms were down, so he had no guests and had to fill, on his own, for an hour. The studio was so badly lit it was hard to make out whether we it was the guy from Coast railing against the bloody woke brigade destroying our heritage and blah blah blah or an archive clip of Rick Wakeman on Grumpy Old Men.
And then Simon McCoy – once a respected BBC presenter with a flair for an acerbic aside – had to ask people not to send in correspondence signed off by such luminaries as Mike Hunt, Mike Oxlong, and Hugh Janus.
Ok I know I said I wouldn’t tweet about it but I can’t stop laughing pic.twitter.com/tV1PLJW52v
— Hannah Jane Parkinson (@ladyhaja) June 15, 2021
Just when things couldn't get any sillier, this bastion against cancel culture cancelled one of its own, Guto Harri, who was sacked after taking the knee during a chat about whether England's footballers ought to be doing it.
Changes were rung. Nigel Farage, who'd been on the edge of nearly every conversation about GB News anyway, got his own show. Neil retreated to his house in the south of France. As Private Eye pointed out, come September the Andrew Neill Show had been hosted exactly eight times by Andrew Neill, and many more times by people who weren't.
In mid-September he hit the ejector button and told the Daily Mail that the stress of running GB News nearly made him have a breakdown. The sympathy among Neill's colleagues in broadcast media has been muted. GB News has ironed out some of the kinks, but we'll always have Hugh Janus.
Soft men, hard men, man men soft times men hard
Obviously fuck L*urence F*x, but we did at least get to witness first hand the first case of poster's brain so advanced that the patient's frontal cortex fully inverted.
Larry, Larry, slow down. Have you had any water today? Have some water.
Ah, the Olympics
A year later than billed and not exactly wildly popular in Tokyo and Japan at large, the Olympics finally pitched up and did what the Olympics always does: grab you by the heartstrings every 20 minutes and make you tear up at the sight of some sporting excellence in a discipline you had no idea existed until Lutalo Muhammad told you it did.
But even before the Olympics kicked off/fired the starting pistol/slapped its legs and tried to grab its opponent's lapels, there were memes.
Those cardboard 'anti-sex beds' turned out not to be a prophylactic at all, just a recyclable frame which could really take some punishment, as various athletes showed by launching themselves onto them on social media. The memes, though, continued. One alternative: appropriate softboi stoner culture.
After everything we've been through, it felt like there was an even gauzier, softer focus to proceedings. Nobody got ripped to shreds, and there was a lot of understanding toward Simone Biles' decision to step back from competition, outside of the doughy middle-aged ex-Good Morning Britain presenter corpus.
Two of the standout moments of the Games epitomised that vibe. There was the Irish athletes' entrance at the Opening Ceremony, a gesture of humility and respect which was only added to by the Final Fantasy victory music playing at the time.
— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) July 23, 2021
And there was gold medal-winning diver Tom Daley, who finally made it to the peak of his sport. When he wasn't spinning and twirling toward water at speed, he was knitting like a demon.
— Dal Bologknees 🍝 (@DalBologknees) August 1, 2021
A little bag for his gold medal, a scarf for a little Furby-like mascot, and a truly astounding cardigan commemorating the whole Games. What a champ.
Back in January, John Roderick decided he would tweet about a bit of parenting he seemed quite proud of. His nine-year-old daughter didn't know how to open a tin of beans, and he refused to help her. She'd have to figure it out herself, while he live-tweeted what happened.
Naturally, this up-by-the-beanstraps approach to bringing up a child was met with mixed reviews. 'Bean dad' became Twitter's main character for a couple of days. He was the archetype of a Machiavellian tyrant.
Roderick deactivated his Twitter account not long afterwards, when people pointed out that he was being an arse and then – of course! – some anti-Semitic and racist tweets resurfaced. Every single time.
Anakin and Padme
One thing we've been really missing in 2021 is an endlessly remixable meme format – a Marriage Story argument scene, a Man Phwoaring At Woman In Front Of Girlfriend. Now, at last, we have it.
It's taken from the bit of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones where Anakin and Padme exchange woo in a field while also discussing the relative merits of dictatorships and pluralist democracy, and specifically the bit where Anakin endorses totalitarianism. Now, the meme's a handy way of pointing out when something you thought was going to go well has actually spiralled into something deeply disappointing.
Really miss that little car. Quite a few of the best ones are about the vagaries of technology, and quite how irritating different file formats can be.
And there's this one, which is just magnificent.
And finally: a meme from the early Seventies.
Poor David Marshall
Scotland's big day at Hampden Park didn't go quite to plan. Their return to a major championship ended in a 2-0 loss, and the second goal was a frankly jaw-dropping ping from the halfway line after goalkeeper David Marshall had gone for a sandwich. Marshall's doomed leap after the ball got a memeing, as did his slightly undignified trajectory into the back of the net.
Poor old David Marshall. It's a meme which, looking at it from this end of the England-Scotland draw, managed to tie together two eternally repeating motifs of sport: Scottish plucky loserism, and English hubristic wankerdom. Within days, the hearty fnarr-ing at Marshall had turned to ash in England fans' mouths. Don't even mind it! Feels good. Feels right.
That Marvel mega-trailer
The huge dump of new Marvel stuff which welcomed in the start of Phase 4 by announcing dates for (deep breath) Black Panther 2, Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, Spider-Man 3, Doctor Strange 2 and Thor: Love and Thunder did lend itself to a memeing. In the onslaught of new stuff, you could very easily have missed a few announcements. For what it's worth, we'd absolutely watch a mash-up of Mamma Three-a and a rebooted X-Men. Imagine it: Julie Walters jiving around to 'Ring Ring' on Kalokairi while Michael Fassbender does one of his big grimaces. Those mutants wouldn't stand a chance.
The Oscars at large
This year's odd halfway house-style Oscars ceremony didn't prove to be any impediment to the manufacture and dissemination of weapons-grade memes. There was Anthony Hopkins beaming in from the Welsh countryside. There was Daniel Kaluuya giving thanks for the fact his mum and dad banged. There was, of course, Glenn Close doing Da Butt. We've rounded up a few more here.
Dancing Daniel Brühl
— David Raff (@TheDavidRaff) April 2, 2021
Now that it's all over, we can agree that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wasn't anywhere near as good as WandaVision, right? Right. Good to see the lads get a run out, sure, but it didn't kick in the same way. However, it did give us Daniel Brühl as Zemo grooving in a club while Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie look on, narked.
According to Brühl the boogie itself "wasn't on the page," but was something he felt he really, really needed to do.
"This guy has been sitting and rotting in a German prison cell, so it's time to let off some steam," Brühl told ET Canada. "And, also, I like the way Sam and Bucky react to it. You know, truly annoyed."
You can be a different person after the pandemic
A New York Times op-ed with exactly that headline landed in early April. "Our personalities are not set in stone," read the subhead. "They are more like sand dunes." The po-faced, very NYT tone encouraged people to be as gleefully stupid as they possibly could. Maybe your new post-pandemic persona will be Hayden Christensen.
Or maybe you'll suddenly get extremely cool.
Or perhaps you'll leave people seeing double: four Krusties?
Anyway like I say, the joy here is in finding the most aggressively stupid way of interpreting a very self-serious thing, which is some of the choicest joy there is.
The ship that blocked the Suez Canal
When a ship called the Ever Given got itself wedged diagonally across one of the world's most intensely important shipping lanes, blocking 10 percent of the planet's freight traffic, it set something off. Why was it so funny? Why did it hit so hard? Why couldn't people stop telling each other not to make any more jokes because – arf! – that ship had sailed?
— Zaina Erhaim (@ZainaErhaim) March 24, 2021
We may never know for sure, but there's something in the level of incompetence the layman assumes it would take for a modern ship to get itself so catastrophically stuck that it's just sat there, arse flapping in the wind, for a week. Plus, there's the consoling factor of knowing that however you manage to spaff something up, it'll never be as consequential or world-stopping as getting a tanker stuck in the Suez Canal. For a week.
Speculation as to who was at the wheel/rudder/whatever during the fateful grounding was obviously one of the main topics of discussion.
The wider sociopolitical meaning of exactly why the tanker felt it had to stage this protest was up for debate too.
And finally, when it unwedged itself and floated free once more, joy was unconfined.
The Harry and Meghan interview
The fallout from the Sussexes' interview with Oprah continues to fall out all over the shop. Many of the remixed visions of what exactly Harry objected to about his folks' handling of the announcement of his and Meghan's first-born – which was both shocking and not in the least bit surprising – and blow it up to bizarre proportions.
At the other end of things, the gigantic scale of the impact this has had on the royals and the British establishment got brought down to the scale of some kind of influencer drama-geddon.
Somewhere in the middle, the recasting of the Gen Alpha royals as Schitt's Creek's David and Alexa Rose was pretty inspired.
Elsewhere, you've got Oprah repurposed as a never-not-useful reaction meme. You can never have too many of them knocking about.
March 2020 / March 2021
Bloody hell. A whole calendar year of this palaver. Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. You have completely overhauled your outlook, and you have been held in stasis. You have aged a thousand years, and your life has been paused. Bloody, bloody hell.
It's a weird vibe right now, as the UK comes up to a year since it first went into lockdown. Spring's on the way and we're all into the idea that late June will be the mad one to end all mad ones – see below – but there's a queasy sense that things are unlikely to go exactly to plan. It's a meme, yes, but there's a semi-serious point here: we're absolutely knackered.
Lockdown burnout is real, and it's quite heartening to know that everyone else is feeling it to some degree too even if it's in an archly dismissive sort of way. If you've managed to get through the last year without too much specifically bad happening to you or your loved ones, then great – it's still been completely exhausting.
Bring on 21 June
Every single Wetherspoons at 10am on 21st June pic.twitter.com/sYaIcoYOfy
— Morgers (@goldilocksrocks) February 22, 2021
On 22 February, Boris Johnson announced the earliest date we could drop all social distancing measures and launch ourselves headlong into The Greatest Summer Of All Time. There are a lot of ifs. There are numerous buts. The Jenga tower of assessment dates and tests could topple with the slightest nudge. But for the first time we've got a solid date on which life could return, and it's just in time for England v Czech Republic at Wembley.
Some have pointed out that Johnson also reckoned last March that we'd be out of this within 12 weeks, that we'd not need a November lockdown, and that cancelling Christmas would be "inhuman". But really, can one man be that badly wrong four times in a row? It gets statistically less likely every time he's wrong! That's just maths.
the uk telling covid to go away for the 21 june pic.twitter.com/nYS4sKpn3p
— will (@wiIlknight) February 22, 2021
It was Agatha all along
WandaVision hasn't pumped out many memes, but Kathryn Hahn's stage-wink as it was revealed she'd been a witch in hiding the whole time went overground as the series reached its climax. It's your regular intention-versus-reality gag, a bit like Evil Kermit, but this time the captions have had a more intellectual bent.
You don't see many stage-winks around anymore do you? Shame.
Politicians attempting to talk to The Youth Of Today invariably produces excellent moments, like the time David Cameron bored a seven-year-old to death. More bizarrely, Rishi Sunak tried to connect with the voters of tomorrow by admitting he had a terrible addiction to Mexican Coke. That's, ah, central American Coca-Cola.
Look at those lads, gamely listening while the Chancellor of the Exchequer tries to talk himself out of a class A-shaped hole by rambling on about high fructose corn syrup. (Sunak's not even correct here, by the way – Coke in the UK is made with sugar.)
That Texas lawyer with the cat filter on Zoom
“I’m here live, I’m not a cat,” says lawyer after Zoom filter mishap
“I can see that,” responds judge pic.twitter.com/HclKlAUwbM
— Lawrence Hurley (@lawrencehurley) February 9, 2021
In the future, the pandemic's equivalent of 'What's the deal with airline food?' will be unfortunate Zoom backgrounds and face filter. But just because you've seen it before, it doesn't mean you'll be in any way immune to Texas lawyer Rod Ponton's panicked explanation to Judge Roy Ferguson of Texas’s 394th judicial district: "I’m here live, I am not a cat". Ponton, who seems to be genuinely trapped inside a baby kitten's face, is commendably professional about the whole thing.
Jackie Weaver and the Handforth Parish Council
Up until February 2021, the sleepy parish of Handforth in Wilmslow, Cheshire was best known for its easy access to Manchester airport and the M6. But all that changed when Shaan Ali, a 17-year-old from East London, tweeted out two minutes of highlights from a Zoom parish council meeting in December.
Jackie Weaver, parachuted in to help keep the beleaguered parish council moving after councillors kept bickering among themselves, bore the brunt of even more bickering. But instead of bowing to pressure, Weaver started kicking councillors out: first Brian Tolver, who questioned Weaver's authority; then vice-chair Aled Brewerton (and unidentified friend) and Barry Burkill felt the full force of Weaver's boot.
(Speaking as a Cheshire expat, the mixture of bureaucratic glibness and foaming indignation at anything going wrong is a pretty solid map of my home county's personality.)
Every single moment of the meeting's been memed or quoted in some way: "You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver!"; "Read the standing orders! Read them, and understand them!"; Weaver declaring herself Britney Spears; Julie's I pad. It's the This is Spinal Tap of viral videos right now.
— Munya Chawawa (@munyachawawa) February 6, 2021
And then Iain Duncan Smith made a joke about it in Parliament and ruined it. Still, if you're at a loss as to what to watch tonight, the Handforth parish council meeting is on YouTube in its entirety and runs to a tight 90 minutes.
Bernie Sanders and his mittens
The first genuine mega-meme of 2021 came, as you might have expected, from Joe Biden's inauguration. It wasn't Joe himself, though, with his air of steady competence and stable boringness. It was meme machine Bernie, and the mittens he was gifted on the campaign trail in Vermont. As soon as that picture of him sat like a cat, with his mitts crossed, was turned into a background-free PNG file, all bets were off. Bernie went on a road trip around the internet.
After that it started getting a bit silly.
I mean, really. We've since found out that those mittens were a gift from teacher Jen Ellis and that they're made of recycled materials and are technically 'smittens', an amalgam of mittens and a sweater. Ellis has since run out of said smittens, so don't both trying and track any down.
"Thanks for all the interest in Bernie's mittens!" she wrote on Twitter. "I'm so flattered that Bernie wore them to the inauguration. Sadly, I have no more mittens for sale. There are a lot of great crafters on Etsy who make them."
There's no chance of Ellis chucking in the day job to go full time on the smittens. "I hate to disappoint people, but the mittens, they're one of a kind and they're unique and, sometimes in this world, you just can't get everything you want," she told Jewish Insider.
If you're after more Bernie memes – and why on earth wouldn't you be – we collected some of our favourites in a Twitter Moment right here.
Sea shanty TikTok
Right back in July last year, Scottish postman Nathan Evans began putting up a TikToks of himself singing sea shanties. Just after Christmas, he put up a very nice one in which he harmonised with himself a 19th century seafaring ditty called Soon May the Wellerman Come.
Which is lovely on its own, and it's racked up 4.3 million views. But early in January, the world realised that TikTok had done its Ratatouille: the Musical thing with it, and turned it into a swoon-worthy piece of folk vocalising.
That was the point at which it went properly overground. As in, the New York Times did a piece on it and Evans got roped in to explain himself on the Today programme.
"I did a sea shanty back in July 2020, just because someone had asked in a comment under one of my videos," Evans told Radio 4. "So I uploaded that and it reached 1.1m views. I thought there must have been a demand.
“People were looking forward to more and they were commenting underneath every video after that saying can you sing this one, can you sing that one – it was just requests from people for me to sing them."
Evans reckons that despite how tricky that alto line sounds, the simplicity of the sea shanty is its strength, as well as the communal sing-along aspect.
"I think its the fact you can get everyone involved, everyone can join in, you don’t need to necessarily be able to sing, the words are simple and it is just the beat and the voices. I think it’s a bit of everything that appeals to everyone."
The biggest compilation I’ve seen so far of the Wellerman sea shanty. It’s chefs kiss! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/NwEwHsR6SK
— Etel Sverdlov (@etelsverdlov) January 11, 2021
Well, not quite everything and everyone. The missing ingredient was, it turns out, an absolutely belting bassline.
The Wellerman Sea Shanty is Funky pic.twitter.com/qTUw9su2SN
— Alex Moukala (@alex_moukala) January 16, 2021
Don't worry about what's in the vaccine
As you've probably seen, there's a bit of resistance to the newly (and speedily) developed vaccines going around, and a lot of misinformation. Claims that the various different jabs aren't safe (they are) or are part of some conspiracy to monitor you (they aren't) or could make your feet turn into a mass of purple sores (they can't) have been flying around since early December, and there are a lot of other baseless, unscientific ideas floating on the breeze too.
Obviously, you're not automatically an idiot if scare stories scare you. That's rather the point. But, as many people pointed out, all of the vaccines are a lot safer than many of the things you do and ingest on a fairly regular basis.
The outside world is full of far more potentially dangerous fluids than a rigorously tested vaccine.
And especially if you're in North London, just walking to get the bus could potentially land you with Legionnaires' disease.
There's been a dead pigeon hanging from that bridge for months now. When will it drop? And who will the pigeon of Damocles drop on? For others, perspective came in the form of harrowing post-rave milling around come dawn in central Manchester's transport hubs.
The sheer concentration of complete gibberish and bad vibes around the Piccadilly concourse branch of Upper Crust come 5.30am has to have some kind of immunosuppressant effect.
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