Everything's Still Quite Bad, So Here Are the Best Memes of 2021

Tom Nicholson
·13-min read
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So here we are, a couple of months into 2021. The plague year is gone. We emerged, blinking blearily, into a brave new dawn. We kept blinking, then started squinting. This all looks... very similar to that old, crap year we just got rid of. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Wake me up if the Euros ends up happening.

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. With most of us likely to spend the early part of this year staring out of the window and wondering if 21 June will ever arrive, we're going to have to meme our way through the dark months until everything gets brighter again.

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.

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.

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Or maybe you'll suddenly get extremely cool.

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Or perhaps you'll leave people seeing double: four Krusties?

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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?

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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.

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Speculation as to who was at the wheel/rudder/whatever during the fateful grounding was obviously one of the main topics of discussion.

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The wider sociopolitical meaning of exactly why the tanker felt it had to stage this protest was up for debate too.

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And finally, when it unwedged itself and floated free once more, joy was unconfined.

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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.

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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.

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Somewhere in the middle, the recasting of the Gen Alpha royals as Schitt's Creek's David and Alexa Rose was pretty inspired.

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Elsewhere, you've got Oprah repurposed as a never-not-useful reaction meme. You can never have too many of them knocking about.

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March 2020 / March 2021

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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It was Agatha all along

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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.

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You don't see many stage-winks around anymore do you? Shame.

Mexican Coke

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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After that it started getting a bit silly.

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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.

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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."

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Well, not quite everything and everyone. The missing ingredient was, it turns out, an absolutely belting bassline.

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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.

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The outside world is full of far more potentially dangerous fluids than a rigorously tested vaccine.

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And especially if you're in North London, just walking to get the bus could potentially land you with Legionnaires' disease.

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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.

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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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