The Best Memes of 2021 (So Far), Explained
This year’s funniest, weirdest and most chaotic viral internet videos, images and jokes
It’s hard to believe we’re already more than halfway through 2021, but looking back on these past six-plus months, one thing is clear: the internet has been keeping busy. From Bernie’s now-iconic Inauguration Day fit and Bill Gates’ divorce to the Gulf of Mexico being on literal fire, there has been much to meme about. Let’s take a look back at some of the most entertaining online moments of the first half of the year.
Bernie Sanders at the Inuguration
2021 kicked off with one of the best yet. It is of course Senator Bernie Sanders attending Joe Biden’s inauguration in a hilariously practical fit. While many attendees were sporting designer, Sanders opted for a casual look that included his iconic mittens. The look, paired with Sanders’ unenthused body language, inspired so many memes and superimposed photos of the senator in various settings, like riding the NYC subway and hanging out inside famous works of art.
The Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Oprah Interview
Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey exposed many shocking truths about the royal family including an unnamed member of the family expressing concerns over baby Archie’s skin color, Tyler Perry housing the Duke and Duchess in one of his California homes, and that Prince Charles stopped taking Harry’s calls. Apparently, Oprah was just as shocked as we were because she gave us so many meme-worthy reactions.
For the Better, Right? (Anakin and Padme)
This four-panel meme comes from a scene in the 2002 film Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones where Anakin and Padme are on a picnic discussing the Galactic Republic’s system of governance and their differing opinions on how it should run. The first variation of the meme was posted by Twitter user @starwarsposting with invented subtitles, not the actual film’s dialogue. Still, the subtitles align with Anakin’s progression to becoming an evil Sith and you get the gist of what the meme and its many variations are trying to convey, right?
Agnes Harkness Winking
Kathyrn Kahn as Agatha Harkness in Marvel’s television series WandaVision gave plenty of iconic moments throughout the show, but her exaggerated wink inspired a plethora of memes used to indicate an obvious lie.
The CDC says …
When the CDC made an unexpected (and arguably premature) announcement that fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks indoors or outdoors, the internet reacted to the news by coming up with even more guidelines for those fully vaccinated.
The ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal
Poor Ever Given somehow wedged herself into an unfortunate position in Egypt’s Suez Canal, blocking hundreds of other ships from passing and stoking fears of economic fallout. But despite the concern worldwide, the massive container ship’s longstanding immobility inspired countless memes for the six days she was trapped. Some devised plans for how they’d rescue the ship, while many saw Ever Given as a metaphor for trying your best even with the odds heavily stacked against you.
The Weeknd’s Super Bowl Performance
The Weeknd’s Super Bowl halftime performance had everything: million-watt lights, backup dancers in eerie face bandages, songs about cocaine and a dizzying shot of the singer, who got up close and personal with the camera and took it for a spin. The sequence was turned into a gif and meme’d approximately a million times.
Tana Mongeau’s Strange Interaction with the Paparazzi
Infamous YouTuber and social media star Tana Mongeau had an incredibly strange interaction with the paparazzi prior to the big YouTubers vs. Tiktokers boxing event that took place in June with YouTuber Austin McBroom and TikToker Bryce Hall headlining the event. You can read an entire breakdown of the bizarre interaction from In the Know’s Kelsey Weekman, but here’s a short summary. In the video, Mongeau is presumably asked about the upcoming fight and tells the pap: “Fuck Austin McBroom … It’s not my beef, but we’re team Bryce out here. Even the paparazzi Team Bryce, on god.” Everything from the way Mongeau is standing to her interesting arm sleeves to her saying “on god” perplexed many viewers and inspired loads of recreations of the video, all of which are extremely hilarious … on god.
Vin Diesel Talking About Family
In honor of the ninth (yes, ninth) installment of the Fast and Furious franchise F9, the internet is riffing on Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) undying love for family. If you’ve watched a few F&F films (or have seen this 2017 compilation video from Insider) you’ll know the characters are big on family. The memes are still ongoing, but so far Diesel has been superimposed into films like The Lion King, Home Alone, Jurassic Park and Disney’s Cars (to name a few) with his iconic catchline.
Adult Swim TikTok Trend
Perhaps the best free advertising ever. In June, TikTokers made impressively creative videos inspired by Adult Swim, the late-night adult programming block that runs after hours on Cartoon Network, and the block’s interstitial bumps. The videos would showcase the iconic [AS] symbol underscored by Vanoo 3000’s remix of “Time Moves Slow” by Canadian jazz group BADBADNOTGOOD. The TikToks evoked a sense of nostalgia for many, particularly for Gen-Zers who had hazy childhood memories of waking up on their living room couches, still half-asleep after dozing off during a Cartoon Network show, to an Adult Swim bump. We’d implore you to watch the TikToks listed in the thread above because, despite them being free labor, they’re quite brilliant.
Bill Gates Getting Divorced
A sad day for the Gates’ turned out to be a very funny day for the internet. After news broke that Bill and Melinda Gates were legally separating, the reaction tweets were just too good.
Matt LeBlanc Is Everyone’s Favorite Irish Uncle
Irish Twitter had a field day with this screenshot of actor Matt LeBlanc from HBO’s Friends Reunion, unanimously deciding the photo resembled a particular family relative — your favorite Irish uncle. “Every Irish family has at least one of those uncles or great uncles — extreme salt-of-the-Earth characters, full of dry wit and just a drop of cynicism. Matt looks like a typical Irish uncle in the photos from the reunion from his arms are folded, to his facial expressions,” Twitter user @noclarity74 explained to Buzzfeed News reporter Tanya Chan. Essentially, he looks like the well-meaning uncle who’s attempting to understand your perhaps alternative or unconventional lifestyle. But he’s trying! And we love him for that.
The 2021 U.S. East Coast Gas Shortage
You might recall back in May when some folks on the East Coast were briefly in a COVID-19 toilet paper-esque frenzy over the gas shortage that occurred after a cyberattack crippled the Colonial Pipeline. While the government assured citizens there was enough fuel to go around and the pause in operation was only temporary, some drivers panicked and could be seen stockpiling gasoline in the backs of their trunks, only worsening the issue (and appearing a little ludicrous). The event, and the subsequent hysteria, prompted tons of hilarious jokes and memes.
Gulf Of Mexico Ocean Fire
We know we said we wouldn’t bring this up but … how can we not. At the beginning of July, a ruptured oil pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico caused an underwater fire to rage for hours. Video footage of the incident showed ships spraying the flames with nitrogen, creating a comically futile (but still horrific) image that many on the internet used to convey the serious effects of climate change.
You Can Be A Different Person After The Pandemic
After a New York Times Op-Ed was published in April titled “You Can Be a Different Person After the Pandemic” with a sub-headline telling readers that “personalities are not set in stone,” Twitter users began conflating the intended inspirational message with funny pop culture references.
The Cinnamon Toast Shrimp Tails Saga
You can read the full breakdown of this late March Twitter saga here, but a quick recap: Twitter user, podcaster and husband of “Boy Meets World” star Danielle Fishel (Topanga) Jensen Karp tweeted Cinnamon Toast Crunch’s official Twitter account a photo of two shrimp tails covered in cinnamon dust he had found in his box of cereal. (Gross, we know.) Almost all of Twitter had Karp’s back in his fight against CTC until multiple women who identified themselves as Karp’s exes began sharing similar, damaging information about Karp, including accusations of him being selfish, controlling and manipulative. After hearing these harrowing accusations of abuse, Karp was swiftly canceled by the internet, turning him and this entire Cinnamon Toast Crunch shrimp tails saga into a “Milkshake Duck,” a term and meme derived from a 2016 @pixelatedboat tweet describing a person who gains internet virality for something positive but is later revealed to have a questionable past.
Being Vaccinated Does Not Mean…
As more and more Americans across the country received their first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in early April, Twitter users began sharing all the wild shenanigans they planned to get up to this summer, like eating indoors, hosting intimate dinner parties and maybe even hugging their fully vaccinated loved ones. After what had been a long, horrendous year, thinking about how a somewhat normal summer was within close reach was almost therapeutic. But as we wrote back in April, the discourse around “going back to normal” had gotten intense, with some internet users cautioning those fully vaccinated to not go “buck wild” this summer. Well, those tweets inspired a phrasal meme, informing those fully vaccinated of what they can and cannot do, the guidelines hilariously similar to well-known movie plots.
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