The 30 Memes that Defined the Decade

Robin Zlotnick - Author

Dec. 4 2019, Updated 12:42 p.m. ET

It can be hard to keep up with internet culture. Over the last ten years, millions of memes have come and gone. But some have endured, shifted public thinking, or illustrated poignant moments in time that we will not soon forget. These are those memes. The memes we still reference on the reg. The memes whose origins we can't even pinpoint anymore. The memes that we forgot started out as memes because they've transcended their memedom. These are the memes that when we say goodbye to the 2010s will no doubt remain in our hearts through the 2020s and beyond.

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Deal With It (2010)

When those glasses descend from the top of the frame, you know what's going down. It's hard to even think of "deal with it" as a meme because it seems like it's always been there, like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining. If you think "deal with it" hasn't earned its place in our culture, well you can just... deal with it.

Sad Keanu (2010)

Back in 2010, that picture of Keanu Reeves sitting on a bench looking sad was everywhere. But the reason it's still so important is that in 2019, Keanu Reeves is basically the king of all men. He's killing it! Keanu has proven himself to be the best kind of actor and person. He's all over your movie screen, he has a wonderful new girlfriend, and he seems genuinely happy. The Sad Keanu meme is proof of what ten years can do. 

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Double Rainbow (2010)

Watching this easily impressed man shout in awe at a double rainbow all the way across the sky still brings so much joy. It's just a genuinely positive, goodhearted meme. This may have peaked 10 years ago, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't reference this video any time they see a double rainbow in real life.

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Ice Bucket Challenge (2012)

Everyone and their mother was doing the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2012 to raise money for ALS research. It started in 2012 but reached peak virality in 2014, according to USA Today. Celebrities of every caliber got in on the movement, and a ton of money was raised for the cause. This was one of those rare memes that actually resulted in tangible progress.

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Slender Man (2012)

Slender Man is perhaps best known now for inspiring a real-life attack on a young girl. That's the impact this creepy creature has had. According to Know Your Meme, the idea of Slender Man started back in 2009 as an entry in a "paranormal pictures" photoshop contest. The pictures show children playing while an ominous, tall, lean, and dark figure stands in the background. The lore of Slender Man spread so wide it inspired movies and stories and even offshoot memes (see: Trender Man). There is no denying Slender Man's creepy grip on society.

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Gersberms (2012)

Ermahgerd! Gersberms! The photo may have been a joke, but once someone added meme text to it, it took off and resulted in one of the most quotable memes of all time. There's a stigma associated with being unabashedly excited about things, especially online, and I think the Ermahgerd girl gave people an ironic outlet to express genuine enthusiasm. Cuz like, who wouldn't be excited about Goosebumps? They were the best!

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Grumpy Cat (2012)

Grumpy Cat (RIP!) was the first of the Internet cats to achieve worldwide fame and become an icon. Cats have long been queens of the internet, but Grumpy Cat, with her icy blue eyes and unamused frown, emerged from the pack and reached a whole 'nother level of fame. We're talking merch, movies, books, and an eternal spot in the Internet Cat Hall of Fame. In fact, Grumpy Cat invented the Internet Cat Hall of Fame.

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Crying Jordan (2012)

This picture of Michael Jordan crying is everywhere. It's probably the biggest meme in sports, but honestly, you don't even have to know what ESPN is to know this meme. Crying Jordan has been launched into space and left in the car. He's been tackled in football and turned into a Halloween costume. Crying Jordan's legacy will endure the same way Michael Jordan's actual career does.

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Side-Eyeing Chloe (2013)

It was a video of two girls being told their parents were taking them to Disney. One flipped out, screamed, and cried, and the other, Chloe, gave her the most serious side-eye in the world. And thus, a meme was born. Chloe's side-eye is epic, and starting in 2012, she was everywhere. Chloe became an international sensation and even visited Brazil years later, where she was honored at Google headquarters

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Doge (2013)

This innocent-looking Shiba Inu changed dog internet speak forever, and I will never forgive him. No, but really, until Doge came around, cats ruled the internet. No matter how ridiculous Doge is, he did pave the way for dogs in the internet. Much wow. So Doge. 

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The Dress (2015)

I remember when my brother texted me a picture of this dress and asked me what color it was. I thought he was going insane. Minutes later, it was all anyone was talking about. It's safe to say that The Dress broke the world for a few days. You know that a meme has transcended internet culture when your parents and grandparents are texting about it. That was The Dress. this blue and black (or is it white and gold?) monstrosity will live on for eternity.

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Pizza Rat (2015)

This rat instantly became the most relatable figure in the United States when he was spotted dragging a piece of pizza down the subway steps. I still think of Pizza Rat fondly whenever I order delivery, crawl up to the door like a trash dweller, grab the food, and run to the corner of the room with it like Gollum with the ring. There have been a few imitators since, but none have had the impact or the staying power of Pizza Rat.

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Chrissy Teigen's Crying Face (2015)

Chrissy Teigen's crying face is certainly a ubiquitous meme, but it's also indicative of just how significant Chrissy Teigen's online presence is. I truly think she changed the way celebrities interact on social media, and more than that, she's like, super funny. It's kind of not fair. Chrissy Teigen and her crying face should get the credit they deserve for influencing the whole celebrity social media landscape.

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Netflix and Chill (2015)

Netflix and chill may have started out as a code for "inviting someone over to watch movies and then making out on the couch instead," but it's so much more — and less — than that now. It's a shorthand for hooking up but also for actually chilling and watching Netflix. And a testament to its staying power is that it served as the springboard for the new and truly disturbing "Disney Plus and thrust."

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Evil Kermit (2016)

A list of the most influential memes of the decade would not be complete without Kermit the Frog. Arguably the most straitlaced Muppet has become the subject of several priceless memes, the most devastatingly relatable of which is Evil Kermit. Evil Kermit is the voice inside our heads telling us to do the thing we know we shouldn't do. 

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This Is Fine Dog (2016)

The cheery dog calmly sitting down, saying, "This is fine" as his house burns down around him rocketed to popularity in 2016. Hmm. Wonder why. More than a moment in time, this meme signaled the start of an era, an era that began with us saying, "This is fine" and has evolved into everyone speaking frankly day after day about what a hellish trash fire this world has become.

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Harambe (2016)

I had forgotten that there was such a sad origin to the Harambe meme. When a 4-year-old crawled into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, zookeepers shot and killed a silverback gorilla named Harambe who started dragging the child around. The internet burst into flames over this story. Many blamed bad parenting for the tragic result and lamented that there must have been another way to handle the situation. Soon, #JusticeforHarambe was trending, and it snowballed into an unrecognizable yet extremely significant meme. 

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Confused Math Lady (2016)

The panels or GIF of the confused math lady still shows up regularly on my timeline. It's become such an instantly identifiable way to convey that one is confused about something. But no, the confused math lady isn't Claire Danes or Julia Roberts, as some people have posited. Her name is Renata Sorrah and she is an actress on a telenovela in Brazil. These images are from the show (the math was added for comedic effect). 

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Distracted Boyfriend (2017)

The Distracted Boyfriend meme exploded onto the scene in 2017 and lasted a good long while, which is rare for a meme based on a stock photo. But this one was too good, the premise was too clear, and the possibilities were too endless. 

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Absolute Unit (2017)

In 2017, we started celebrating "absolute units," and it quickly became one of the great joys of the internet. The first absolute unit tweet I believe referred to a person, but the term has since been applied to animals, cars, plates of spaghetti...really anything you can think of. And I love it. The internet is full of love for "absolute units" and "thicc" things, and that's just beautiful. 

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Roll Safe (2017)

I will be honest. Before writing this list, I had no idea what this meme was called. I just knew I saw it everywhere. It's one of those images that just so clearly illustrates a feeling that you don't even need words to accompany it. It was interesting to learn that the man in the photo is comedian and actor Kayode Ewumi playing a character in the web series Hood Documentary.

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White Guy Blinking (2017)

Again, there are just some enduring images that are used in multitudinous ways, and the white guy blinking is one of them. It's hard to believe he's been around for multiple years, expressing shock and disbelief in countless situations all over the internet. I don't think he's going anywhere anytime soon.

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Tide Pod Challenge (2017)

Remember way back in 2017 when adults believed that kids were going to eat Tide laundry detergent pods because they made them look like pieces of delicious candy? Those were the good ol' days. The viral Tide Pod Challenge got blown way out of proportion, as these things are wont to do. Needless to say, Tide Pods are still referred to (jokingly) as tasty treats.

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Yanny or Laurel (2018)

The Yanny/Laurel debate became the auditory version of The Dress. Some people heard Yanny. Others heard Laurel. Some heard one at first and then it switched to the other. They were playing the clip on radio stations and morning TV shows. Yanny and Laurel were everywhere. I'd thought we'd learned our lesson with The Dress. We had not. And I'm sure it's only a matter of time before another similar debate arises.

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BBQ Becky (2018)

In 2018, a disturbing trend came to light of white women calling the cops on black people for doing things like selling water bottles and having barbecues in the park. BBQ Becky was the original, but Permit Patty and others weren't far behind. BBQ Becky may have become a meme, but she also points to an important moment in history. White women have gotten away with being monsters for a long time, and they're finally being called out. They're finally being held accountable for the damage they do.

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Kamala Harris Waving (2019)

So many memes come out of presidential races, but none spread as widely and rapidly as the video of Kamala Harris waving. There's just so much going on in that six-second clip. It's so dramatic and full of seemingly obvious posturing, which makes it so ripe for jokes. Kamala Harris may not be in the running for President of the United States anymore, but she is definitely in the running for the president of presidential candidate memes.

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I Don't Know Who Needs to Hear This (2019)

I don't know who needs to hear this, but this meme is actually kind of useful sometimes. It's mostly used for things that all people need to hear. Drink water, cancel that subscription, mail your rent. This meme is here to help. Sure, it's funny, but it's also legit sometimes! It's indicative of that culture of support many are trying to cultivate on the internet. We all need to hear this stuff. I hope this one never goes away.

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Kombucha Girl (2019)

Honestly, Kombucha Girl for president 2020. You want someone who really tells it like it is? It's this star of TikTok who tried kombucha on camera, wasn't a fan, thought that maybe she liked it for a second, then decided that no, the stuff is gross. This reaction video has proven itself to be extremely bankable for all sorts of situations. And Brittany, the girl behind the kombucha face, deserves to be a certified star.

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OK Boomer (2019)

"OK boomer" is a fairly recent meme, but hoo boy did it pack a punch. It's just the right combination of condescending and dismissive, and the fact that it's young people speaking that way to old people is *chef's kiss* perfect. Obviously, boomers got all huffy about the meme and wrote a bunch of articles about it, to which the younguns simply replied, "OK boomer." Priceless.

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Sorry to This Man (2019)

My personal vote for meme of the decade is Keke Palmer being presented with a photo of Dick Cheney and saying, "I hate to say it, I hope I don't sound ridiculous. I don't know who this man is. He could be walking down the street. I wouldn't — I wouldn't know a thing. Sorry to this man." Sorry to this man! It's poetry. It's so applicable, so timely, and yet, so timeless. "Sorry to this man" dismantles the patriarchy with four small words. It's the most perfect morsel that's been added to our culture in the last 10 years, except for this.

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