Memes are the language of the 21st century. I don’t actually believe that, but I feel like I have to put the idea of memes over strong in this intro, since this is a list of the best memes of the 2010s. It’s true that social media dominated (and also demolished) this decade, and that memes are kind of the lingua franca of that blighted domain, but also memes are kind of a shortcut to humor for people who aren’t really funny on their own. I don’t know, I don’t want to be an asshole, I’m sorry, memes are awesome and everybody should do ‘em. Let’s all meme again, like we memed last memer, or whatever.
Hey! Here are the memes: the memes we like. This list is in no particular order. Sorry, I don’t get paid enough to rank memes. I do get paid enough to scrobble together a bunch of words and images and embed codes and then hit publish, and that’s exactly what I just did. Thanks!
If you don’t see your favorite meme on here, I’m sorry. Go make a meme about it, or something.
Okay, so once more, in no particular order, here’s the full, authoritative list of Paste’s favorite memes of the decade. Thanks to my assistant comedy editor Olivia Cathcart and Paste’s TV editor Allison Keene for their crucial insight, and a high-five to Paste’s assistant music editor Ellen Johnson for pitching in with a blurb. Yeah, this is a real team effort, from a real team.
Dig it!—Garrett Martin
Blinking White Guy
Reaction gifs are a whole sub-set of meme-dom that deserve their own study, but one of the most pervasive (and useful) to break out in the past decade is Blinking White Guy. The guy is actually Drew Scanlon, who did a memorable double-take during a 2013 episode of a Giant Bomb show, and the rest is history. This mixture of surprise and confusion is a versatile combo, and can be used earnestly or ironically. —Allison Keene
This Is the Future Liberals Want
In 2017 some dumb racist Twitter account tweeted something dumb and racist and voila a meme was born. A right-wing site tried to scaremonger some online points against liberals by sharing a photo of a Muslim woman and a drag queen with the caption “this is the future liberals want,” and only succeeded at giving birth to an all-purpose cudgel widely used to beat back against the hatred, ignorance and fear of far right ideologues. What makes this meme so potent is that literally any image gets across the point, which is that the original poster (and people who think like them) are complete fucking idiots.—Garrett Martin
The internet has long had fun with stock photos. Arguably the most iconic image on this list, one in a series regarding a doomed couple, was the basis of the Distracted Boyfriend meme. It blew up big time to the point even brands were trying (and often failing) to get in on the trendy fun of our distracted buddy. Like cosplay, you know a meme has hit gold medal status when laundry detergent makes one.—Olivia Cathcart
Large Adult Sons / Absolute Unit
Like most good things on the internet, the Large Adult Sons meme started as a Dril tweet. That initial large sons sentiment was then augmented by the classic ClickHole quz, “Which One of My Garbage Sons Are You?” Even The New Yorker got in on the meme, mentioning the classic tweet aimed at Mike Huckabee’s actual large adult sons.
But ultimately the meme morphed, as many great memes do, and what came of it was the term “Absolute Unit.” The distinction is given to large humans or chonky animals (though usually the latter), and though it still thrives in 2019, it perhaps reached the pinnacle of the form in a tweet from the Museum of English Rural Life identifying an absolute unit of a historical ram. Round boys, chonks, units, and other such nomenclature have derived from this original source, and all of them are solid. —Allison Keene
Right in Front of My Salad
You don’t win friends with salad. More than a meme, 2017 brought us a new phrase for the incredulous messes we encounter on a daily basis. “Right in front of my salad” was the hilariously improvised line from an actor in a porn film. Actress Nikki V. witnesses two men having sex in a kitchen across from her and her leafy green lunch. The internet loved her response, “Are you guys fucking? Are you serious?! Right in front of my salad?!” and thus the meme was born.—Olivia Cathcart
A post shared by Crying Jordan Meme Curator (@cryingjordanface) on
In 2009 Michael Jordan sobbed his way through his speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame inductions. The image of a blubbery, red-eyed, tear-streaked MJ slowly percolated through the underground memosphere in the early part of the decade, before hitting critical mass in 2015. It’s an image that works in literally any situation—whether you’re sad, happy, angry, confused, or feeling any other kind of emotion, Jordan’s watery visage will always accentuate your point. Like the most successful memes, it eventually attained a state of almost perpetual meta-ness, almost exclusively being used specifically as some kind of absurd twist or ironic statement on the existence of the meme itself. Jordan has been the best at almost everything he’s ever tried to do, from basketball, to hawking various products, to losing money in a divorce settlement, to losing money through gambling. (Baseball is the only thing he couldn’t conquer.) So it’s not surprise that he’d also be the greatest of all time when it comes to memes.—Garrett Martin
This Is Fine
Truly a meme for these uncertain, exhausting times, This Is Fine came from K.C. Green’s Gunshow comic titled “The Pills Are Working” or “On Fire,” from 2013. The first two panels—where a dog in a small hat sits sipping coffee as his house burns down around him—percolated on Reddit and 4Chan before making the more mainstream leap to Twitter and Instagram, often paired with disparaging news. The sentiment remains one that is appreciated and unfortunately relevant, as we all just try and get on with things as the world burns. —Allison Keene
2019 has been a big year for Keke Palmer, based on two major events: First, her appearance in the critically acclaimed, Jennifer Lopez-starring movie Hustlers, and second, her inability to recognize former Vice President Dick Cheney. Palmer was taking a lie detector test for Vanity Fair’s interview series using the device. When shown a photo of Cheney, Palmer replied, “I hate to say it, I hope I don’t sound ridiculous, I don’t know who this man is. I mean, he could be walking down the street, I wouldn’t. Sorry to this man.” The clip quickly picked up steam on Twitter, gifting us one of the most versatile video memes of the year. Run into an ex? Or maybe a former classmate, or even Joe Keery after he got those heinous bangs? There’s really only one thing to say: “I don’t know who this man is.” Ah, to live inside Ms. Palmer’s brain—we’d like to forget about Dick Cheney, too.—Ellen Johnson
A variation of Me IRL, “it me” is primarily a Twitter meme paired with an image or comment that serves as a confession of sorts from the person sending it out. It connects awkward, lonely people across the internet to say, with sheepish truth, “this, too, is how I am.” Its lack of a verb lends it a beautiful simplicity that something of the vein of “I’m so like this!” would not properly convey. Nay, it is stronger and deeper than that—more pure. It me, therefore, I am. —Allison Keene
Kermit Tea – But That’s None of My Business
#butthatsnoneofmybusiness #noneofmybusiness #thatsnoneofmybusinesstho
A post shared by Kermit; (@thatsnoneofmybusinesstho) on
Kermit the Frog is one of the most wholesome members of the ever-wholesome Muppet crew, so it’s almost bittersweet how much he’s been turned into a meme in the last decade. The one that really rocketed to the top of the Twitter charts was the tea-sipping still from a commercial. Known as the “But that’s none of my business” meme, Twitter has been using the amphibian to spill some tea.—Olivia Cathcart
Woman Yelling at Cat
In a fresh 2019 meme that is going strong, we see The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast members Taylor Armstrong (yelling) and Kyle Richards (holding her back) juxtaposed with a photo of a cat (real name: Smudge) making a confused face while sitting at a table with a plate of vegetables. Credit goes to Twitter user lc28__, who first put these two images together (which had previously been pinging around other corners of the internet separately). It created a simple and hilariously effective combination of call and response captions, all of which are golden. Smudge’s little face is a whole 2019 mood. —Allison Keene