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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

From the Baby Shark song to Theresa May dancing: the 9 best memes of 2018 

For meme-lovers, 2018 has been a good year

Buff: the template for the 'Gym Kardashian' meme
Buff: the template for the 'Gym Kardashian' meme

At the risk of sounding geriatric, what exactly is a meme? I only ask because I’ve been given the task of pulling together the best memes of the year and before I do that, I guess I should probably work out what it is that I’m looking for.

I typed “what is a meme” into Google, which definitely made me feel geriatric, and this is what it told me: “[A meme] is an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.” Anything funny on the Internet, then? Well, that clears that up.

Maybe an example will help. A popular meme – though not one from 2018 – is the “Rick roll”. This is when someone doctors a video to include an unexpected appearance of singer Rick Astley from his 1987 music video to Never Gonna Give You Up. So perhaps you open an email from your friend purporting to be about, say, dinner tonight but instead, when you open the email, a video of Astley pops up. Or something like that.

That’s just one example, though. When Donald Trump tweeted an image of himself with the caption, “Sanctions are Coming” earlier this year, he was riffing on the expression from Game of Thrones, “Winter is Coming”. Apparently that was a meme, too.

I’m confusing myself here. But look, chances are you all know what a meme is already and you’re only here for the run-down of the best memes of 2018. So without further ado – but with the help of my Internet-savvy colleagues – here are the eight funniest memes of 2018. (Quick question: if I was to put the “Rick roll” in this list, that would actually be an example of a “Rick roll”, right?)

1. Baby Shark

Baby Shark is 2018’s maddening meme. It’s Crazy Frog meets Gangnam Style; an incredibly annoying earworm of a song with a crazy video that went viral. The children’s nursery rhyme-style tune currently has more than two billion views on YouTube, and while it was originally released in South Korea in 2016, this year it made it into the UK Top 40, spawning merchandise that overran British toy stores. How? Don’t ask.

Katy Gillett

2. The distracted boyfriend

As dynamic as it is simple, the distracted boyfriend meme can be used to hammer home political points, self-deprecate or just to comment on just how short an attention span we all have. The meme is of a man and woman walking hand in hand, but the man is, er, distracted by another woman. Although the origins of the meme date as far back as 2017, it really came into prominence in 2018, when it has been used by celebrities like Dolly Parton. But it is not without controversy. The Swedish advertising standard watchdog branded it sexist – based on the fact it portrays women as a "sex object" and stereotypes men – after it was used by an internet provider advertising job vacancies on Facebook and Instagram.

Charles Capel

3. Knickers the giant steer

Seeing 1.94m Holstein Friesian “Knickers” tower over his petit Wagyu friends in Australia inspired much disbelief – as well as a knowing grimace from his freakishly tall human sympathisers. Memes soon started appearing with captions such as “Archive shot of time I tried yoga” and “Me on the Tube”. But the best part of the story was that old mate Knickers was too big for the abattoir and will now live out his days peacefully on a farm. No news yet on what happened to his friend “Bra”.

Louise Burke

4. Neymar rolling, rolling, rolling

Brazilian footballer Neymar is a very talented player but he does have one vice: diving (or rolling, rolling, rolling). It's fair to say that football fans aren't too keen on his on-field theatrics. At the World Cup this summer, after one particularly elaborate rolling session, the Internet turned his play-acting into a series of wonderful memes, including Neymar rolling down the motorway and Neymar rolling through space. Alas, the mockery doesn't appear to have stopped him.

5. Gym Kardashian

There’s not much to this one – it’s a Photoshopped image of Kim Kardashian, which makes her look buff, all muscly arms and popping veins. But it’s the comments accompanying these images, which make the meme. These mostly have something to do with achieving a physical feat, such as: “When you open the water bottle for someone.”

Buff: the template for the 'Gym Kardashian' meme
The template for the 'Gym Kardashian' meme

Faisal Salah

6. Gritty

Gritty is the mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League that debuted in September 2018. Immediately upon his reveal, most social media users took to Twitter to comment on Gritty's frightening look – after all, he is a seven-foot-tall, orange-haired monster with crazy eyes and a gaping black mouth.

However, despite initial reaction, he soon won people over. Gritty's meme popularity began to rise with users Photoshopping Gritty into other pop culture moments (such as the A Star is Born movie poster). It's hard to pinpoint the exact appeal of Gritty but he's got a face that can be used for many occasions – which is probably why he's so appealing to meme lovers.

Evelyn Lau

7. American Chopper

You may remember – but you probably don’t – a US reality television show called American Chopper, which stopped airing in 2010, and which documented the goings-on at a motorcycle manufacturing company. In an early episode, a father and son team who owned the company had a blazing row. The meme, which exploded in 2018, captures each frame of their argument and allows Internet users to insert their own arguments. The key to a good American Chopper meme is in highlighting the juxtaposition between the images (handle-bar moustaches; chairs being thrown) and a high-brow argument. “There is a 25 per cent pay disparity between men and women!” “That disparity disappears when you control for variables like occupational choices!”

Click to expand this tweet and see the full conversation (it gets better):

Rupert Hawksley

8. Is This a Pigeon

The “Is This a Pigeon” meme comes from a scene in a Japanese anime TV series called The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird. In it, an android is trying to convince a police detective that he's human and erroneously asks if a butterfly is a pigeon. On Tumblr, the scene was shown with the English translation and, of course, turned into a classic meme that's seen a resurgence in 2018. It’s generally used to describe a situation where someone's missing the obvious.

Evelyn Lau

9. Theresa May dancing

It started with a disastrous and much-mocked attempt at dancing on a tour of South Africa and ended with British Prime Minister Theresa May arriving, quite triumphantly it has to be said, on stage at the Tory party conference to Abba’s Dancing Queen. This soon became a meme with people splicing the images of May arriving on stage with other songs, including The Imperial March from Star Wars and the theme tune to The Addams Family.

Rupert Hawksley

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Updated: December 24, 2018 06:21 PM

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