It wasn't the greatest year on record, but 2020 blessed us with top tier memes to cope with impending planetary doom.
There is no denying that 2020 has been an unprecedented year, and mainly for all the wrong reasons.
And in the process, social media helped deliver some light-hearted solace during difficult times at every step of the way.
Humour is often used as a coping mechanism in the face of tragic or absurd circumstances we find ourselves in – and 2020 undoubtedly provided the memelords with more than enough material.
Whether it was devastating wildfires, political upheaval, social unrest, diplomatic tensions, and of course, a global pandemic, a torrent of truly stellar memes allowed us to temporarily alleviate our collective anxiety through comic relief.
Here are some of the best memes that defined 2020:
My Plans / 2020
The definitive meme of the year, if not the past decade, that perfectly sums up 2020:
‘We are the Virus’
As lockdowns ensued following the first wave of the pandemic grinding global activity to a halt, images of unusually clear canals in Venice went viral. False claims spread of the “return” of elephants and dolphins on social media, convincing many people that Covid-19 was the “Earth’s vaccine” and humans were “the virus”.
Some took to mocking that eco-fascist sentiment:
with everyone on lockdown, the lime scooters are finally returning to the river. nature is healing, we are the virus. pic.twitter.com/I0IbCfiMnj— ron ronson (@taladorei) March 26, 2020
Just been for a walk around Hartlepool and took these photos. Look closely. The wildlife is starting to return. The Earth is starting to heal. Maybe WE are the virus 💔😔 pic.twitter.com/GidzKEVKQU— Alex Horton (@hortonhearsa_) March 22, 2020
Then came the Zoom meetings. With a multitude of backgrounds and effects at our disposal, it also became harder to take some of our bosses seriously:
my boss turned herself into a potato on our Microsoft teams meeting and can’t figure out how to turn the setting off, so she was just stuck like this the entire meeting pic.twitter.com/uHLgJUOsXk— Rachele Clegg (@PettyClegg) March 30, 2020
We also got to see – to terrifying effect – what a Zoom audience looks like:
The virtual Kelly Clarkson Show audience members awkwardly dancing to Vin Diesel's new song is the funniest thing I've seen in weeks. pic.twitter.com/eI0BEuNSPN— Josh Kurp (@JoshKurp) September 25, 2020
Wash Your lyrics
In response to health authorities' recommendations to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (or as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice) 17-year-old William Gibson created the website Wash Your Lyrics, which generated a handwashing poster with the lyrics to any song you wanted.
“It just felt so sad singing Happy Birthday to myself every time I washed my hands,” Gibson said.
Once of the most prominent memes that filtered into popular culture as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests raged was “Karen”: the catchall term for a stereotype of a middle-class white woman who weaponises their relative privilege against people of colour, whether through demands to “speak to the manager” or police complaints for trivially minor – and in many cases – fictional transgressions.
This is the supreme leader of all Karens https://t.co/eq4SWpUAJw— Branson Taylor (@Btaylor74) April 26, 2020
A male version of the Karen meme soon emerged too: Ken.
In June, when wealthy couple Patricia and Mark McCloskey were pictured pointing guns at BLM protesters passing by their home in St. Louis, Missouri, they were widely dubbed “Karen and Ken”:
Omg who did this?! 😂 STL Ken and Karen pic.twitter.com/z7fSsjSvVh— Daniel (@DailyLibber) June 29, 2020
Democrats don kente
In June, Democrat leaders took part in a moment of silence for George Floyd and announced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 legislation for police reform. During the event, they wore a kente cloth around their neck and over their shoulders.
Many criticised their choice to wear the traditional garb as a political prop, and Twitter had a field day to say the least:
Imagine being shown this photo in 2019 with no explanation pic.twitter.com/zn3Yp8QWhL— actioncookbook (@actioncookbook) June 8, 2020
What if they, like, just passed some laws instead of dressing up like a Wakandan chess set? pic.twitter.com/F3d2YDjNRW— Eric Haywood (@EricHaywood) June 8, 2020
Bernie once again asking for your support
One of the best US election-related memes was based on a campaign video that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders posted on Twitter, asking for donations so he could stay in the presidential race.
“I am once again asking for your financial support,” he said.
The image and phrase took off in February, as people used it to declare things they were once again asking for. Those demands could be quite versatile:
my cats moments after i've filled her food bowl pic.twitter.com/6oRYYK5Onl— rae 🐈⬛ paoletta (@PAYOLETTER) February 3, 2020
Sanders himself used it to viral effect in July:
I am once again asking you to wear a mask.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 24, 2020
Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV
When US president Donald Trump suggested on Fox News that his performance on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test meant he was some sort of stable genius (the test is meant to show if you have signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s or degenerative illnesses), the bit where he went “person, woman, man, camera, TV,” over and over again became instantly memeworthy.
TRUMP: I asked the doctor, I said, 'is there some kind of cognitive test that I could take?' ... the last questions are much more difficult. Like a memory question. You'll go 'person, woman, man, camera, TV.' So they say -- 'can you repeat that?' ... for me it was easy." 😳 pic.twitter.com/pCKYoNy3BH— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 23, 2020
Appropriately, it got a Daft Punk remix:
Harder, Woman, Faster, Camera pic.twitter.com/W5sS66roVO— Louis La Roche (@iamlouislaroche) July 23, 2020
Four Seasons Total Landscaping
The moment the presidential race was called against Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani swung into action and held a press conference to push forward claims of voter fraud.
The announcement of the press conference, however, was where things went off the rails. Trump first tweeted that the event would take place at the Four Seasons – to which the luxury hotel’s Philadelphia branch confirmed that it wasn’t at the Four Seasons, but Four Seasons Total Landscaping.
Rudy Giuliani accidentally booking Four Seasons Total Landscaping for a press conference instead of the Four Seasons Hotel may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. pic.twitter.com/TRuSOK384v— Hamish Mitchell (@H_MitchellPhoto) November 8, 2020
The weird moment was only heightened by the fact that the venue was on the same block as a sex shop and a crematorium.
In nine months a lot of baby girls are going to be named “Georgia” and “Four Seasons Total Landscaping.”— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) November 8, 2020
In August, someone on TikTok mined clips from a decade-old video of a group of Pakistani expatriate children in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, pledging themselves to Pakistan while presided over by the school's principal at the time Sehar Kamran (who later became a senator in Pakistan).
Of the various clips from the video that went viral, one that caught fire was when a kid pledged to support the Pakistani army against India, to which Kamran replied "strong army, wow" and what sounded like "grape" instead of "great".
Bedlam then followed. We should be grapeful for such juicy memetic fruits.
Everything is cake
What turned out to possibly be the most disconcerting meme of the year was the idea that cake could be lurking wherever we least expect it.
The madness ensued in July when Tasty shared a video that showed hyper realistic objects being sliced – from toilet paper to plants – only to reveal that they were in fact cakes made by Turkish baker Tuba Geckil.
It forced some to grapple with profound metaphysical questions:
this has made me begin to question the nature of our reality. am i a cake? are we all cakes? in an eternal expanding universe that might as well be a bakery? https://t.co/jQ115dh5si— gin austen (@ThatguyDavy) July 10, 2020
The Coffin Dance was originally derived from a BBC report that went viral back in 2017, but it wasn’t until March this year when the footage was harmonised with an EDM track ‘Astronomia’ and the jiving Ghanaian pallbearers catapulted into the memesphere – and one with infinite possibilities:
Just alerted to an INCREDIBLE new meme format that rivals we got him pic.twitter.com/yLz2onyggn— dan nolan (@dannolan) April 4, 2020
'Money printer go BRRR'
One of the most underrated is the “Money printer go BRRR” meme, which went viral in March after the US Federal Reserve printed $2.3 trillion as part of the first bailout package to prop up the pandemic-battered economy.
Spawning its own website, the meme shows central bankers cranking out an infinite supply of dollars, pushing an understanding of the Fed, monetary policy, Keynesianism, Austrian Economics into mainstream consciousness, and striking a chord with anti-Monetarist Bitcoin devotees in particular.
“Money printer go brrr”— Danita, it’s Christmas! 🎅🏿🎄 (@_CoolStoryCori_) December 18, 2020
This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so damn depressing. pic.twitter.com/5d7cYirt41
The meme’s fungibility allowed it to transcend economics and depict scenarios from politics, history, religion, and even cellular biology.
X Æ A-12
When Tesla CEO Elon Musk and musician Grimes announced X Æ A-12 was the name of their new born son – what seemed to be a mash-up of random letters and numbers – the internet mercilessly clowned the couple:
elon and grimes be like X Æ A-12 come downstairs your pb&j is ready pic.twitter.com/RXQ8tQeFr8— Beans After Dark (@goodbeanalt) May 6, 2020
A subsequent name change did them no favours either:
X Æ A-XII 1.0.1 update patch notes:— vic (@victorcangil16) May 25, 2020
-Changed name from X Æ A-12 to X Æ A-XII
Developer commentary: "Looks better tbh" https://t.co/1wIfrOZJhS
Political mime industry
Miming political speeches and interviews caught fire, particularly on TikTok. The trans-Atlantic duo Sarah Cooper and Meggie Foster elevated themselves to become household names in this booming industry:
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan vs. Matt Hancock— Meggie Foster (@meggiefoster) May 23, 2020
ft. James O'Brien pic.twitter.com/klA6Q65eR2
Dolly Parton Challenge
Among all the things that Dolly Parton managed to accomplish this year, she even found time to add a meme to her arsenal – kicking off a challenge showcasing different personalities for various social media platforms.
Get you a woman who can do it all 😉 pic.twitter.com/sG4OHpVgxM— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) January 21, 2020
Bilal Goregen, a visually-impaired Turkish street musician, took social media by storm after a video of him play the darbuka while a photoshopped animated clip of a cat “vibing” to his cover of the Finnish folk song ‘Ievan Polkka’ – eventually generating countless memes on Twitter.
A parody version of the video emerged after Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump after a long and drawn-out US election result: