Arts & Entertainment

The Best Memes of 2021 (So Far) Are a Reflection of Our Collective Madness

Between TikTok sea shanties and getting NSFW on main, this year's early memes spell a weird year to come.

The Pfizer is flowing. We're feeling cheugy. The weather is looking up. Things are, dare we say, hopeful? And the memes are just as ripe. After a year of practice—a residency in trauma, if you will—we have mastered the craft of taking a bad situation and turning it into a fun one. (See: The Suez Canal meme.) We've found joy in unexpected places. (See: Lil Nas X going to hell.) And Oprah—Oprah!—is interviewing people again. This is meme heaven. And we've taken note and turned these pop culture moments into internet culture staples.

Even the solemn moments of President Joe Biden's inauguration have given us something to turn into online fodder. If 2020's best memes represented our growing detachment from reality, 2021 is all about what happens once we've fully flown away from sanity, Sandra-Bullock-in-Gravity-style.

We, the troll people of the internet, know how to take an isolated moment and blow it up into abject absurdity. Then we beat that dead horse until all that's left is a singular bottle of Elmer's glue and errant pieces of mane. We're vicious. We're quick. We're meme makers.

That's just the first few memes of 2021, too. Watch this space as we fill this post out throughout the year. Sitting Bernie won't be the last meme we see, but it's going to be a challenge to knock it off the throne for best. The bar is high. The Wellerman cometh. And if you need a boost in your mood, go ahead and relive the best memes of last year too.


"Cheugy" (May)

Maybe it's more of an aesthetic. Maybe it's not a meme at all. Maybe the inclusion of "cheugy" on this list makes us cheugy ourselves. Nevertheless, as generations come and go, the same concepts just get new names. A Gen-Z term, "cheugy" simply means to be a bit behind the curve when it comes to being cool. Jean jackets? Cheugy. Live, laugh, love jokes? Cheugy. You, reading a list of memes? Perhaps that's cheugy, too.

You Can Be a Different Person After the Pandemic (April)

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After The New York Times ran an article with the headline "You Can Be a Different Person After the Pandemic," the internet swiftly responded with a resounding laugh. Then, all you could here was typing because it's the kind of absurdist headline that is prime for meme fodder. As Kristen Wiig says, "I think we stay the same, but grow I guess. A little."

Lil Nas X's "Call Me By Your Name" (April)


#lilnasx #callmebyyourname #montero #fyp #foryou #comedy (IB: @thecutesthumanontiktok  ?)

? lil nas dropping by - John

Lil Nas X’s “Montero” music video is a goldmine for memes, and they’ve appeared across just about every social media site, but it’s really TikTok that perfected this one. In his rebellious descent to Hell, users far and wide have managed to turn Lil Nas X’s pole dancing skills into one of the funniest meme formats of the year.

Dream Blunt Rotation (April)

The meme is pretty self-explanatory, though if we’re splitting hairs here, the correct choice is not Michael. Too much paranoia. Too much talking. Slot Lottie in his place, and yes, we agree with this line up.


Oprah's Harry and Meghan Interview (March)

It makes sense that one of the most watched and noteworthy interviews in years produced one of the most popular memes we’ve seen in 2021. There were more than a few moments that got the meme treatment, but none more notable than pensive Oprah paired with “hold up” Oprah

Beyonce at the Grammys (March)


Beyoncé’s rare public appearances make her prime meme fodder—it also helps that her expressive face is the perfect palette for capturing what we’re all feeling. Here at the Grammys, she is being stopped before leaving the stage for the announcement that she’s become the winningest artist in this history of the awards, but take it from that face: no one stops Beyoncé.

The Stimmy (March)

Over a year into the pandemic and all we can do is laugh. It keeps us from crying. One of the funniest memes to come out of the terrible situation? The elaborate plans that all us plebeians made with the pending $1400 checks that hit our bank accounts this month. Gone are the days of feeling broke. Give us the world. We can afford it.

Suez Canal Ship (March)


The ship should have stayed where it was. Bring back the ship.

Kathryn Hahn's WandaVision Wink (March)

Kathryn Hahn has given us so much this year already, and she keeps delivering with one of the most versatile memes of the year. If you want to communicate a lie, just grab this screenshot and no one can be mad at you. It's Kathryn Hahn! She's winking at you! You're in on the lie!

The Vaccine Rollout (March)


We're getting there, but until your vaccine group rolls out, take a moment to celebrate our new favorite trio by honoring some of the best trios of the past, I guess? We've got to do something to entertain ourselves.

Ghostbuster's Muncher (February)

What is there to say? Look at him. He's the internet's relatable friend because Mucher is us.

I Am Not a Cat (February)

Eleven months into quarantine and COVID-19 restrictions and there are still people who can't quite grasp the intricacies of Zoom meetings. Cut to: one unfortunate lawyer who couldn't quite figure out how to not be a cat during a very important meeting. For about half a minute, Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton was a cat, and in those moments, thirty seconds feels about like thirty years.

The Weeknd's Super Bowl Performance (February)


If you thought you were the only one getting dizzy watching The Weeknd's Super Bowl halftime show, you're not alone. Even before his fun house, psychologically twisty performance ended, the internet took screenshots of the superstar and got to work. Goodbye Mr. Krabs. There's a new dizzy legend in town.

The Silhouette Challenge (February)


Better together #fyp #foryou #silhouette #viral #couple @mattygilbert91

? Put Your Head On My Shoulder - Giulia Di Nicolantonio

We have been locked up too damn long. The horniness has jumped out in this psuedo-NSFW meme that uses Paul Anka's "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" as a sex-driven anthem. What starts as innocuous standing around quickly turns into sexy time when the filter is added and the clothes come off. Everyone go take a cold shower, now.

Disgruntled Bernie (January)

The initial image was just sweet Senator Bernie Sanders, sitting alone in a folding chair with his signature pissed off mug. Mittens on. Accountability mindset activated. The energy was so strong that people immediately identified with the mood, cut him out of the photo, and just started putting him in all sorts of situations. Now he can live on just about anywhere you want, grumpy as he came.


The Ana de Armas Cutout (January)

Truly a gift that keeps on giving. The day that it was announced that Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck broke up, a photo set surfaced online. For some reason, Affleck owned a full-sized cardboard cutout of his girlfriend, and even more bizarrely, it seems he hired someone to throw it out for him. The internet loved it, embraced it, and then Photoshopped it to death. Expect to see this one continue all year long. RIP to the Dunkin' trips, btw.


Shanty Tok (January)


The Wellerman. #seashanty #sea #shanty #viral #singing #acoustic #pirate #new #original #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #singer #scottishsinger #scottish

? Wellerman - Sea Shanty - Nathan Evans

TikTok user Nathan Evans, a postman from Scotland, started January's feel-good meme by posting an a capella cover of "Wellerman" on his TikTok. In the coming days, it blew up, with additional people duet-ing the original TikTok with their own iterations of the song. The fun part is that you can add all kinds of riffs in. This is, arguably, the first time that white culture has done something good since approximately the first sea shanties, centuries ago.

In a month full of tumultuous moments, Shanty Tok has given us a bit of calm in the online storm. Also, not to overlook the win for the genre itself: sea shanties have never been more searched on Google as they are today.

This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Justin Kirkland
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture. Prior to Esquire, his work appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and USA Today. He is from East Tennessee and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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