2023 WAS A heck of a year on the internet. Whether we were eating our girl dinners or declaring our allegiances in the orca wars, this year was jam-packed with memes that captivated us even harder than the Roman Empire. The following are some of the most defining memes of 2023, from nepo babies to babygirl. Here’s to our bygone memes, and may 2024 be as fruitful.
In 2014, there was Ellen’s Oscars selfie. 2017 had Meryl Streep yelling, and 2022 had The Slap. In February, Ariana DeBose joined the grand tradition of award show memes when she opened the BAFTA Film Awards with a song shouting out many of the night’s female nominees: “Angela Bassett did the thing / Viola Davis, my woman king / Blanchett, Cate, you’re a genius / And Jamie Lee, you are all of us!” DeBose rapped. It was then that DeBose joined yet another grand tradition: getting bullied for being a theater kid. The performance was widely panned as cringey, and she was roasted online so mercilessly she deleted her Twitter. But in the days that followed, more and more people (GayTwitter especially) came around and even celebrated it for looking camp right in the eye. A week later, Bassett brought the meme full circle when she took the stage at the NAACP Image Awards after winning Entertainer of the Year. “I guess Angela Bassett did the thing!” she said in her acceptance speech, to raucous applause. Don’t you just love a happy ending?
Gen Alpha, welcome to the meme canon. “Skibidi Toilet,” the bizarre YouTube series started by Georgian animator Alexey Gerasimov (aka DaFuq!?Boom!) in February, features animated heads popping out of toilets and singing along to “Give It To Me” by Timbaland. The series exploded in popularity throughout 2023 — the channel now has over 36 million subscribers, and many of the Skibidi Toilet videos have been viewed tens of millions of times.Many Gen Zers, who for years had mocked millennial meme culture, were baffled by the absurdist nature of Skibidi Toilet, and for the first time saw a glimpse of how time comes for us all. “We are the next cringe generation on the chopping block,” @thehannahmichelle said in a TikTok. “I’m only 18 I can’t be getting old already,” lamented @twelvehh.
A video of a Boston police officer taking a tumble out of a playground slide began circulating online in August, and went viral even faster than the uniformed cop shot facedown out of the metal tube. Though the clip’s origins are unclear, police confirmed it was real, saying the unidentified officer had been on duty at the time and suffered minor injuries.The video was slapstick perfection, almost too funny to be adequately described. Of course, memes ensued. People got really creative, editing versions where the cop knocks over a bunch of bowling pins, gets sucked back up the slide in reverse, and even clangs down to the drum fill of “In The Air Tonight.”The slide even became a bit of a tourist destination, with so many thrill-seekers making pilgrimages to try it out for themselves that the city had to fence it off at night. Someone even made it a location on Google Maps.
When the trailer for Wonka, the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory prequel starring Timothée Chalamet, dropped in July, the early reviews were unanimous: “Bro is trying so hard to be whimsical,” one Twitter user, @Trey_Explainer, so cuttingly put it. “He is just not a silly little guy,” @CosmonautMarcus tweeted.One line in particular became a huge point of derision: “You see, I’m something of a magician, inventor, and chocolate maker. So quiet up, and listen down. Nope, scratch that, reverse it,” Chalamet says in the trailer, delivering the line in a somewhat stiff, awkward manner. Naturally, it became a hugely viral sound on TikTok, with people lipsyncing along to it and leaning hard into the cringe.
Malaysian model and influencer Sabrina Bahsoon was crowned TikTok’s newest it girl this fall after her videos dancing and lip-syncing on the London Underground, which she began posting in August, went massively viral. “Tube girl,” as she became known, was praised for her confidence to film in public (in 0.5, of course), and inspired many others to recreate the trend themselves. The “tube girl” meme was simple but blew up on a massive scale — Bahsoon’s TikToks garnered millions of views, she gained hundreds of thousands of followers seemingly overnight, celebrities made their own versions, and Bahsoon herself even walked in fashion shows in London, Paris, and Milan.
Arguably one of the most secondhand-embarrassing moments in political history took place in the very first week of 2023, when it took a whopping 15 tries for Rep. Kevin McCarthy to get elected Speaker. For four days straight, hundreds of thousands of Americans tuned in to C-SPAN to watch the hot mess unfold, and online, McCarthy got brutally clowned on. “Imagine being in your 60s and having to beg to be popular in Congress…student council–ass behavior,” comedian Caleb Hearon tweeted.
In September, a stock photo of Kevin James — hands in pockets, shoulders shrugged, smirking like a lil’ stinker — took over as a meme. The King of Queens actor’s quirky headshot, which according to KnowYourMeme was taken on set in 1998, first appeared as a meme on Twitter when user @ChampagneAnyone captioned it “me after 1 double rum and diet.” It became a huge reaction image after that, appearing in a ton of viral tweets.It then found new life on TikTok, where people used it to highlight their favorite songs, typically in a two-slide slideshow. The first slide would show a room full of annoyed partygoers, captioned “who tf put this song on?”, before panning over to reveal James manning the AUX, often thematically photoshopped in full stan attire.
A humongously clunky pair of bright red boots hit the fashion world in February, and became a meme before they were even available to purchase. Created by art collective MSCHF, the $350 rubbery crimson clompers are described online as “extremely shaped like boots” and “if you kick someone in these boots they go boing.” The boots were spotted on celebrities and influencers (who were likely gifted or loaned a pair) all over New York Fashion Week in February, and became the subject of widespread mockery online.
In February, a Chinese balloon floated into North America’s airspace…and into 2023 meme history. Officials said the high-altitude object, which became popularly known as the “Chinese spy balloon,” was believed to have been sent for surveillance purposes. The Air Force shot it down after a few days, and the whole thing definitely wasn’t great for U.S.-China relations, but our nation’s noble posters had a heck of a lot of fun with it while it lasted.
Since Hollywood’s earliest days, stars have been giving their children a leg up in the industry, bestowing upon them a shortcut to success they might otherwise have never achieved. But it wasn’t until this year a term was popularized to describe these second-gen celebs: nepotism babies, more commonly known as “nepo babies.”The descriptor first blew up in February 2022, thanks to a Euphoria fan’s tweet after she found out Maude Apatow’s “mom is Leslie Mann and her dad is a movie director” (side note, lmao). At the end of December 2022, New York magazine published a deep-dive into the “nepo-verse” tracing the star-studded family trees of celebrities like Maya Hawke, Ben Platt and Gracie Abrams. Naturally, discourse ensued, catapulting the term into mainstream usage in early 2023 and becoming one of the first major memes of the year.
TikTok influencers have long been known for hawking cheaper versions of popular luxury products, oftening referring to the knockoffs as “dupes.” In December 2022, TikTok user @keylimeleah posted a video in which she and a friend browsed Target, holding up various clothing items, and sarcastically labeling them “dupes.” It went viral and became a huge meme in January, prompting a slew of people to make increasingly absurd versions, typically putting an exaggerated flair on their pronunciation of the term — dooooop!
No one slayed harder in 2023 than the doll who literally couldn’t stop slaying. Memes about M3GAN, the killer doll from the horror movie of the same name, first became the subject of memes upon the trailer’s release in October 2022, but entered full meme status when the movie hit theaters in January. Much like the Babadook in 2017, M3GAN was declared a queer icon, with fans recreating her trademark dance, calling for her to judge Drag Race, and crowning her mother.
It’s been about a millennium and a half since the fall of the Roman Empire, but in 2023, Rome rose again — well, as a meme at least. In September, a trend emerged on TikTok in which women would ask their male partners how often they think about Rome. Many answered that they thought about it quite frequently — once a week, or even daily, to the women’s perplexed amusement.The meme first emerged in Sweden a year earlier, according to Know Your Meme, when influencer Saskia Cort posed the question to her followers. It gained traction in the US after @gaiusflavius, another Swedish influencer who cosplays as a Roman warrior, had an Instagram reel about it go viral. In the weeks that followed, the phrase “my Roman Empire” became a meme in and of itself, with people using it as shorthand for the things they can never stop thinking about.
“This is my dinner — I call this girl dinner,” said Olivia Maher in a TikTok in May, showing off a delicious spread of bread, cheese, grapes, and pickles. It went massively viral, and the concept took off like wildfire, with tons of women using the trend to show off their own “girl dinners” — the chaotic mishmosh of bites they were eating for their evening meal, instead of the typical meat-and-potatoes fare usually thought of as a proper dinner.Many extolled the freedom they felt the trend symbolized — it represented the joy of a night to oneself, of saying “screw it” to the traditional gender norms that demand women expend their labor to feed their husband and family at the end of a long day. Girl dinner meant ripping open a piping hot bag of microwave popcorn, haphazardly slicing a log of salami, and enjoying your damn life.“Girl dinner” wasn’t without its criticisms — some TikToks showed off extremely meager portions, which led some to warn the trend could promote disordered eating. But others, including dietitians, praised it for encouraging intuitive eating.
This summer, amid reports of a sharp uptick since 2020 of orcas attacking boats off the coast of southwestern Europe — possibly as an act of revenge for a pregnant orca who’d been injured by a boat, experts theorized — people began declaring their allegiance in the so-called “orca wars.”And as “Team Orca” ranks grew, the memes came with it. “If you’re an orca whale reading this, I am on your side,” tweeted writer Anne Donahue. “They’re beginning to orcanize,” George Takei said. “Give them guns,” tweeted Jaboukie.
One of the biggest songs of the summer — and definitely the raunchiest — was inspired by an unlikely source: a staunchly pro-abstinence preacher. In May, a video went viral of Cynthia Smock (aka “Sister Cindy”) delivering an impassioned sermon at Louisiana State University in which she warned students of the hidden dangers of Mexican restaurant happy hours. “If you buy her one margarita, she will spread her legs!” Smock told the crowd of students, who erupted in cheers, before proceeding to decry the effects of two, three, or even six margaritas (to increasingly raucous applause).On her podcast Here’s The Thing, actress and comedian Angel Laketa Moore joked that the speech sounded like a rap song, then launched into a freestyle: “Give one margarita, I’mma open my legs / Give me two margaritas, I’mma give you some head / Give me three margaritas, I’mma put it in my puss, give me four margaritas, I’mma put it in my tush / Give me five margaritas, I’mma have some fun / Give me five margaritas, I’mma put it in your bum!” After the clip took off, producers Steve Terrell and Carl Dixon remixed it into a sex-positive banger that soundtracked everyone’s hotgirlsummers.
Pedro Pascal. Jeremy Allen White. Kendall Roy. Did we mention Kendall Roy? 2023 was the year that everyone became babygirl. To be “so babygirl” eludes definition. It does not necessitate being a baby, nor a girl — in fact, the endearing moniker has most typically been seen applied to adult men. Though often used as a sort-of-synonym for “cute,” it became particularly popular as an ironic descriptor, bestowed upon some of the darkest or even downright villainous of TV characters.
2023 was the year “cunt” went mainstream. What was once deemed the granddaddy of curse words, so offensive even the most casually swear-y might wince at it (at least in the US), cunt had a big moment this year.Cunt’s reclamation — not as a crude synonym for vagina, but rather as a term of femininity and empowerment — has its roots decades earlier, originating with trans women of color in the New York City ballroom scene. In recent years, shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Pose have taken drag culture mainstream, bringing its lexicon with it into the popular slang vernacular (e.g. “slay” and “it’s giving”). In particular, the phrase “serving cunt” became ubiquitous as a meme in 2023, appearing in tons of viral tweets that asked how to do so in a “god-honoring way,” “elderly way,” or “a way that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion,” to name a few.
Everybody, movement!!! “Planet of the Bass” — the Europop parody song by DJ Crazy Times and Ms. Biljana Electronica (aka TikTokker Kyle Gordon and vocalist Chrissi Poland) — dropped in August and became an instant smash hit. Reminiscent of novelty songs like Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” the viral earworm featured such poetic lyrics as “When the rhythm is glad / There is nothing to be sad” and “Life, it never die / Women are my favorite guy.” The role of Ms. Biljana Electronica, performed in the original video by TikTokker Audrey Trullinger, was played by a rotating cast TikTok stars in subsequent videos, parodying the genre’s proclivity for swapping out their female stars without explanation.
On June 12, McDonald’s began selling the “Grimace Shake,” a berry-flavored milkshake honoring the 52nd birthday of their furry purple mascot. The shake was an instant hit… though probably not in the way McDonald’s had intended. A trend emerged on TikTok in which users would taste the frozen treat, then suddenly collapse in a scene straight out of a horror movie, often convulsing as the lavender liquid spurted from their prone bodies. Some even showed Grimace himself, lingering in the shadows, basking in the grisly aftermath of his apparent kill. In response to the meme, McDonald’s tweeted an image of a stricken-looking Grimace, writing, “meee pretending i don’t see the grimace shake trendd.”
Barbie was the unmatched star of 2023, spawning so many memes it could practically have its own list. Before the movie even came out, stills from the trailer (e.g. “Do you guys ever think about dying?”) exploded online, and posters featuring the film’s cast members became a hugely riffed upon meme format. Due to its shared release date with Oppenheimer, the two movies, though wildly different from each other, became collectively known as “Barbenheimer” and launched even more memes.After its record-breaking opening weekend, iconic phrases from Barbie — including “just Ken,” “Kenough,””my job is just beach,” “mojo dojo casa house,” and “long-term long-distance low-commitment casual girlfriend” — entered the mainstream lexicon, and had everyone saying “Hi, Barbie!” all summer long.