Memes have been a crucial aspect of 2020, as more people turn to the internet for discussion and socializing.
As time has warped and distorted across months of quarantine, memes have served as chronological markers that have helped define a chaotic year.
From memes about "Cats" to the 12-foot Home Depot skeleton taking over everyone's timelines in October, here are the best memes of 2020 (so far).
Time warped in 2020. When everything about lockdown was novel, the days felt long. When every day became a version of the other, time accelerated. A consistent presence through it all, though, has been the memes. Looking back, online trends can help map how many weeks have passed and how we've spent our time passing them.
Throughout everything that's happened in 2020, from the global pandemic to the political turmoil, memes have ranged from wholesome to surreal, covering timely obsessions like Netflix's "Tiger King" and seemingly coming out of nowhere like the "everything is cake" memes of July. Of course, they've also reflected major news ranging from the USPS funding crisis to the California wildfires. One of the most online years ever — particularly for those who have been working, studying, and socializing from home — created one wild meme cycle.
Compiled by Insider's digital culture team, this is a chronology of the best memes of 2020.
Before the chaos of 2020 revealed itself, an omen of what was to come graced our silver screens. "Cats," the CGI nightmare adaptation of the cult-favorite musical, was released on December 18, 2019. But as the New Year's Eve ball dropped, "Cats" memes were still itching to be released, not unlike Rebel Wilson during the terrifying catsuit unzipping scene that inspired memes of its own. The memes ranged from attempts to recategorize "Cats" as a horror movie on Wikipedia to the frightening follow-up meme cycle about the rumored cut of the film where all the characters had CGI anuses. — Kat Tenbarge
—eliza (@eliza__jane) December 22, 2019
—Meme Sleuth (@memesleuther) April 26, 2020
Grimes and Elon Musk's baby
In January, Canadian musician Claire Boucher, known to her fans as Grimes, announced her pregnancy in a delightfully bizarre fashion on Instagram: with a nude photo featuring a photoshopped fetus on her belly. In the caption, she described pregnancy as a "feral & war-like state of being." The post, according to online meme encyclopedia Know Your Meme, racked up 113,000 likes within the hour — and it spurred a deluge of content envisioning the future of the offspring of the singer and her partner, Tesla CEO Elon Musk. — Margot Harris
—MYSTIC7 (@MYSTIC7) January 9, 2020
Baby Nut was the meant-to-be-viral Super Bowl ad campaign that literally rebirthed Planters' Mr. Peanut as, well, a Baby Nut. As is standard in 2020, the ad campaign was specifically engineered to inspire a wave of memes, drawing on the phenomenon seen after the introduction of Star Wars' Baby Yoda. Planters' plan was revealed after Insider reported that a series of meme accounts were created before Baby Nut's big debut. Baby Nut did become a major meme, but a large percentage of the organic Nut memes appeared to express a distaste for the legume. — Benjamin Goggin
—Peanut Jr. (@MrPeanut) February 3, 2020
—jules (@webshootrs) February 3, 2020
Bernie Sanders: "I am once again asking..."
On December 30, 2019, Senator Bernie Sanders, then in the race for the Democratic nomination for president, called his supporters to action in a video shared widely online. "I am once again asking for your financial support," he said. According to Know Your Meme, social-media users started posting the still from the video that featured the quote in closed-captions in the middle of January, when Google search interest in the quote peaked. Soon, people were posting the meme without the dependent clause, instead inserting their own needs. In the 10 months since, the meme has continued to thrive online, with the phrase "I am once again asking" taking on a life of its own. — Rachel E. Greenspan
—quoth the RAEven🎃 (@PAYOLETTER) February 3, 2020
World War III
After news broke regarding a US airstrike on Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in early January, people began to make memes referencing a potential "World War III" amid fear of international conflict boiling over. On Twitter, there were memes about getting drafted (and of course, avoiding the draft) and on TikTok, many zoomers (members of Gen Z) made videos about doing TikTok dances or employing video game strategies on the battlefield. — Palmer Haasch
—Formal Fan (@formalfightfan) January 3, 2020
Bong Joon-ho making his Oscars kiss
"Parasite," the triumphant 2019 film from South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho, took home four awards at the 2020 Oscars and became the first non-English-language film to win Best Picture, in one of the last Good Moments of 2020. Bong had plenty of memorable lines from the night, including saying, "Thank you, and I'm ready to drink tonight. Until next morning," after accepting the award for Best International Feature Film. One of his most endearing, meme-able moments was when he made two Oscar statuettes kiss. — Palmer Haasch
—E. Alex Jung (@e_alexjung) February 10, 2020
Billie Eilish's Oscars reaction
As audience members enjoyed Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig's performance at the Academy Awards, Billie Eilish appeared entirely baffled by their parody performance. The two comedians sang a rendition of the 1986 song "Lady in Red" as part of a running bit – and the cameras immediately panned to the teenage singer who, Twitter users noted, looked less than impressed. Her confused facial expression instantly became a meme and a callback to recently-popular "okay, Boomer" memes of 2019. — Margot Harris
—Tasha Robinson (@TashaRobinson) February 10, 2020
Nancy Pelosi ripping up the State of the Union speech
As President Donald Trump concluded his State of the Union Address, a visibly exasperated Nancy Pelosi ripped a copy of his speech in half. When asked by reporters why she tore up her copy of the transcript, Pelosi responded that it was "the courteous thing to do considering the alternative." While she did not specify what she meant by "the alternative," Twitter was quick to guess. The moment immediately became a meme encompassing social media users' wide range of frustrations. — Margot Harris
—Josh Silverman (@JoshMSilverman) February 5, 2020
The baby from "Ice Age"
Remember "Ice Age," the 2002 animated film starring Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary as a mammoth, sloth, and saber-toothed tiger? In the film, they are three hapless fathers to a carefree baby, and in 2020, that baby was tossed into the social media meat grinder as hate fodder. MEL Magazine reported that Ice Age baby memes have been around for a while, but that a viral January 2020 tweet (that appears to have since been deleted) captioned "RT if you'd beat the sh-t out of the baby from Ice Age" kicked off the latest round of hate. When controversial YouTuber PewDiePie made a video about the meme, all bets were off. — Palmer Haasch
Celebrities singing 'Imagine'
Way back at the beginning of quarantine, a group of celebrities once again vastly overestimated how meaningful they are to millions of everyday Americans. Led by Gal Gadot, a chorus of A-listers sang John Lennon's "Imagine" into their iPhones. But to many listeners, their (at times off-key) serenade represented something far less cheery. As families huddled inside cramped homes and apartments, celebrities began quarantine by flexing their palatial mansions and rosy outlook. In comparison to what they could be doing with all their money and privileges, "Imagine" fell flat and became a meme for all the wrong reasons. — Kat Tenbarge
—ashley ray (@theashleyray) March 19, 2020
Netflix's 'Tiger King'
As millions settled into the monotony of their quarantine routines, Netflix released "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness," an instantly iconic docuseries delving into the subculture of private zoo ownership in the United States. The series had all the elements of prime quarantine entertainment: tigers, weapons, an alleged murder-for-hire plot, a presidential run, a suspicious meat grinder, and, of course, a bizarre series of poorly-shot country music videos and diss tracks. The compelling world of big cats and their unpredictable owners prompted demands for a "Tiger King" movie and a wave of memes from captivated viewers. — Margot Harris
Toilet paper memes
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the US in March, chaos gripped the nation's grocery stores, as apocalyptic fears left shelves barren of toilet paper and other household necessities. Toilet paper memes across platforms included jokes about rationing toilet paper, using pets in moments of need, and people performing orchestrations in the empty aisles. — Rachel Greenspan
—teej (@LILOOPSIEVERT) March 18, 2020
—Kristen Brancaccio (@kristensreality) March 15, 2020
'Nature is healing, we are the virus'
The "nature is healing, we are the virus" meme began with a series of earnest tweets that claimed "nature" was "healing" from the "virus" of humankind during worldwide COVID lockdowns. These tweets, which included the assertion that the canals in Venice were clean for the "first time ever," were debunked by Buzzfeed News. The misinformation gave way to a new inside joke on Twitter, as people dunked on the "nature is healing" concept by juxtaposing the phrase with images like scooters dumped in a river. — Rachel Greenspan
—ron ronson (@taladorei) March 26, 2020
Choose your quarantine house
—Tim (@Timm3r95) April 7, 2020
"Choose your quarantine house" memes started to circulate in April, and are an iteration of the classic "what lunch table are you sitting at" meme format, where creators choose a cast of characters or celebrities they'd want to sit with. The meme worked off of the tried and true format, but put a funky spin on it for the times — who would you want to quarantine with? The joke is still relevant months later. — PH
COVID-19 sanitation memes
As panic surrounding the realities of living through a pandemic set in, and hand sanitzer flew off the shelves, Purell-less social media users soothed their anxieties by poking fun at the sudden desperation for ultra-clean hands. Some made memes pointing out the corporate greed surrounding the supply shortages and inflated prices but, more importantly, others took to sharing memes of celebrities as different hand sanitizers. — Margot Harris
—ash (@buttsandevans) March 13, 2020
'Animal Crossing: New Horizons'
One of the most highly anticipated video game releases of 2020, "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" came out at arguably the perfect time. The game, which Nintendo released on March 20, fell in the early weeks of quarantine in the United States, and allowed people to connect online, venture to each others' islands, and even do things like host graduation ceremonies and weddings that had been disrupted due to the pandemic. Across the whole of 2020, though, "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" was a cultural phenomenon that spawned countless memes about the game. — Palmer Haasch
—kyousa 🐇 [キョ] (@kyousa38) March 23, 2020
'Gossip Girl' title riffs
These "Gossip Girl" title edits took over timelines for a brief moment in April, putting a surreal spin on the letters used in the now-over "Gossip Girl" TV show. The first viral instance of the meme was "Go Piss Girl," but there's a surprising number of phrases you can make by rearranging the letters of the show's title. This meme derives some of its significance from the cultural capital of "Gossip Girl," which has aged enough to attain a certain element of nostalgia, but even for those unfamiliar, the blank expressions on Blake Lively and Leighton Meester's faces and the hilarious text edits still make it a winner. — Palmer Haasch
—ryan streit (@ryanstreit) April 13, 2020
Much like only wearing draw-string pants, Zoom quickly became a staple of pandemic living. From accidental nudity to getting stuck using the pen filter, remote workers and students struggled to adapt to the video conferencing technology. Luckily, they turned to memes to document their Zoom mishaps, helping everyone feel a little less alone in the bizarre new routine. — Margot Harris
—erin griffith (@eringriffith) March 24, 2020
Grimes' baby's actual name
Elon Musk and Grimes are an unexpected, but fitting couple for the times given their chaotic energy and hyper-online personas. The pair chose a string of letters, numbers, and symbols for the name of their first child, which just added to the intense internet chatter around their child. The baby name instantly became a meme and eventually had to be adjusted from X Æ A-12 to X Æ A-XII to comply with California state law. There are some things even being a billionaire can't help you with. — Kat Tenbarge
—Boy With Luvˣ (@baoofwao) May 5, 2020
My plans / 2020
COVID-19 has had a massive death toll worldwide, taking more than a million lives worldwide. But it also stole moments of joy and flipped the world upside down for most people. We've missed weddings, birthdays, movie premieres, and births. Colleges shut down campuses, athletes hung up their cleats, airports sat empty, and hotel stays were canceled. The "my plans / 2020" meme, which blew up on Twitter and Instagram two months into the stay-at-home orders throughout the US, shows a side-by-side of images that describe the grand plans we all had for 2020, compared to our 2020 realities — similar to the "expectation vs. reality" meme. — Rachel Greenspan
—🌌 (@memoriesdw) May 18, 2020
Jokes about "Karen," the widely accepted moniker that's been adopted to describe white women perceived as behaving badly in public, surfaced in online forums as early as 2014. But Karen memes became a staple of internet culture amid the pandemic and nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd. As social media users engaged in discussion about often unexamined aggressions of white women, many began sharing videos of their encounters with "Karens" in the 'wild' — women who refused to wear masks, who vocally opposed Black Lives Matter protests, and who expressed racism in public settings. Those looking for levity from the heavy subject matter participated in the larger discussion by creating "Karen" memes, mocking the unflattering haircut associated with the term, and gawking at their public freakouts. — Margot Harris
New York S.L.U.T
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's daily coronavirus briefings were a fixture of New York life in the spring of 2020. Every morning, many New Yorkers tuned in to learn more about the city's status as a COVID-19 hotspot. Cuomo's briefings frequently included slideshows that were, frankly, exceedingly simple. But the briefing on June 13 had something special — a series of descriptors for New Yorkers that, together, formed the acronym "SLUT." Cuomo intended the descriptor to mean smart, loving, united, and tough, but people on the internet couldn't help but giggle at the acronym's other meaning. — Rachel Greenspan
—Ambitious Bitches Get Shit Done (@StarinaJohnson) June 14, 2020
Lin-Manuel Miranda's lip-biting selfies
After "Hamilton" hit Disney Plus in July, the acclaimed musical — and in turn, its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda — were once again thrust into the spotlight. That month, some of Miranda's inexplicable lip-biting selfies (which were already kind of a meme) began to make the rounds on TikTok as part of a bait-and-switch meme, where creators tricked people into looking at the selfies. Miranda acknowledged the meme after it had reached critical mass on TikTok, rapping in a freestyle video posted to Twitter, "Bit my lip, ah sh-t, TikTok hates when I do that." — Palmer Haasch
Everything is cake
The absurdity of 2020 is palpable in one of the year's biggest memes, which revolved around the idea of everyday objects actually turning out to be cake. The meme became unescapable on Twitter in what felt like a split-second. This round of cake memes started after a BuzzFeed Tasty video showcasing a number of cakes from @redrosecake_tubageckil went viral, sparking a flood of weird cake images that quickly veered into the existential. — Palmer Haasch
—Alec Yeasting (@awyeasting) July 10, 2020
"Mi Pan" is a TikTok sound that originated from a pitched-up cover of a Russian cereal commercial for "Miel Pops." A TikTok video of a dancing llama featuring the sound has amassed approximately 17.5 million likes to date, and the song also spread in part due to a meme that tied it to bread ("mi pan" translates as "my bread" in Spanish). What makes it special, however, was the way that "Mi Pan" brought together all sides of TikTok, from the reality-detached "Deep TikTok" to more general audiences on the app. — Palmer Haasch
'What animal are you?' Instagram accounts
In July, a number of Instagram accounts launched that matched people's names to images of frogs, dogs, 'cursed images', or even airplanes. Many of these accounts, which saw explosive growth in a short period of time, took requests and donations that they collected and passed on to various nonprofits. In many ways, the trend came to act as Gen Z's personalized keychain, giving closure to those who were never able to find their names on gift shop trinkets. — Palmer Haasch
'Marry Me Juliet' ('Love Story') dance trend
The "Love Story" TikTok dance trend is one of the many huge 2020 social-media moments that are exclusive to the short-form video app. While many (if not most) memes can transcend platforms, TikTok trends tend to remain within the confines of the app, often confusing the uninitiated and unfamiliar. This was the case in July, when TikTok was suddenly full of videos showing people dancing to Disco Lines' remix of Taylor Swift's "Love Story." The trend is simple. Before the beat drops, a participant pushes the camera away on a skateboard (or, in some cases, an actual camera rig) and does a few seconds of choreography. The trend was started by TikTok user @ethanishung, according to Buzzfeed. — Rachel Greenspan
In addition to everything else going on in 2020, the United States Postal Service was also in a funding crisis during an election year. In response, social media users flooded platforms with memes in support of the USPS. Fancams — a term that now encapsulates both K-pop performance recordings as well as short video edits made for social media — were part of the meme response. — Palmer Haasch
—taylor🌸🍳 (@ScribblnTaylor) August 15, 2020
A mega-viral TikTok from 23-year-old Eliza Peterson adapted a script from Twitter user @climaxximus that riffed on a joke about the death of the dinosaurs. Peterson's performance is impeccable (those are real tears in her eyes) as the Angel character realizes that they've inadvertently caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and after her video went viral on both TikTok and Twitter, people began to perform their own renditions of the joke as well. — Palmer Haasch
'M to the B'
A diss track from British artist Millie B, 'M to the B' as the song is now called on Spotify, blew up on TikTok as a lipsync video featuring the track from @bellapoarch went viral on the app. Poarch's video currently stands at approximately 39 million likes and, as Dextero reported, is now the most liked video on the platform. Past the viral video, the track had staying power on TikTok itself, with plenty of others taking on the hypnotizing lipsync challenge. — Palmer Haasch
Cardi B's "WAP," which features fellow rapper Megan Thee Stallion, became a pop culture classic immediately upon release. While the song's sexually explicit lyrics provoked ire from conservatives like Ben Shapiro, it was enthusiastically received on TikTok, where people superimposed Megan Thee Stallion's iconic verse – "Gobble me, swallow me, drip down the side of me" — over tracks ranging from "The Phantom of the Opera" to "Let It Go" from "Frozen." — Palmer Haasch
Gender-reveal party memes
In August, a faulty smoke machine at a gender-reveal party sparked a California wildfire that destroyed thousands of acres. Aside from the fact that gender reveal parties have been criticized as outdated and potentially harmful to trans children, they also have literal destructive potential. In the wake of the fire, people began to make memes that compared the gender reveal parties to apocalyptic events, both fictional and real, to highlight their absurdity. — Palmer Haasch
—𝕲𝖔𝖙𝖍 𝕾𝖕𝖎𝖉𝖊𝖗-𝕸𝖆𝖓 🕸 ☂︎ (@tinyspiderlegs) September 7, 2020
'You have to stop....'
Back in May, TikToker Ashley Ward created a mantra which became a popular audio clip on the platform. "You have to start romanticizing your life," she says as ODESZA's "Moment Apart" plays in the background. "You have to start thinking of yourself as the main character." Sentimental TikTokers shared clips of themselves embarking on adventures and living in the moment. But, naturally, it wasn't long before the cynics and comedians took over the popular audio snippet, creating a mantra of their own: "You have to stop…" With the new trend that surfaced in September, creators listed their pet peeves. Even Dr. Phil joined in, telling his followers that they have to stop calling him "Daddy." — Margot Harris
JFK from 'Clone High,' the newest TikTok It Boy
In August, a character from early-aughts cartoon "Clone High" blew up on TikTok. JFK — AKA a clone of President John F. Kennedy who exists in the high school universe of "Clone High" — is adored for his killer one-liners, endearing arrogance, and exaggerated physique (some may even go so far as to call him "dummy thicc"). The JFK obsession became so real that "Clone High" co-creator (and the voice of JFK) Christopher Miller posted on Twitter that he would do a line in the JFK voice for anyone who showed proof that they voted early in a crucial state. Overall, the JFK character embodies a kind of confident ethos that's best embodied by his most iconic line: "Nothing bad ever happens to the Kennedys!" — Palmer Haasch
"Among Us," an online game developed by studio InnerSloth, became one of the biggest games of 2020 two years after its 2018 release. After gradually gaining traction outside of the United States, the game caught on with Twitch streamers in 2020 given its propensity to lead to sharp disagreement, hilarious goofs, and plenty of room for personality to shine through while playing. In turn, it became a cultural sensation in its own right, sparking heartfelt memes and hilarious gameplay videos alike. — Palmer Haasch
The 12-foot-tall Home Depot skeleton
Home Depot sells a gigantic skeleton that measures in at 12 feet tall, and it quickly transformed from Halloween decoration to the internet's latest obsession. Its hilarious, yet impressive, size led to it becoming one of the most coveted items on social media, and is totally sold out. Just because it can't live in your yard though doesn't mean that it can't live in your heart. — Palmer Haasch
—will (@dysdandy) September 23, 2020
The Vice-Presidential debate fly
The star of the 2020 Vice Presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris was an insect. At one point in the debate, a fly landed on top of Pence's perfectly-coiffed, stark-white hair, and everyone on social media absolutely lost it. For a night, The Fly was Twitter's main character, with countless memes popping up on other platforms as well. — PH
—Most Famous Fly (@MikePenceFly) October 8, 2020
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