The Best Memes of 2021

Everything from Bernie Sanders to Jay-Z, Oprah, 'Squid Game,' The Weeknd, and 'WandaVision,' have made our list of the best memes and viral moments of the year.

Best Memes of 2021 so far
Complex Original

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Best Memes of 2021 so far

This year felt like simultaneously the longest, yet shortest year of all time. It almost feels like the Bernie Sanders, Oprah Winfrey, WandaVision, and The Weeknd memes all went viral years ago, but they really took off at the start of 2021. Those standout memes were the beginning of a series of laugh-out-loud viral trends that made another year in a pandemic a little easier to deal with. Celebrities like Jay-Z, Kim Kardashian, and Omarion also got the meme treatment and became fan-favorites during the second half of 2021, while TV shows like Squid Games and You made the experience of watching TV as a community even better.  

TV shows, politics, celebrity interviews, and movies have always been the main source of inspiration for some of the most popular memes, while other trends this year originated from social media users themselves. People got really creative this year and gave us moments like The Milk Crate Challenge, the hilarious “Why you being weird to me?” clip, and the viral Sidetalk NYC “bing bong” videos. Although they don’t technically qualify as memes, they proved that the internet will always provide endless entertainment. The many memes that were created this year will go down in history and will continue to be part of the online conversation for years to come. Memes are now an integral part of our culture and have shaped how we communicate with others on and offline while making our social media experiences even better. 2021 provided plenty of hilarious viral memes people couldn’t get enough of and couldn’t stop sharing. Take a look at our choices for the best memes of 2021, and see if your favorites made the list.

Beyoncé’s face is me on every Zoom call.

— Danielle Pinnock (@bodycourage) March 15, 2021

Best uses: Beyoncé realizing she’s Beyoncé, when work from home comes to an end

Beyoncé and Jay-Z shocked everyone when they were spotted sitting front row at this year’s Grammys. No one really knew they’d be there but the couple showed up because if the singer won in the categories she was nominated for, she would break a historic record. Since she won for Best R&B Performance for “Black Parade” and Best Rap Performance for her feature on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” Beyoncé broke the record for most wins by a female singer in Grammy history, with a total of 28.

The Recording Academy announced the news during the awards show, surprising Bey, and her reaction was priceless. She seemed so confused, and the scared look on her face inspired a wave of memes where fans used her startled expression in the most hilarious scenarios.

me listening me listening
to Chris Brown to Chris Brown
as a kid as an adult

— 🐐 (@bigpimpinkiy) June 11, 2021

Best usesPlaying video games, stanning Robert Pattinson, and listening to Drake

We’re used to TV show and movie reboots and remakes, but we have now entered the era of re-created memes. Miranda Cosgrove is back on our TV screens with the iCarly reboot and fans couldn’t get enough of the actress re-creating an old meme of her when she was a child that came from the “Mindy Loves Josh” episode of Drake & Josh. In the old meme, Cosgrove’s character Megan Parker is staring at a computer screen with a soda can in hand and a smirk on her face, while saying, “Interesting.” During an episode of the reboot, a now grown-up Cosgrove re-created the moment and fans ran with it, using the photos side by side saying “Me as a child vs. Me as an adult” to show that nothing has really changed.

Best usesLaKeith StanfieldViola Davis, Emma Stone

Memes that start seemingly out of nowhere are some of the best. Movie fans came up with a format earlier this year to give a shoutout to their favorite actors who have played a wide range of characters exceptionally well. Playing different roles is what actors do, but that doesn’t mean they always nail it. Twitter users highlighted specific actors who have excelled in most if not all the roles they’ve played throughout their careers. Top-tier actors like Meryl Streep, LaKeith Stanfield, Margot Robbie, and Viola Davis were among those who were celebrated by their fans, and it became one of the most popular meme formats of the year.

Me telling someone we'll hang out when covid is over.

— 🪬 Maria 🪬 (@_MariaaCarmen) March 16, 2021

Best uses: ViShawn on Maury, ViShawn as The Rock lying about missing someone’s texts

WandaVision dropped in January on Disney + and became one of 2021’s most popular shows. A new episode dropped weekly and the show inspired not just one, but several meme trends that took over our timelines. Agnes Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) transcended the MCU with a clip from Episode 3 “Now In Color” that featured a moment the character did an exaggerated wink. It quickly became a go-to reaction pic for fans to use with jokes about something that is an obvious lie or exaggeration. But Agnes wasn’t the only one to get the meme treatment.

Paul Bettany’s character Vision wore a fitted black turtleneck during the Season 1 finale of the show and it was over for him. Vision was turned into a meme and given the new name #ViShawn after fans edited gold chains, durags, gold teeth, and watches onto screengrabs from the show. Some people also expressed how attracted they were to the meme version of Vision, and that’s when things went a little too far.

never need a witch I’m what a witch need #ViShawn

— Luciano went to the ROYAL RUMBLE (@girthalomew) March 7, 2021

Being asked to enter my work history after already uploading my resume

— Concealed Carry class: EVERYDAY (@skinny_que) March 8, 2021

Best uses:  No bottomless mimosas, going to target, Zoom video calls, a hard-hitting lasagna interview

If you aren’t up on the British Royal family drama that’s been going down for the past few years, then you may have missed Oprah Winfrey’s sit-down interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in March. Even if you didn’t watch the tell-all, the memes were difficult to escape the following day. The Suits actress and the British royal were making serious claims of racism against the royal family and discussed their decision to leave England, and Oprah’s shocked reactions to their declarations were so honest and so damn memeable. There was the one with Oprah holding two hands in the air saying, “Hold up, wait a minute,” one of her saying “Were you silent or were you silenced?,” and then a compilation of her shockingly saying, “What?!” The interview gave fans so many new reaction pics to add to their arsenal, and we doubt they’re going anywhere any time soon.

Best uses: The pizza rolls view from inside the microwavewhen a kid steals your phone, looking for friends at a bar

Year after year, the Super Bowl Halftime Show is great source material for memes. Past years have given us Katy Perry’s left shark and Lady Gaga jumping off the roof, and this year The Weeknd did not disappoint. The Canadian singer performed at the NFL event on Feb. 7, 2021, and while he was singing “Can’t Feel My Face,” he was walking around a maze of funhouse mirrors that were surrounded by bright lights. The camera was so close to the hit maker’s face and the way it was filmed was so chaotic that it sparked the creation of a new meme. Fans immediately turned the clip into a GIF and reimagined it in similar frantic scenarios they have been in, like looking for their parents at the supermarket or finding their friends at a bar after one too many drinks. The jokes were endless, and regardless of how people felt about the performance, this moment will live on in internet infamy for years to come.

— Paul Gale (@ImPaulGale) January 20, 2021

Best uses: A meeting that could’ve been an email, going to a concert after 30, Forrest Gump

There is nothing funny about politics, especially in the past few years, but in order to get through that stress—people found reasons to laugh. Bernie Sanders has become one of those politicians prone to becoming memed for the most minimal things, and his attendance at this year’s Inauguration became 2021’s first viral sensation. The politician arrived at the ceremony to witness Joe Biden being sworn in as president in Washington DC in January, and while everyone was dressed in their finest threads, (Michelle Obama’s flawless monochromatic ensemble comes to mind), Sanders rolled up wearing a simple oversized winter coat and mittens. He sat in the audience with his hands crossed, slouching in his chair, and he gave off major “You’re all lucky I even came to this” energy.

The public started Photoshopping Sanders into the funniest scenarios, including popular TV shows like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, and into scenes from movies like Forrest Gump and Twilight—and each one was better than the next. Thank you, Bernie, for your service.

Best uses: Reacting to someone’s age, Don Cheadle’s birthday

Kevin Hart’s interview with Don Cheadle gave viewers the funniest moment earlier this year. The Oscar winner appeared on Hart’s Peacock talk show Hart to Heart where they were discussed topics like generation wealth. During the conversation, Cheadle mentioned that he was 56, and Hart quickly responded with a surprised, “Damn!”  The Iron Man actor looked hurt by the reaction and remained silent before Hart apologized. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry because it was a thought,” the True Story star said. “It was a thought and I blurted it out. I didn’t mean it that way. Just understand I didn’t mean it the way it came out.” Hart’s quick-witted reaction was so funny and genuine that people clipped the moment and have since been using it repeatedly to respond to other fitting scenarios, especially when it comes to reacting to someone’s age. 

YOU 37???

— ⬅️ seeing paramore tomorrow MIAvsLAL #NBAFinals ⁷ (@NotBGeneus) September 22, 2021

Best uses: Joe obsessing over someone new, the difference between Joe and Love, Joe as a dad

Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) has been the source of so many outstanding memes for the past three seasons of Netflix’s You. The action-packed show is entertaining as hell and as gruesome as it can be, fans find ways to find humor in the thriller and its characters. Joe’s new life with his wife Love (Victoria Pedretti) was a focal point of this season, but their ridiculous antics and the way Joe speaks in the show’s voiceovers were just begging for the meme treatment, and fans delivered. Viewers have developed their own meme format for the show, using a GIF or photo of Badgley along with a long caption written in the same style that Joe speaks about the women he’s obsessed with on the show. Love being just as unhinged as Joe was great source material too, and sometimes people’s reactions to the story are better than the show itself. 

he said no pickles!

— lucky (@lucky_swamps) August 27, 2021

Best uses: The Twitch streamer boyfriend, Steve from Blue’s Clues, Bella Noches

All things Spider-Man were at the top of fans’ minds as they anticipated the Spider-Man: No Way Home December release this year. Every now and then, a moment from an old movie or TV show resurfaces and catches fire, and that’s what happened with a screenshot of Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane and Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker in 2002’s Spider-Man. And it quickly turned into one of the best memes of the year. The shot is from the scene where MJ is yelling “Yes, Enrique. OK, I get you,” at her boss who blew her cover while she was lying to Peter about working at the diner. A Twitter user turned the moment into a meme in August and made it seem like MJ was speaking up for and defending Peter, writing, “He said no pickles!” The meme took a life of its own, and soon the timeline was flooded with hilarious “he said/she said” scenarios.  

If they put pineapple on their pizza🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩

— g (@h0erambe) October 12, 2021

Best uses: People who don’t like catsnot liking your favorite TV shows, actual dating red flags

Sometimes a viral meme moment arrives seemingly out of nowhere and fades away just as fast. The red flag memes were one of those instances where so many people participated at once, as it made its way from TikTok to Twitter, to Instagram, and beyond in record speeds. It all started with TikTok users sharing dating red flags with each other that would make the process of weeding out unsuitable partners easier. By the time it hit Twitter, people took it to the next level by adding not-so-serious red flags in someone, like whether or not they like pineapple on pizza or love The Office. The red flag emoji was difficult to escape for a few days, but hopefully, some people made notes of a few dating red flags to look out for in the future.

i made one lol

— Gama 💞 (@itsmegama) November 28, 2021

Best uses: Bruno Mars, an alternative to therapy, what it’s like to Pete Davidson

The memes started to slow down a bit toward the end of 2021, but there was one that kept things afloat in early December. We’re not really clear on how or when it got started, but fans shared a drawing of two men on an empty bus, and one of them was happily sitting by the window admiring the sunny view, while the other sat on the side that faced the shadowy mountainside with a sad look on his face. The photo is meant to describe how perspective changes everything, but fans began using it along with different scenarios they came up with. One user created one saying, “The thought of going out vs. actually being out” and that was relatable as hell.

Best uses: Sleep paralysis demon, a Harry Potter Dementor, an unlocked video game character

No one knows how to get people talking better than Kim Kardashian. While most stars use the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala red carpet as a way to showcase the most extravagant, colorful, and eye-grabbing ensembles they can get their hands on, the reality star did the complete opposite this year by wearing an all-black head-to-toe T-Shirt dress with a mask that covered her entire face. In doing so, she still got all the attention. The outfit completely hid her identity, yet everyone knew exactly who she was. That’s power, right? Aside from the impact the Balenciaga blackout gown had on the red carpet, Kim’s look also made waves on social media. People re-created the look with black trash bags and bedsheets, while others turned the photos of her posing with other celebrities, like one with her little sister Kendall Jenner, into memes. And while some did get a little bit dark, they were beyond funny, relatable, and shareable as hell.

Best uses: Omarion variant ruining plans, the Omarion Challenge, the Omarion variant in the streets

Omarion caught so many unnecessary strays online this year. The singer has been known to mind his business and keep the peace even in unfavorable situations, but this year he was part of not one, but two viral moments. To kick things off, an old clip from his performance at Verizon Wireless’ Now Playing Tour in Chicago from 2015 resurfaced and people had a field day with it and turned it into the Omarion Challenge. No offense to the You Got Served star but, honestly, the way he dances in the 11-second clip is so funny and every attempt from fans to re-create it was better than the next. Later in the year, news hit in November that the latest Covid-19 variant had been detected in dozens of countries, and it was named Omicron variant.  To the singer’s surprise, while some people worried about the dangers of the new variant, other users quickly started calling it the “Omarion variant” in jest instead, and thenickname started trending worldwide. Leave it to Twitter to make light of a serious situation by any means. The former B2K member was a good sport about it all and reacted to his viral fame in early December. “There is nothing more healing than music or a good laugh. I’m thankful to be able to give people both,” he tweeted. “From the omarion dance challenge to being superimposed on the new variant, the internet is forever undefeated. While we laugh, stay safe and stay healthy.”

when you’re out but wish you stayed at home instead #squidgamenetflix

— Jafrin⁷ 🪽 Angel PT. 1 (@antares_ojo_o) October 4, 2021

Best uses: how you feel after watching Squid Game, what starting college feels like, how are you doing financially?

Squid Game was one of the biggest surprises of the year. The Korean drama hit Netflix in September and it became a hit not only on the streaming service—it’s now the biggest show in the company’s history—but also online. The show inspired thousands of memes, challenges, Halloween costumes, hundreds of articles, and it quickly cemented itself as part of pop culture. Sometimes social media users are a company’s strongest marketing tool. The Squid Game memes were the first time some people even heard about the show and it piqued people’s curiosity enough to get millions of them to tune in. In the world we live in today, being meme-worthy can sometimes be what makes or breaks a show’s success. Squid Game gave people plenty of content they couldn’t wait to share and it surely paid off. 

When you about to leave the family function, but they bring out a fresh pan of mac & cheese...

— NOTORIOUS D.R.É. (@Nerd0nic) October 14, 2021

Best uses: Whenever you run into family, grandparents being proud of their grandkids, waiting for food at a restaurant

We saw a whole lot of Jay-Z this year, more so than we have in recent years. It was mostly thanks to his role as co-producer in The Harder They Fall, which dropped earlier this year. At the premiere of the Western film in Los Angeles in October, the rapper had the most endearing reaction to seeing his wife Beyoncé’s longtime friend Kelly Rowland on the red carpet. The expression on his face was a mix of excitement, surprise, and honest joy—a feeling a lot of us felt when reuniting with our people after a global pandemic. It was only a matter of time before social media flipped the sweet moment, turned it into a GIF and launched plenty of spot-on memes. Something tells us this particular reaction will be added to the already long list of legendary Hov memes that will live on forever.

When she throws your phone at you unlocked as you sleeping

— SadAmigo👟 (@ShawnY938) May 20, 2021

Best uses: Dealing with someone with bad breath, a kid getting in trouble with their parents, LeBron’s acting

No matter how you feel about LeBron James as a basketball star, you can’t deny that he is an entertainer. Whether it’s on or off the court, the Lakers player has provided a wealth of meme inspiration throughout the years. During a game against the Golden State Warriors in May, LeBron’s critics had plenty to talk about after he said Draymond Green poked him in the eye. Just a few moments later, James hit a three-pointer, winning the game. The image of the basketball player seemingly recovering after being poked in the eye made the rounds and became a meme. His reaction was so over the top, that some called him the “actor of the year.” He might have won the game, but basketball fans didn’t let him slide so easily.

Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out?! It’s kinda long but full of suspense

— kate michelle gellar (@bagofbnes) April 4, 2021

Best uses: Cellino & Barnes, Godzilla vs. Kong, Matilda

The Zola trailer for the film adaptation of the infamous Twitter thread knowns as #TheStory was released in March. In the trailer, Zola says, “You wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch fell out? It’s kind of long but it’s full of suspense.” Twitter users began using the quote to apply it to other characters and situations in movies and shows where someone has had a “falling out” with others in the story. Fans used Tony Soprano and his Uncle Junior from The Sopranos, Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, and some even made memes of people who have real-life drama, like Prince Wiliam and Prince Harry.

Same energy

— Tatiana Kang The Conqueror (@TatianaKing) April 27, 2021

Best uses: Kaluuya’s mom, pulling down your mask so you can hear better

Daniel Kaluuya gave fans plenty of memorable moments during awards season that were quickly added to their memes repertoire. The Oscar winner’s facial expressions during his interviews and when hanging out with friends have become reaction pics that people use as part of their tweets and memes. His reaction when a reporter confused the actor for Leslie Odom Jr. during interviews backstage at the Oscars grabbed fans’ attention, and they began using a photo of the moment as a reaction pic to attach to their tweets. When he heard the reporter’s mistake, Kaluuya looked down and opened his eyes wide to show his shock.

And let’s not even mention the moment he brought up his parents’ sex life during his Oscars speech, which inspired fans to turn the actor’s mom’s reaction into a meme. Kaluuya is one hell of an actor but he also has quite the range when it comes to memes.

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