At this stage in the internet game, we’re all aware memes are unpredictable and volatile. What makes one concept catch on and another evaporate into the ether? We don’t know, but we do know it makes us grin when music and meme-dom collide. (Except for that whole Rebecca Black disasterpiece, which just made us sad and confused.) In 2011, music memes emerged early and often, with three of the below entries originating in February. Let’s take this moment to remember and then forever forget the best music memes of 2011.
1. Who is Arcade Fire?
Immediately after Arcade Fire took home the Album of the Year Grammy, mainstreamers flocked to Twitter and Facebook angrily demanding to know just WHO these plaid-wearing, tambourine-shaking hipsters thought they were (seriously, who, because they didn’t know). Then Rosie O’Donnell famously tweeted “ummm never heard of them ever” and thus the “Who is Arcade Fire?” meme had arrived. A Tumblr began chronicling status updates and tweets asking that very question, and upon accepting their Brit Award days later, Win Butler implored people to Google his band. After finally having given Arcade Fire a listen, Rosie even responded, saying she now “got” why they won. It’s strangely heartening to know that in this era of oversaturation, an act can rock two Saturday Night Live appearances, soundtrack a movie trailer, and sell out Madison Square Garden while still remaining somewhat unknown.
2011 was the year of swag, even though nobody knows exactly what “swag” means. Hip hop’s rallying cry is a noun, verb, adjective, interjection, and/or pronoun generally connoting something positive/fresh/positively fresh (Crunk 2.0?). Basically, it’s the porn of words: you know it when you hear it. Swag first bubbled up in 2010 thanks to Odd Future (who use it as a sort of spiritual mantra) and Lil B (who throws it around the way other MC’s spout the N-word), but it didn’t rise to the meme stratosphere until Odd Future’s manic breakout performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, after which Mos Def stormed in front of the camera screaming “swag!!” Then in May, Diddy changed his name to Swag for a week. Last we checked, the word was used to hilarious effect in an episode of Workaholics. This one may be around for a while.
3. Dancing Thom Yorke
Thom Yorke was something of a meme factory this year. First, Radiohead released the internet-baiting video for “Lotus Flower,” which featured the frontman in a bowler hat making twitchy, trance-y gesticulations, like a guy tweeking out in the subway station. Two days later, the video was mashed up with Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” From there, things only got better, with Yorke killing Justin Bieber, swatting bees, and starring in countless other spoofs and animated GIFs. Yorke wasn’t done, though — the following month saw the birth of Thom Yorking (taking a picture with one eye half-closed in homage to the singer’s droopy eye). Last weekend, SNL even got in on the fun, which can only portend the meme’s death.
4. Little girls covering divas
The internet is where parents go to capitalize on showcase their children’s musical adorableness, and this year we had a bevy of kids covering Adele, as well as the baby who would only stop crying upon hearing the dulcet tones of Notorious B.I.G. But the year’s biggest stars were a couple of duos. First, Jorge Narvaez and his six-year-old daughter Alexa gave the internet a twee blast to the face with their cover of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, which led to an appearance on Ellen. In September, 8-year-old Sophia Grace Brownlee raised the (monkey) bar with her scary-good rendition of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass.” We’re particularly impressed by the blonde cousin who dances like a tiny Thom Yorke and essentially contributes nothing to the video but totally got to ride Sophia’s coattails. Well-played! The pair was basically contracted out by Ellen (which at this point should just be called The Youtube Hall of Fame Showcase), serving as that show’s red carpet correspondents. Parents, take note.
5. Kim Jong-Il drops the bass
The only thing better than the passing of a ruthless dictator is when said dictator is then whittled down into a ridiculous caricature. Cue: Kim Jong-Il dropping the bass. Sure, the South Park guys already filleted Kim in Team America, but thanks to this new Tumblr (just in time for our list!), we have a digestible little image to remember him by. Check out Kim as he’s photoshopped into the DJ booth, spinning the wheels of steel with everyone from Daft Punk to Skrillex. Suggested DJ monikers: Kim Jong-Ill, DJ Dick Tater, The People’s DJ, Glorious and Iron-Willed DJ Who Descended From Heaven.