Owen Carry gets anxious every time he watches “Euphoria.” He loved the show, but its storylines — which often feature drug abuse, infidelity and violence — can be heavy. That’s why, he said, instead of watching it now, he just enjoys the memes.
He recalls one meme in particular — when the character Cassie, played by Sydney Sweeney, is hiding from her friend in a bathtub — that perfectly encapsulates how the show’s stressful scenes can be turned into lighthearted memes.
“That shot of the overhead, looking down at her in the bathtub, it’s not only good cinematically, but also her genuine fear and reaction is just good acting, which spikes anxiety in the viewer,” he said. But the first meme he saw using that panic-stricken scene was hilarious. It read: “me when the doordash person knocks instead of just leaving the food there.”
As the second season of "Euphoria" comes to an end Sunday, some internet culture experts have noticed that viewers have found a way to alleviate their anxiety about the show's often dark storyline: memes.
"Euphoria" viewers have "gone through this horrible, toxic narrative, and [memes] are basically the eyewash that deals with all the crud of the episode,” said Shane Tilton, the author of the book “Meme Life.”
Season two has been particularly fruitful when it comes to meme creation, said Lukas Santana, who runs the Twitter account Euphoria HBO News.
Santana, 25, of Brazil, created the fan account three years ago after the fourth episode of season one, he said in an email. Since then, his account has amassed more than 204,000 followers.
Santana said there has been at least one prominent meme every episode this season, if not more. Whether it's Zendaya's character, Rue, making faces while watching a school play or Maude Apatow's Lexi Howard showing off her glow up, there's no shortage for what will go viral online.
“People on social media were ready to make a meme about something and everything, and how this takes the series to a different level is insane,” Santana said. “Everybody is connected to share, create and post, taking the show to people all over the world.”
Many of the memes are lighthearted and silly — in direct juxtaposition to the serious and stressful realities of the show, such as Rue’s relapsing drug addiction.
“I think what [a meme] does is it tries to defuse some of the tension,” said Tilton, an associate professor of writing and multimedia studies at Ohio Northern University.
He said the chaos and anxiety of the show, distilled into still images, can convey a number of emotions in a variety of situations, which is ideal fodder for meme makers.
The rise of 'Euphoria High' and other memes
Meme accounts on Twitter and Instagram, like Santana's, have racked up tens of thousands of fans, and TikTok trends have exploded, giving an access point to diehard fans and new viewers alike.
The show’s hyperstylized visuals — deep purples, sharp black eyeliner, eccentric clothing and glitter galore — are instantly recognizable as having come from the show and, therefore, are ideal fodder for reaction memes.
“The reason we see more memes in later episodes is because now ... the show is based on chaos and these really cinematic visuals," Tilton said.
One meme in particular grew in popularity for lampooning the over-the-top outfits on “Euphoria.” In the beginning, users dressed normally while the voice of Squidward from “SpongeBob SquarePants” can be heard saying, “And why aren’t you in uniform?” The person then leaves frame and walks back in wearing a scantier, brightly colored outfit.
Such videos are often labeled “If I went to ‘Euphoria’ High.”
Another meme video, which shows each of the show's characters as if they were YouTubers and what they would title their YouTube videos, has more than 2.5 million likes.
Memes give even non-'Euphoria' viewers FOMO
The show has been a hit for HBO since it first aired in June 2019. Memes have made the show only more popular, some experts and viewers say.
“i watched EUPHORIA only because of the memes but damn this is a good show,” a Twitter user wrote. “I’ve kind of just now realized that anxiety and my ups and downs will be with me for life and this show is making it feel more normal and easier to cope with.”
Many people who don’t even watch the show end up seeing the memes populate their social media feeds and experiencing FOMO — fear of missing out.
"ok I don’t like that euphoria show but I want to know what all the memes mean so I’m thinking I just suck it up and keep on watching but it honestly just gives me anxiety," a Twitter user wrote.
The memes surrounding "Euphoria" are "almost something people can understand even if they hadn’t seen the show,” said Owen Carry, an editor for the meme database Know Your Meme. “But I think people saw the ‘Euphoria High School’ thing and thought, ‘What am I missing?’”
“I think people saw the ‘Euphoria High School’ thing and thought, ‘What am I missing?’”
-Owen Carry, Know Your Meme
It's a phenomenon that isn't exclusive to the HBO show. In 2019, pop culture critics coined the expression "The Bird Box Effect" after Netflix's "Bird Box" became popular thanks to the ferocious meme culture surrounding it.
"Before the Sandra Bullock movie was a 'hit,' it was a joke (or a bot-related conspiracy theory) on your Twitter feed," The Ringer wrote at the time in a story about how memes drove viewers to Netflix.
Because "Euphoria" is also so rife for fan theories about what will happen next, pre-emptive memes — about what will happen if an infidelity is discovered or a lovable drug dealer is in trouble — have become a crux of the show for those clamoring for more information.
Some have even suggested that show writers try to capitalize on meme culture, knowing they can potentially ensnare new viewers.
"It would not surprise me if writer rooms try to incorporate those pearls they think the audience would get, but I don't think that's their primary focus," Tilton said.
Fans of the show, like Santana, expect that Sunday's finale will bring an onslaught of memes, which will have to sustain viewers — and social media — until next season.