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Dancing pallbearers, the Mike Pence fly and pretty best friends: Here are the top memes of 2020

"Since we can't see each other in person, using memes to kind of share feelings and connect with one another has become huge this year," said the editor of Know Your Meme.
Image: Continuous windows with the text \"Best Memes\" and \"2020\" pop up on the screen
Anjali Nair / ESPN; Twitter; Getty; NBC

What with the pandemic, the global protests against racism and the presidential election, 2020 was marked in many ways by fear and polarizing conflict.

But one silver lining emerged during what many have deemed the worst year ever: an abundance of memes.

"With so many people stuck indoors, social distancing and on the internet, people were entertaining themselves by creating memes," said Don Caldwell, editor-in-chief of the meme database Know Your Meme. "Not only that, people were using memes to connect."

Caldwell said Know Your Meme's coronavirus category broke site records for the number of entries it received.

Whether it was poking fun at "nature healing" or darker humor aimed at people who hadn't taken proper Covid-19 precautions, for many, memes were a pandemic coping tool. They were also tied to major events like the presidential election, including Kamala Harris' phone call to Joe Biden declaring, "We did it, Joe," and what felt like an eternity for many people waiting for Nevada to declare its winner after election night.

"Since we can't see each other in person, using memes to kind of share feelings and connect with one another has become huge this year," Caldwell said.

With a slew of new memes, some trends emerged this year. TikTok memes moved into the mainstream, creating some of the most recognizable memes of the year. Even old ones, like Doge the dog, had resurgences as people searched for ways to express themselves with their screens while stuck at home.

Here are NBC News' top memes of 2020:

13. Bernie Sanders' 'I am once again asking for your financial support'

Although his plea came in late 2019, the format took off early this year. Sanders at the time was seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and he posted a video to his social media accounts that included the closed-captioned line, "I am once again asking for your financial support."

In January, social media users began adding text above the frame of Sanders, adding instances in which they, too, would be asking for financial support.

"Showing up to my parents house after spending my rent on weed and concerts," one person captioned the image.

Later, people would go on to make the format more versatile by rewriting the text of the line, changing it to, for example, "I am once again asking your name" under a caption about being forgetful after people introduce themselves.

12. Nature is healing/We are the virus

As the quarantine ramped up early in the year, some people noted the positive environmental benefits the pandemic had indirectly caused. With so many people staying home, some said, the air quality in major cities had improved and water appeared cleaner, although claims that waterways in Venice, Italy, were cleaner were later found to be false.

However, the mentality birthed the "nature is healing/we are the virus" meme of people pointing out mundane or silly observations and claiming they were the effects of people staying home around the world.

One tweet showed a cake floating in the ocean with the message: "With everyone on lockdown, the cakes are finally returning to the ocean. Nature is healing, we are the virus."

11. 'Two pretty best friends'

@jayrscottyy

why yโ€™all never choose another equal to be yโ€™all best friend?? I hate when the ugly one call the pretty 1 โ€œtwinโ€ if ur best friend bad as u tag her rn

โ™ฌ original sound - Jordan Scott ๐Ÿฆ‹

One of the biggest TikTok memes toward the end of the year originated from a TikTok uploaded in October, in which user jayrscottyy looks into the camera of his phone and says: "I ain't never seen two pretty best friends. It's always one of them gotta be ugly."

Shortly after the TikTok was uploaded, users began dueting the video, changing their appearances to look more like jayrscottyy's.

A later, more elaborate iteration involved TikTokers' pretending to secretly record themselves arguing with a parent and, as the fight reached a breaking point, the parent would grab the phone, look into the camera and repeat the line, "I ain't never seen two pretty best friends."

The meme eventually made its way to Twitter, where users would declare that they had finally found two pretty best friends, typically including images from pop culture, such as movies or TV shows.

10. Claim is disputed

Early on Nov. 4, hours after polls had closed, President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that he had a sizable lead and that the Democrats were trying to steal the election. The claim was both false and misleading, leading Twitter to flag the tweet as "disputed" and "misleading."

As Trump continued to tweet disputed claims, Twitter continued to add labels to his tweets saying were disputed or offering links for context to what he had said.

But as the labels appeared, Twitter users pounced on them as an ideal meme format for users to make their own disputed claims.

In mid-November, Dallas Morning News reporter Dom DiFurio tweeted, "JUST TURNED IN A FLAWLESS FIRST DRAFT TO MY EDITOR!" Below was an exclamation mark with "๐—ง๐—ต๐—ถ๐˜€ ๐—ฐ๐—น๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—บ ๐—ต๐—ฎ๐˜€ ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ๐—ฒ๐—ป ๐—ฑ๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ฝ๐˜‚๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ฑ ๐—ฏ๐˜† my editor."

In another example, user Ruby Sapp wrote, "About to finish this semester strong!" with the disputed label beneath the tweet.

9. How it started/How it's going

Toward the end of the year, this comparative meme began dominating social media as a way to show how far someone had come in regard to a career or a relationship, even during the pandemic.

Know Your Meme cites Twitter user vjillanelles as having started the trend in September, when she posted a screenshot of a text exchange next to a photo of her and her partner embracing. The text on vjillanelles' first post read, "How it started," above the first image and "How it ended" over the second.

Although vjillanelles' first post used the words "How it ended" to describe the second image, social media users would later put their own spin on the phrasing, popularizing the meme under the words "How it's going."

The trend began to spread, with many other Twitter users posting their relationships in earnest. However, as with most trends on the internet, users soon began to parody the format, showing students starting a semester strong only to struggle later, people enjoying themselves early in the year in quarantine and more.

8. 420DoggoFace208 'Dreams' TikTok

Arguably one of the biggest memes to cruise off TikTok into the mainstream was a video posted by user 420DoggoFace208, real name Nathan Apodaca, cruising on a skateboard and drinking Ocean Spray juice to Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams."

The TikTok, which was posted Sept. 25, was liked nearly 12 million times and shared across various social media platforms. It also inspired parodies from celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and even Fleetwood Mac co-founder Mick Fleetwood.

Of course, average TikTok users jumped on the trend, posting videos of themselves cruising to "Dreams" with drinks in hand, like Pepsi, Gatorade and, of course, Ocean Spray juice.

The video got so much attention that sales of "Dreams" had exploded by 184 percent and streams of it on Spotify had increased by 127 percent as of Oct. 1, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Ocean Spray gave Apodaca a "cranberry truck" filled with its beverages.

7. Mike Pence's debate fly

It was the fly that stunned the nation and birthed thousands of tweets and memes.

On Oct. 7, during the vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, a fly landed on Pence's head โ€” and it stayed there for about two minutes.

The memes seemed to appear before the fly had even flown off Pence's head, and before the debate had ended, numerous Twitter accounts had been created purporting to be from the fly.

"Everyone jealous because I got the best seat for the debate tonight," one account tweeted.

Another person referred to the "Dreams" meme.

"My friend sent me a video of a fly gliding on Pence's head singing that Fleetwood Mac song and carrying a bottle of Ocean Spray and it's going to be really complicated explaining to aliens why this stuff was so funny," author Olivia A. Cole tweeted.

6. Michael Jordan and 'The Last Dance'

ESPN's documentary "The Last Dance," released in April, about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' journey to six NBA titles in the 1990s, was the most-watched documentary in the network's history as of May.

In the meme world, Jordan was already used prolifically for images like "Crying Jordan."

But "The Last Dance" became a meme treasure chest, creating an onslaught of images for the internet to run wild with.

One meme that became ubiquitous on social media was "Laughing Jordan," a series of images in which Jordan watches interviews with other NBA stars on a tablet, looks perplexed and then throws his head back in laughter.

Of the dozens of memes that came from the series, a moment when Jordan describes how certain interactions and events motivated him on the court also became a frequently used meme.

The image of Jordan saying, "And I took that personally," has been used to show when someone or something took revenge for a challenge or a cavalier action. One edit shows the coronavirus superimposed on Jordan's head with the caption "Trump: Says the virus is fake."

5. Election memes

The only story that pervaded the year more than the coronavirus was arguably the presidential election. In the hours after the polls closed across the country and a winner had yet to be declared, meme creation was slow.

But after more than a day without results, social media users cut the tension by poking fun at how agonizingly slowly results were being reported. Two primary targets were Nevada and Arizona, which many thought would decide the election.

In a video posted to TikTok, user Nolan_Meister pretended to be all the states frantically tabulating vote counts, intercut with him pretending to be "Arizona" and "Nevada" lazily taking their time and throwing mock ballots in the air.

On Twitter, user Liz Jenkins posted a video of singer Brian McKnight's "Back at One" with the text, "Nevada counting ballots."

4. Sue Sylvester/'so toxic'

Old images also gained new life on social media as memes. One from the television show "Glee," showing the character Sue Sylvester, played by Jane Lynch, saying the captioned phrase "I am going to create an environment that is so toxic," became one of the year's most widespread memes.

In addition to using the image to describe situations, such as Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham's forcing each other to sing bitter songs about each other, the template evolved to black out certain words to create new meanings. People also would insert their own words to entirely change what Sylvester was saying in the scene.

3. Everything is cake

This year, it was hard to trust our eyes as everything and anything could be cake.

The cake trend is attributed to several viral videos that permeated the internet over the summer, but most consider a video posted by BuzzFeed's food vertical Tasty as the moment the internet became cake crazy.

Posted in July, the video showed hyperrealistic items like Croc shoes, sudsy soap bars and rolls of toilet paper that, when sliced, revealed their insides to be made of cake.

Promptly, the internet lost its mind.

Natalie Sideserf of Sideserf Cake Studio in Texas, who specializes in hyperrealistic cakes, posted her own video montage of her cakes one day after Tasty's video went up, racking up millions of views and further sending the internet into chaos.

"I swear these cake videos are making me go crazy. Like how are they so realistic??? Also like am i cake??" one person tweeted.

2. 'We did it, Joe'

On Nov. 7, after it became clear that Biden had crossed the threshold of 270 electoral votes to make him the presumptive winner of the presidential election, Harris, his running mate, posted a video to social media of her call to him.

In the video, Harris says: "We did it. We did it, Joe. You're going to be the next president of the United States."

The clip, which has been viewed more than 47 million times on Twitter, became fodder for memes, with users parodying the cadence with which Harris delivered the remark and announcing the completion of often mundane tasks.

Other re-creations captioned Harris' words but exaggerated how she said "You're going to be the next president of the United States" by slurring the words together.

Another TikTok parody used Harris' audio as a mock celebration of a video's getting a modest handful of likes.

1. Dancing pallbearers

Of all the memes Caldwell of Know Your Meme tracked this year, the dancing pallbearers is among his top contenders for meme of the year.

Dancing pallbearers is a video clip of a group of Ghanaian men rhythmically dancing while carrying a coffin on their shoulders. The video is paired with the electronic dance music song "Astronomia" by Vicetone and Tony Igy.

The clip is typically deployed as a reaction spliced on to the end of a "fail video" or a video of someone or something going wrong.

But this year, the dancing pallbearers often came to represent a reaction to someone's not following Covid-19 safety guidelines, such as refusing to wear a mask or to socially distance.

Although the video first graced the internet in the mid-2010s, according to Know Your Meme, it got attention early this year when it was paired with a video of what appears to be a skiing trick gone wrong.

The dancing pallbearers became such a success that BBC Africa interviewed the group in May.

The pallbearers offered a warning to those not taking the pandemic seriously: "Now remember, stay at home or dance with us."