By: John Mendoza
Remember that one Yoplait commercial with the giant mouths? A lot of kids were singing “Yop Me Mama” word for word back then, especially if you grew up watching YTV in 2004. Science has proven that music can help improve and even restore memory. When you listen to music, you interpret it according to your memories and pas experiences.
With that in mind, how does that work with memes? Unlike people, the internet doesn’t forget things. We’ve all seen the impact that viral videos and memes affect pop culture. Of course, not all memes are directly related to music — but it’s the music ones that I find have made the most impact on pop culture. Before you debate me on the legitimacy of this list, I wanted to make sure that all of these memes had the following: a strong impact on pop culture and the internet, a long internet lifespan and a significant number of people created their own parodies/unique versions of the original meme.
Without further ado, let’s take a nostalgia trip back into time and experience what I think is the top 13 music memes of all time:
Dancing Baby (1998)
This was one of the first “memes” on the internet, if we can even call it that. In August 1996, this meme became globally popular as a result of chain emails. The song in the video is the intro “Hooked on a Feeling” by the Swedish rock band Blue Swede. Nowadays, the song is more-so linked to Guardians of the Galaxy, but there’s a whole generation of people who attribute the song to this dancing baby. Most importantly, no-one really knew the impact of what they posted back then. “Viral” didn’t exist as a term yet.
Numa Numa (2004)
Years after the dancing baby animation, people started to make content and put it on the internet. Older memes are genuine. Gary Brolsma recorded this video in December 2004 and uploaded it to NewGrounds as a Flash animation (YouTube didn’t exist yet). They weren’t companies trying to get free press on the internet. This is just one guy lip syncing to “Dragostea Din Tei” by Romanian band O-Zone in his bedroom. Above all else, he was out there living his best life and didn’t care about how the internet would react. Luckily, his lip sync legacy is still seen in high school lip dubs, the show “Lip Sync Battle” and the majority of content in TikTok videos.
Loituma Girl / Leek Spin (2006)
The original Flash animation was posted on Russian LiveJournal in 2006. The music in the background is an excerpt taken from the Finnish Quartet Loituma’s “Ievan Polkka” cover in 1995. Like many memes in the 2000s, this video was used as a bait and switch. People would click a link that they believe to hold specific information, but it actually just links to this Flash animation.
You’re probably already confused (unless you know the reference of course). This was created as a parody of characters from the 1980s cartoon He-Man and the Masters of the Universe singing "What's Up” by 4 Non Blondes. Though the original version did get a lot of views, the video was re-uploaded onto YouTube in 2010 and garnered over 150 million views. Like Leekspin, this meme was used as a bait and switch joke.
The Rick Roll (2007)
The last two memes were bait and switch jokes, so you already knew this was coming. The original song "Never Gonna Give You Up” was dropped by Rick Astley in 1987, though the phenomenon behind this meme was first seen in 2007. Astley fully embraced the meme and later accepted the Best Act Ever award at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2008. Unlike the previous ones, the meme doesn’t even need the video because the iconic introductory drum fill is sufficient for fulfilling the meme’s requirements.
Crank Dat Soulja Boy (2007)
Considered one of the first online viral dance fads, Soulja Boy channelled his MySpace and YouTube fame into a full blown music career. The specific dance flooded its way into pop culture in 2007. More importantly, this proved that you can get famous by making something that can go viral. The success of other viral dance fads like the Dougie and the Milly Rock proves just that.
The Shooting AKA Dear Sister (2007 to 2009)
The 2005 single “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap was featured in the O.C. in the second season finale. As one of the biggest teen dramas at the time, this SNL digital short from 2007 poked fun at the ridiculous nature of the scene itself. As a result, the song started to gain a steady period of online relevancy when it was uploaded onto eBaum's World in 2009 and how it was sampled in Jason Derulo’s single “Whatcha Say”. It was difficult to avoid this song in 2009 and unfortunately erased the melancholic nature of the original song.
Bed Intruder Song (2010)
The impact of autotune has been a much debated topic in the music world. It’s clear that autotune music like Cher’s “Believe” (and the majority of T-Pain’s discography) can lead to successful pop hits. However, the Gregory Brothers showed just how successful autotune songs can be when they remixed a viral news video. The original news video features Antoine Dodson talking about a rapist who attempted to rape his sister in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. Uploaded to the Schmoyoho YouTube channel, this video was the most-watched YouTube video in 2010. The video stands at over 143,000,000 views.
Gangnam Style (2012)
Speaking of most watched, you can’t talk about views In the year when the world was supposed to end, PSY broke the internet back in 2012 with his chart-topping single "Gangnam Style". With its pulsating synths and memor Monday, April 22, 2019 On top of this, George Miller retired his Filhty Frank persona and now makes alternative lo-fi R&B music as Joji. Crazy how things can change over time, huh?
Vine (2013 to 2016)
Trust me, this’ll make sense if you give me some time to explain why this is here. At the same time, if you search for Vines on YouTube, you’ll find “Vine compilations” instead of “funny video compilations”. When people talk about Vine, they talk about it like if it was a friend that they miss dearly. This is because Vine was killed off by Twitter in 2016 and people still mourn its loss on the internet. This sentiment echoed through the many “RIP Vine” compilations on other platforms.This is a large portion of internet users that associate certain phrases, actions and of course, songs with Vine specifically. With only 6 seconds to attract someone’s interest, viral Vine memes included identifiable phrasing, audio or visual imagery to maintain optimal replay, much like the introductory drum fill for “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Some notable examples include:
• Who is She? (“Take on Me” by A-ha)
• I Am the One (“Ultimate" by Denzel Curry)
• Everybody Spurts (“Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M.)
• Why The Fuck You Lyin’ ( "Too Close" by Next)
All Star but ___ (2016 to 2017)
Remix culture is important to memes as they elongate the lifespan of their online relevancy. Every meme is subject to being parodied or covered in some way or another. Despite this, they eventually die out because people run out of ideas. All Star and its relationship to the Shrek film series has gone through several iterations of memes. Whether its just film edits of the opening sequence, or the wide variety of song edits people have made, it seems that Smash Mouth’s 1999 song has been an exception.
Obviously, there’s some gaps here and there. My main goal was to showcase the music memes that ended up important to pop culture in the end. For example, memes like TROLOLO had a catchy song that pervaded to the idea of “trolling”, but it wasn’t as impactful as the Harlem Shake. At the same time, we’re currently at the tail end of the 2010s and there’s no way of predicting their internet lifespan or how significant they’ll become in the future. Either way, music-based memes have played a huge role in how we define modern pop culture.