Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Laugh, cry, vomit with this time-lapse history of the most popular memes since 2004

Culture moves at an accelerated pace online. While Harambe may seem like a distant memory (to anyone but Elon Musk), the great ape’s tragic saga is actually only a few years old. Even the dusty old Rickroll, which feels like a decaying artifact from some ancient civilization, was still relevant around a decade ago.


In an effort to document just how quickly the internet moves, a video from YouTube channel Abacaba follows the rise and fall of memes by tracking the most popular images, videos, and keywords from 2004 to 2019. Using data drawn from Google Trends and Know Your Meme, 10 minutes of footage track our global fascination with everything from the goddamned The Cake Is A Lie to the modern scourge of the Momo Challenge.

Mostly, the clip is an exercise in nostalgia. Near the beginning, benignly goofy shit like I Can Has Cheezburger?, Star Wars Kid, and All Your Base Belong To Us coexist beside barf-inducing shock images like Goatse and Tubgirl. Over time, though, the darkest memes start to take hold, the beginning of the ‘10s seeing a rise in GamerGate, Pepe The Frog, a variety of overtly transphobic and racist shit, and sprinkles of message board trash neo-Nazism. Shit has always been awful online, but this video shows just how much more toxic it’s gotten in recent years.

If there’s anything heartening to take from this, it’s that there’s still some relatively innocent memes filling up the top spots. Even amidst the worst of the internet, there is the Ikea Monkey, resplendent in its huge coat, and the wholesome encouragement of Damn, Daniel guiding our way forward.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.