Amy Dawson asks what makes some artists so irresistible to online mockery
A few days ago Billy Corgan, the seemingly cantankerous and ever-so-earnest frontman for venerable angsty alt-rockers Smashing Pumpkins, was pictured looking miserable on Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain rollercoaster. Clearly, nobody told him he was in ‘The Happiest Place On Earth.’
Within hours the snap had gone viral and had been hailed across the internet as the potential source of some of the best memes of 2015 – a meme, of course, being (according to Wikipedia) ‘an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media that spreads, often as mimicry, via the internet.’
Usually a form of affectionately taking the mickey, internet memes generally involve juxtaposing a funny caption with a famous image of a celeb. In an era where ground-up, online support for musicians is more important than a PR campaign could ever be, being a ‘meme favourite’ can be a boon for getting attention. But what makes some artists so much more ‘memeable’ than others?
Perhaps, due to the gently mocking elements involved, our most memetastic celebs tend to be the most
sensitive souls. So it’s Ryan Gosling and Keanu Reeves among Hollywood stars, and Kanye West and Drake in music. A picture of West looking miserable next to a zipwire sent theinternet into paroxisms of glee last year, and there are whole websites devoted to the theme – see sadkanyetumblr.com and sadkanyedoingstufftumblr.com.
The contrast between a serious, even pompous, public persona and a ridiculous situation is what tickles us. Hence why we love the sight of Corgan, currently on tour with Marilyn Manson, sitting glumly on a toy train, and pictures of the egomaniacal social button-pusher West sulkily slurping ice cream were equally satisfying. With his heartfelt, anguished lyrics, Canadian rapper Drake is the King of Memes.
Ultimately, it’s also the artists who most thoroughly reveal their true personalities within their music that we perhaps like to meme the most, because we feel invested in their quirks and foibles. Thus share-everything songwriter Taylor Swift is another firm favourite, with a Buzzfeed page overlaying her lyrics with images of Henry VIII (‘I go on too many dates, but I can’t make them stay’) being particularly hilarious. When she (drumroll, please) finally revealed her tummy button earlier this year, the internet was awash with images depicting her midriff region as a nest of baby
orangutans or an alien face.
According to Buzzfeed, as of this spring, ‘Memes, like mash-ups, are cool again.’ So go forth and memify as much as you can.