Oh, The Dress. Remember The Dress? Of course you remember The Dress. The question of whether it was blue and black or white and gold ended thousands of friendships, romances and professional relationships around the world. It all began back in February with a Tumblr post, which featured a slightly washed-out photo of a dress alongside a seemingly innocent question: Is this dress white and gold or blue and black? (Apparently it really could go either way: some people saw the former, others the latter.) Then, BuzzFeed staffer Cates Holderness decided to post a poll about it — and the Internet promptly exploded. The debate really a hit nerve and got everyone debating — because everyone was so sure about the colors they were seeing. This instantly viral phenomenon launched endless explainers, think pieces, think pieces about think pieces and celebrity debates. Meanwhile, that original post has since gotten more than 38 million hits.
In September, a collective hush seemed to fall over the Internet as everyone watched the Pizza Rat video for the first time. The 15-second clip, which has since racked up more than 8 million views, showed a feisty little rodent dragging a large, cheesy slice down the steps of a New York City subway station. Pizza Rat inspired a Halloween costume, tattoos, countless copycat videos and, ultimately, a shared feeling: Pizza Rat is all of us. Sure, some people eventually grew tired of the Pizza Rat phenomenon, but nobody will forget how they felt the first time they saw him.
Ariana Grande licking doughnuts
It all started when TMZ released security footage that showed the pop star hanging out at a southern California doughnut shop, where she proceeded to lick some doughnuts. (Doughnuts, mind you, that she had not paid for.) In the video, she also can be heard saying, “I hate America.” A few days after the Internet totally freaked out about this, she posted a somber apology video on YouTube and a written apology on Twitter. Eventually, the whole thing blew over, but the incident received so much attention that you shouldn’t be surprised if you mention her name during the holidays this year and one of your relatives responds, “Oh, that’s that doughnut-licking gal, isn’t it?”
Cecil the Lion's death
Many people had never heard of Cecil the Lion when he was alive, but they certainly heard about him after he died. He was an attraction at the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and was being studied by the University of Oxford when, in July, he was slaughtered. Backlash against the killer, quickly identified as 55-year-old Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, was swift and fierce. Celebrities like Sharon Osbourne, Newt Gingrich and Ricky Gervais chimed in on social media, mourning the lost lion and chastising Palmer. And late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, usually known for wit and levity, got choked up in a segment about Cecil. He called the incident a “disgusting tragedy” and encouraged his viewers to donate to donate to Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. His appeal resulted in 2,600 people donating more than $155,000.
Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video
It was a big year for Drake. First, his surprise album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart. Then, he had his highly-publicized feud with rapper Meek Mill. But then, in October, Drake truly left his mark on 2015 with the release of his music video for his hit single “Hotline Bling.” Drake’s goofy dancing soon inspired countless memes, a number of covers and an SNL parody featuring Donald Trump. Oh, and Meek Mill kept their feud alive by mocking Drake’s move at a concert.
The Charlie Charlie Challenge
Like so many viral phenomena, the rise of the Charlie Charlie Challenge — which was meant to summon an alleged Mexican demon — began with a hashtag. The fad, which quickly spread across Twitter, involved a simple game: you balance two pencils in the shape of a cross and write the words “yes” and “no” in the quadrants. Then you ask something like “Charlie, Charlie are you here?” or “Charlie, Charlie can we play?” and watch as the top pencil moves toward “yes” or “no.” The game got so popular that the #CharlieCharlieChallenge hashtag was tweeted more than 1.6 million times. But it was nothing new: the Washington Post reported that this game had already been a popular schoolyard game in Spain for generations. And, according to the BBC, it has nothing to do with Mexican folklore, as the meme suggested. So what really caused all those pencils to move, if not a Mexican demon named Charlie? The likeliest explanation: gravity.
Caitlyn Jenner comes out as transgender
Vanity Fair’s July cover featured a photo of the athlete formerly known as Bruce Jenner and three words: “Call Me Caitlyn.” The cover instantly became a concrete marker of Jenner’s transition, and people were rapt. “Jenner is by a mile the most famous person to ever transition in public,” TIME wrote shortly after the cover debuted online, “and she’s shown the public her female self in the brashest way possible.” The bold image of Caitlyn Jenner appeared on every newsstand in America, but before that happened, millions of people had already seen it — and discussed it — online.
Zayn Malik leaves One Direction
The Internet is home to many, many passionate One Direction fans, so when the band announced in March that Zayn Malik was quitting, everyone freaked out. In a Facebook post, Malik explained, “I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight.” Devastated fans reacted by screaming, crying, and having their moms pick them up from school. Though the band said it planned to continue as a foursome, Twitter raged for days, lamenting the loss of Zayn and his signature high notes. Seven months later, fans were still commenting on that original Facebook announcement, begging Zayn to come back in several different languages.
In June, the parents of civil rights activist Rachel Dolezal claimed that she’d been disguising herself as African-American and was in fact white. The revelation spread quickly across the Internet. People just couldn’t stop talking about Dolezal: why would she pretend to be black? How could she pull this off? Couldn’t she see how offensive this would be? Dolezal insisted that she identified as black and that her black identity was “not a costume.” Still, in the wake of the controversy, Dolezal stepped down as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. Though reactions to Dolezal’s deception were largely negative, she had famous supporters including, Rihanna, who defended her in an interview with Vanity Fair. “Is it such a horrible thing that she pretended to be black? Black is a great thing, and I think she legit changed people’s perspective a bit and woke people up.” During a November appearance on The Real, Dolezal conceded for what appears to be the first time that she was “biologically born white.”
The New York Times’ green pea guacamole recipe
“Add green peas to your guacamole,” the New York Times tweeted on July 1. “Trust us.” The Twittersphere did not respond well, and most definitely did not trust the NYT on this one. The backlash was swift: some people compared the Times to ISIS; others said this recipe was “tantamount to a hate crime.” Jeb Bush chimed in, saying you simply “don’t put peas in guacamole.” Soon enough, Barack Obama himself weighed in, saying, “respect the nyt, but not buying peas in guac. onions, garlic, hot peppers. classic.” Support for the POTUS was strong, as his tweet racked up 16,000 retweets and 21,000 favorites. A few defenders stepped up, and some people decided to actually give the recipe a shot, but for the most part, people really just wanted to be outraged.