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10. Chewbacca mom
When Texas stay-at-home mother Candace Payne first wore a Chewbacca face mask to make a Facebook Live video, little did she know she was about to become a viral Internet sensation. Her unfettered joy and silliness for the sheer sake of being silly endeared her to viewers everywhere. Online fame was swift, scoring Payne universal recognition as the “Chewbacca mom.” Payne’s Internet fame eventually garnered her talk show appearances (including a Carpool Karaoke session with James Corden and Star Wars: The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams), her own action figure, a free vacation to Disney World, and even full college scholarships for her and her family. Money calculated that Chewbacca mom received $420,000 worth of gifts in the two weeks following when her video went viral in mid-May 2016. The Chewbacca mask sold out in stores almost immediately and was later sold for $200 a pop on eBay, but Payne received backlash when she started charging $20 for an autograph.
9. Kim Kardashian West's Snapchat
Kim Kardashian West set off what some have termed the feud of our generation when she recorded a Snapchat seen ’round the world featuring footage of Kanye West talking to Taylor Swift on the phone. While this might seem fairly innocuous, there’s a long, complex, and richly dramatic history between all these parties that has been brewing for the better part of a decade. Flash back to 2009, when Kanye West infamously jumped on the stage to grab the mic during Taylor’s MTV VMAs acceptance speech.
The two buried the hatchet officially when Swift presented West with his Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 VMAs, but drama reignited when West released his latest studio album, The Life of Pablo, including the track, “Famous,” that name-checked Swift with harsh lyrics. West claimed he had an hour-long conversation with Swift about the line, while a rep for Swift said that Taylor cautioned him about releasing a song with such “a strong misogynistic message.” Swift executed a jab toward West with a Grammy acceptance speech that scoffed at the line. In July, Kim Kardashian West released Snapchat footage of the conversation in question, which lead the Internet to explode.
8. Ken Bone
The 2016 presidential election cycle got some much-needed relief from the heated debates thanks to a bright red-sweater clad individual known as Ken Bone. Bone, an audience member and undecided voter with a question for the candidates about clean energy, was declared the true winner of the second presidential debate. He won the hearts of the American public with his Izod red cable-knit pullover, but later revealed that his famous sartorial decision wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t accidentally split the seat of his pants prior to the debate. Bone became a true American hero — at least on the Internet, where many petitioned that he run for president and an outpouring of affection made him a ubiquitous meme. A sexy Ken Bone Halloween costume materialized as did a voting PSA, branded T-shirts, an Uber endorsement, and an Izod partnership, but a Reddit AMA revealed that Ken Bone might not be just the wholesome, jolly everyman as many thought. His legacy during this presidential cycle however, remains the stuff of legend.
7. Shirtless J.R. Smith and the Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers made history when they defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA finals in June. Ask any Cavs fan and they’ll tell you that the victory was doubly sweet because it was the first NBA championship that the Cavs had ever won in the history of the franchise. Although Cleveland’s number one son LeBron James was named Finals MVP after a dazzling Finals performance, the Internet determined that noted life of the party J.R. Smith and his shirtless torso were in a league of their own when it came to post-win festivities. Smith’s unabashed celebration sans shirt in the week following Cleveland’s win was seen everywhere from post-game celebration to the parade days later, prompting memes and a t-shirt that resembled his shirtless chest, complete with realistic tattoos. President Obama even took time during a congratulatory phone call to Cavs head coach Ty Lue to implore J.R. to put on a shirt since “he can’t be just walking around without a shirt for a whole week!” In short, Smith’s shirt aversion following the Cavs’ win effectively elevated him from NBA baller to sports legend.
6. Damn, Daniel
Internet gold doesn’t always make sense, but sometimes that’s the allure of it — which might explain the rabid popularity of the “Damn, Daniel” video. The video features high schooler Daniel Lara and his white Vans shoes in various outfits shot on Snapchat as the video’s recorder, Lara’s friend Joshua Holz, exclaims the phrases, “Damn, Daniel!” and “Back at it again with the white Vans!” in an affected voice. The quirky clip was shared on Twitter, where it’s been retweeted 330k and favorited nearly 470k times since it was first shared in February this year. Its viral quality has definitely paid off, landing Daniel a gig in a LG commercial and nabbing the duo a lifetime supply of Vans.
When Harambe the gorilla was shot dead in May at the Cincinnati Zoo after a three-year-old boy accidentally climbed into his enclosure, all corners of the Internet sounded off on the controversial decision to kill the 17-year-old primate. Some people were outraged over the killing of a rare gorilla, while others argued that the safety of the child was more important. After the initial dispute died down, however, Harambe became a darkly bizarre meme, with some using it to poke fun at the animal’s untimely death in tandem with celebrity deaths like David Bowie and Prince and others who used it as catch-all for comedic relief.
4. Beyoncé's Lemonade
Leave it to Beyoncé to drop a visual album so stunning, so powerful, and so loaded that is spawned a countless think pieces, a few protests, and even a frantic online witch hunt for the person known as “Becky with the good hair,” the “other woman” alluded to on Lemonade. Starting with the unapologetically Southern and politically-charged “Formation” video to the grown woman anthem of “Sorry,” the sweeping narrative of love, infidelity, redemption and black girl magic proved that Queen Bey not only reigns supreme in pop culture but on the world wide web. Not convinced? One only needs to look at the viral GIFs, memes, tribute videos, and proliferation of Lemonade lyrics that dominated our Twitter and Instagram feeds this year. Twirling on your haters never looked so good.
3. #PhelpsFace and #LochteGate at the 2016 Rio Olympics
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it’s safe to say that the U.S. swim team made some major waves both in and out of the pool. The world’s most decorated Olympian, Michael Phelps became an instant meme after a picture of him glowering pre-race at longtime South African rival Chad Le Clos went viral, inspiring legions of swim fans to humorously caption the photo as they pleased along with the hashtag, #PhelpsFace. Phelps later revealed that he had that death glare because he was intensely focused and listening to rapper Future’s track, “Stick Talk;” given his 23 gold medals, being a meme seems like a small price to pay for domination in the pool.
Phelps’ teammate Ryan Lochte, however, left a different mark on Olympic history after a story that he had told about being robbed at gunpoint unraveled. Lochte already attracted plenty of buzz at Rio thanks to dying his hair an icy blue-platinum before the games, but his story of a purported robbery falling apart brought his notoriety to an all-time high. The Internet had plenty of fun as rumors flew about the validity of his story, which was commemorated with the hashtags, #LochteGate and #LochMess. Jeah, no.
2. Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs’ legendary 2016 World Series win over the Cleveland Indians was, in a word, heartwarming. Consider the fact that Cubs fans waited 108 years (yes, that’s right — the last time Chicago brought home a World Series win was in 1908, long before there was even a Commissioner’s trophy,) to break a so-called “curse” and the jubilee seen across Progressive Field during Game 7 is more than fitting. The win created a media storm, with everyone from exuberant fans to sports pundits taking to the Internet to support Chicago’s historic win. The penultimate emblem of the Cub’s gleeful win? Bill Murray’s unbridled delight as a longtime Cubs super fan was an exuberant, nationwide symbol for the Cubbies finally being able to “fly the W.”
1. The 2016 Presidential Election aftermath
After a heated presidential election cycle, Donald J. Trump’s victory set the Internet aflame with hot takes, emotional responses, and lots and lots of opinions — both positive and negative — from voters everywhere. While the entirety of the election was characterized by the use of social media (who can forget those debate live-tweets?), the fever pitch was epitomized by the social media posts after the election results were released, announcing Trump as the President-elect despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote. Clinton supporters adopted the hashtags #NotMyPresident and #ImStillWithHer, while Trump supporters openly celebrated the GOP victory that they hope will make America great again.