Your speakers are blasting ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ by Rick Astley, and a sense of disappointment permeates your entire being. That’s right, you’ve been Rickrolled! And you can’t deny the fact that it’s not the first or the last time it’s happening. It’s the twenty-first century- the era of eating, sleeping, breathing, shaking and shimmying to the internet hits. Some call it the internet’s inside jokes but I’d like to describe memes in Gen Z as the internet’s biscuits that condense and compress emotions we all relate to precisely, with the music being the gravy. The music these memes incorporate has become the very expression of what we’re trying to share with people. Almost as if you put the wrong song with a meme that has no relation to it whatsoever, you’re really just committing a full-fledged felony.
Being the occasional memer myself, I have a whole list of hits in my mental catalogue that hit the nail on whatever I’m trying to express to my followers. If it’s a picture of my cat sprawled out staring into the distance, possibly pondering on which remaining corner of the house he’s going to claim and piss on, there’s no doubt I’m going to be using Aquatic Ambience by Scizzie, which gained fame for the black cat zoning out meme on TikTok. The song is iconic for purrrfectly encapsulating zoning out, especially during conversations you can’t wait to get out of. Whenever I’m joking around with my guy pals to come over for a mani-pedi night, ya best believe I’m sending them a meme of Drake with his nails photoshopped on and his legendary “21, can you do sum’n for me?” verse. Of course, memeing my friends the Thug Lifestyle with the cigar sticker and the black shades gif isn’t complete without the ‘Dadadaaa’ from Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg’s The Next Episode.
Catchy is not enough anymore. Is it memeable?
The most loved songs by fans nowadays are also the ones that are the easiest to share and reshare online and artists are tapping into it with executives asking, “Is it memeable?” rather than “Is it catchy?” Our biggest songs are now the most meme-worthy, with lyrics made for Instagram captions, music videos that are simple to capture for Twitter, and choruses made for TikTok dancing motions.
Memeability influences who we listen to and what we listen to. Carly Rae Jepsen’s career interestingly gained traction as videos of celebs and influencers mouthing ‘Call Me Maybe’ lyrics took over the web and gained momentum. Given that E•MO•TION is one of the finest albums out there, there is little question that her skill would have still propelled her to the top, but the increased exposure to internet humour significantly sped up the process.
Personally, I feel that the age of the pandemic was when the internet saw record-breaking meme material music. And if I had to name an artist who could seamlessly use memeability for clout, I’d name none other than Drake. He knew exactly what he was doing when he released Toosie Slide in 2020. On April 2, he posted a video of himself dancing on his social media, donning Covid-appropriate drip – a face mask and gloves while staying home. While performing the dances in his lobby, he sang, “It goes right foot up, left foot slide / Left foot up, right foot slide.” It hardly took four days after its release for the “#toosieslide” hashtag to take over, hitting 20 million views with influencers making their own rendition of the dance. Each time women put out pictures of themselves in 2020 decked up, hair done, and bums out, it didn’t feel quite complete without Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP.
The good ol’ days of Vine
Oh, Vine, how we miss you. Turning yourself into a parody is more than enough to ensure you’re the talk of the town and Vine made that happen. Songs were flung into the arena of cultural influence and appreciation with those six-second videos. Elijah Daniel & Christine Sydelko profited from their content-hungry fan bases to Spotify by coining the term “Shooketh.” TikTok- the app where all content just blows up and turns into a meme organically- along with Vine have greatly aided in the development of musicians by supplementing the emergence of parody vines to popular songs.
This generation consumes music a lot while living their lives online, turning their internet lives into a personal diary of sorts. And artists are beginning to understand that. In the words of Caribbean DJ turned rapper Supa Dupa Humble: “Songs and memes are like rockets and space shuttles. Obviously, the space shuttle needs the rocket to get to space, and then it breaks off. So that’s what the meme is.”