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From Baby Yoda to OK, boomer: A look back at 2019’s internet obsessions

Baby Yoda, a.k.a. “the Child.”
The internet has a soft spot for Baby Yoda. For good reason.
(Disney+)
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When the world seems to be spinning off its axis, count on the internet to throw a shiny piece of cheese in your face and snap you back to reality.

The cheese-toss was only one weird practice popularized via social media in 2019, when users managed to take a break from their indignations du jour. Memes, challenges and quizzes entranced us in wave after wave as the year passed.

We got older. We wallowed in wrong answers. We branded our summer — twice. And ultimately we fell for something really, really cute.

Here’s a good chunk of what we were obsessed with online in 2019.

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The Egg

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On Jan. 4, a new Instagram account posted the unremarkable stock photo above and stated its raison d'être. “Let’s set a world record together and get the most liked post on Instagram. Beating the current world record held by Kylie Jenner (18 million)! We got this,” the caption read. The mission was accomplished within 10 days, and by December the simple photo had nearly 54 million likes — proof that people have way too much time on their hands. The egg was later featured in a PSA created by the ad exec who started the account and funded by Hulu. It aimed to raise mental health awareness.

This year, good news was overshadowed by a government shutdown, impeachment debates, mass shootings and cheating scandals.

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White Claw summer

White Claw hard seltzer has been around since 2016, but in 2019 we got a full-on White Claw summer. In July, the phrase “Ain’t no laws when you’re drinking claws” spread with an assist from YouTube comedian Trevor Wallace. There was a rash of memes, videos, outrageous drinking contests, T-shirts and, eventually, Halloween costumes. There was even a shortage that might not have been a shortage after all. The multiflavored spiked seltzers’ relatively low alcohol and caloric content, plus the fact that the product is coincidentally gluten-free, made White Claw a marvel among millennials — or at least that was the running joke.

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Hot girl summer

Yup, 2019 had a choice of two summers. In May, Megan Thee Stallion released her first album, “Fever,” tagging herself a “hot girl,” and it grew from there. A couple months later she coined “hot girl summer,” solidifying a lifestyle trend. Gals, guys, playlists, TV shows, celebrities and brands were all celebrating their nongendered #hotgirlsummer. The rapper tweeted a midseason explanation: “Being a Hot Girl is about being unapologetically YOU, having fun, being confident, living YOUR truth, being the life of the party etc.” And, you know, memes and selfies and stuff. Around the time kids were prepping to head back to school, “Hot Girl Meg” dropped the very explicit song “Hot Girl Summer,” featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla Sign. The trademarking process is ongoing.

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‘Wrong answers only’

Now this was a social game anyone could get behind: Post a picture and pose a question, then demand wrong answers only. “Name this movie.” “Who is this?” “What does this person do for a living?” “What is happening here?” Wrong answers only. It was a flat-out invitation for punch lines, a kind of Cards Against Humanity for the social media set. Though this wasn’t the first time the concept had popped up online, the meme went viral on Twitter and beyond over the summer. There were some splendid results, especially in the “name this movie” category.

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Bottle cap challenge

With mystical beginnings involving a taekwondo instructor whose Instagram account is now private, the bottle cap challenge was born in late June. Days later, John Mayer and then Jason Statham made it mainstream with slo-mo videos of themselves roundhouse-kicking caps off of bottles. Suddenly everyone was kicking. The challenge sucked in lots of celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Lizzo and Ryan Reynolds, who tried his kick on an Aviation Gin bottle cap. Mariah Carey even sang one off. Oh, yeah, real people did the challenge too. Then Kendall Jenner ruined everything when she rode up on a jet ski and kicked a bottle cap into the ocean.

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FaceApp

First people loved it. Then they were terrified by it. When a new FaceApp filter went viral in July, normal and famous folks alike were initially delighted to show off what they would look like in their old age. More than 150 million people worldwide downloaded the app. Then some folks freaked out at the suggestion that the app might gain access to all of a user’s photos, not just a single picture uploaded for aging. Turns out that wasn’t true, but it sort of sucked the air out of the trend, as did this essay about the lesson to be learned from the FaceApp experience. Hint: It had nothing to do with online security but a lot to do with Social Security.

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‘Shallow’ at the Oscars

Social media Absolutely Knew that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper were a thing after the actors’ lovey-dovey “Shallow” performance at the 2019 Oscars. Gaga had broken up with fiancé Christian Carino in the midst of awards season, and Cooper would split from Irina Shayk in June. It got confusing! But the rumor wasn’t, and still isn’t, true. They definitely are not dating. Gaga would like it if people stopped asking her. In the meantime, the official video of the duet has almost 240 million views.

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Cheese challenge

For a few brutal weeks near the start of the year, people were chucking slices of American cheese at unsuspecting babies, then posting the videos online. Because cheese hanging off a baby’s face while they try to figure out what just happened is hilarious, right? Then older kids, adults and pets became targets too. So much pranky fun in such a small plastic wrapper. But the worm eventually turned and the guy who appears to have launched the cheese challenge on Twitter apologized for it, saying it had gotten “way out of hand.” Never fear: A baby is extremely unlikely to be traumatized by facial contact with a processed cheese food, experts said. And the pets? Well, they could just eat it.

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Meryl Streep’s scream

In the Season 2 premiere of “Big Little Lies,” Meryl Streep’s character, Mary Louise Wright, let out a scream. The online audience responded by letting out its memes. It was promptly declared the show’s best moment. Will the scream become like the theme song from “Cheers,” or Lady Gaga singing “Shallow”? Or will it simply stay a scream? Many fans predicted Streep would win an Emmy for the scream, but alas, Emmy rules mean the show’s second season isn’t eligible until 2020. Can a scream echo that long?

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The ‘Cats’ trailer

Forget about the mildly less upsetting second trailer that came out last month — it was the first sneak peek at the upcoming “Cats” movie that made the internet lose its collective mind. “I don’t know why you’re all freaking out over miniature yet huge cats with human celebrity faces and sexy breasts performing a demented dream ballet for kids,” one Twitter wit wrote. Though there was no single overwhelming meme, the single overwhelming reaction was, um, horror. “I know it’s been a couple of days, but we just wanted to do a wellness check on everyone who saw the #CatsTrailer,” an NPR’s “Wait, Wait” account tweeted in the aftermath. “Anyone need to talk?”

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OK, boomer

This dismissive reference to baby boomers or anyone perceived as old-fashioned, or even older, has been going around for a few years in memes, gifs and comments. That said, it went mega-mainstream at the end of October when the New York Times published the story “‘OK Boomer’ Marks the End of Friendly Generational Relations,” declaring that Gen Z had snapped over financial inequality and climate change. “Frankly, being unaware of the happenings among young people until the New York Times writes about it is possibly The Most Boomer Thing Ever,” the Los Angeles Times’ culture columnist Mary McNamara wrote in a piece titled “Relax, Boomers. You’re OK, Just Old.” Let’s see how long this one lasts, now that the grownups are in on the joke.

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Baby Yoda

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Baby Yoda, a.k.a. “the Child,” started on the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian,” but he belongs to the internet now. People don’t have to watch the show to love Baby Yoda, ’cause he’s just so dang cute, though he is neither a baby nor Yoda. Some memes revolved around him holding things; other see him messing around in the cockpit, listening to popular and not-so-popular tunes. Baby Yoda has religion. Baby Yoda is crafty. Even Elon Musk loves Baby Yoda. But the little green fella won’t make it to Earth, unfortunately, until a few months into 2020. Except for on the arm of that one guy. Yep, Baby Yoda won the internet in 2019.


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Christie D’Zurilla covers breaking entertainment news. A USC graduate, she joined the Los Angeles Times in 2003 and has 30 years of journalism experience in Southern California.