The top 10 memes, viral videos, and online goings-on that defined 2014

john maino performs the als ice bucket challenge
Credit: John Maino via Creative Commons

Alex from Target. Meghan Trainor. The Ice Bucket Challenge (brrrr!). Those are just 3 of the 10 biggest memes and videos that went viral in 2014. If you can name them all, you’re either incredibly connected or incredibly tormented.

I’m not going to lie to you: It took me forever to pull this list together because I kept getting distracted by other videos and memes. Here’s hoping the same fate doesn’t await you as you read on.

1. Alex From Target breaks Twitter

alex from target cropped Credit: Via Know Your Meme

A portion of the original photo of Alex From Target.

Not long ago, Alex Lee was just your ordinary teenager. He went to school. He had a part-time job at Target. All normal teenage stuff. And then someone went and tweeted a “spy” photo of him bagging groceries.

Literally overnight, Alex went from a kid trying to make a few bucks to an Internet sensation and something of a teen heartthrob. He became a trending topic on Twitter, and even got to join Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show. Internet users responded by recognizing retail workers in their own neighborhoods, like Steve From Starbucks and Betty From Wal-Mart.

2. ‘Too Many Cooks’ breaks our brains

If you’re a product of the 80s and 90s, sitcoms from the era have likely left an indelible mark. After all, who hasn’t caught themselves humming the the theme from Night Court?

Just me? Oh.

“Too Many Cooks,” an 11-minute video aired late at night on Adult Swim, takes this TV kitsch and elevates it to a whole new level of absurdity. It starts as a spoof of sitcom opening credits and, well, takes quite a turn. And then another. And another. And...

Just try to watch it without having your brain melt. I dare you. (Advance warning: It’s somewhat NSFW.)

3. ‘All About That Bass’ won’t leave my head

Suddenly, it’s everywhere—on TV. On the radio. On the news. And even if you don’t know about it, you somehow know about it. What is it? Meghan Trainor’s absurdly catchy song, “All About That Bass.”

The song, which takes aim at society’s unrealistic’s standards of beauty, currently ranks 10th on the iTunes Store’s top songs list. The music video stands at over 400 million views on YouTube as of this writing, and it’s spawned countless parodies and mentions in other popular media. Not bad for a song that’s only about six months old.

4. Neither will Weird Al’s ‘Tacky’

I still have Pharrell WIlliams’ song “Happy” stuck in my head, but Weird Al had his way with the catchy tune and somehow made it even more catchy? Is that even possible? Re-watch and judge for yourself.

5. Charitable giving goes viral

No list of memes and viral videos would be complete without the Ice Bucket Challenge. It started sometime in 2013 as a way to raise money for charity, but it became primarily a way to support ALS research. And by the summer of 2014, it became something of a cultural phenomenon.

How popular was the ice bucket challenge? So popular that even the CEOs of all the biggest names in tech took part in the frenzy.

Not everyone was on board, though: Will Oremus at Slate criticized the Ice Bucket Challenge, saying, “More than anything else, the ice bucket videos feel like an exercise in raising awareness of one’s own zaniness, altruism, and/or attractiveness in a wet T-shirt.” He instead encouraged his readers to just give money without drenching themselves with ice water.

Still, the Ice Bucket Challenge seems to have worked: The ALS Foundation says it has received over $115 million in donations since late July.

6. Joe Biden as Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden is no stranger to memes, and he got the Internet’s attention a couple of times this year, especially when, well, when this happened back in January.

A recent addition to The Legend of Biden is the Sad Joe Biden meme, in which people write captions for a photo of Biden staring out a window at the White House.

sad joe biden

7. Cats turn down for...something

Cats still rule the Internet—we know this to be a fact. Combine adorable kittens with electronic dance music and you get Kitten Jam. The video features two cats bobbing their heads to DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What,” and I could watch it on repeat for hours.

D’aww.

8. Devil Baby Attacks!

What would you do if you heard a baby crying in a stroller with no sign of the child’s parents in sight? You’d probably walk over and investigate, right? That’s exactly what the hapless folks who were lured in by the Devil Baby did, only to have the everliving crap scared out of them.

The Devil Baby, of course, isn’t really the spawn of Satan; instead, it’s an animatronic creation from the folks behind the film Devil’s Due. Very funny...unless you fall for it.

9. The Internet won’t let it go, let it go

The storm of attention surrounding Disney’s Frozen raged on in 2014 (it never bothered me, anyway), and it’s carried over to YouTube. Do a quick search for “let it go parody”on YouTube, and you’ll get over a million results.

10. Going viral to make a change

From #YesAllWomen to #BlackLivesMatter, the Internet once again showed it can foster important discussion that just might lead to lasting change.

One highly publicized video tackled the issue of catcalling: It followed a woman as she walked through Manhattan for ten hours and captured some of the responses she received from men as she walked by. With 38 million views, it was one of YouTube’s top trending videos of 2014

But no viral video topped this:

Bonus: ‘Gangnam Style’ literally breaks YouTube

Psy’s Gangnam Style is not a 2014 phenomenon, but it’s remained popular online despite becoming old news. In 2014, The Meme That Will Never Die surpassed 2,147,483,647 views—the point at which YouTube’s views counter stopped working.

YouTube has since fixed the issue, allowing the view counter to keep counting, but if anything, as our Brad Chacos pointed out, the news of the broken counter gave us all another excuse to marvel at Psy’s masterpiece.

gangham style

If any viral video could be called classic, it's this one.

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