The Meme Song Showdown
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Ah, memes. Weird, cryptic things that dictionaries often fail to define, because memes are like nonsensical inside jokes shared by millions that can only be vaguely understood by experience. Inside the general category of memes lies a subcategory called “meme songs,” which have had an undeniable impact on pop culture. Parts of “Barbie Girl” and the Wii theme song are instantly recognized and are often sung among friends.
While all meme songs have a special place in our hearts, there can only be one victor. Let the championship begin!
NUMBER FOUR: “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley
“Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley was released in 1987 and became a meme in 2007. The song is largely famous for its role in “rickrolling,” a harmless prank in which internet users are tricked by misleading messages or thumbnails into clicking on a link that brings them to the “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video.
For a meme song, this ‘80s dance-pop track is innocently ordinary. The bass and drums make for a moderately satisfying groove, and Astley’s vocal performance is sincere. Unfortunately, the song fails to leave any lasting impression—the lyrics are emotionless, the instrumentation is overdone and repetitive, and Astley’s dancing is questionable.
While ranking the all-star (pun intended) of meme songs last was hard to do, this competition is one of quality, not popularity, making this ranking inevitable.
NUMBER THREE: “All Star” by Smash Mouth
“All Star” by Smash Mouth is a rock song that was released in 1999. After the song’s appearance in the movie “Shrek (2001),” the song became a meme when people parodied it on social media.
Contributing both to the meme and the quality of the song is the absurdity of the music video, in which the lead singer of Smash Mouth appears in an unflattering pair of sunglasses and sings in a nasal tone. Nonetheless, the lyrics are surprisingly meaningful, as they encourage the listener to have fun and chase after their dreams.
While the instrumentation is far from extraordinary, the refined groove created by the snappy drums and the laid-back vibe of the guitars are perfect for this playful song. The song’s structure is also innovative, going beyond the typical verse-chorus format to include a breakdown, melancholic bridge, and chorus with more mellow instrumentation. While the hip-hop influence in the breakdown doesn’t fit in with the rest of the song, the other two unique sections add surprising heart to it.
NUMBER TWO: “MEGALOVANIA” by Toby Fox
Coming in as a close second is “MEGALOVANIA,” an instrumental electronic track most notable for its appearance in the popular video game “Undertale.” The song became a meme in 2016 when people began uploading videos of themselves playing the main hook on everything from kazoos to doorbells.
This song is most successful in its musical composition, sporting the catchiest melodies on the list and a structural progression that takes the listener on an emotional journey. The retro lead synths, metal-inspired guitars and drums, and packed instrumentation also make for a satisfying sound. The energetic, lo-fi production both compliments the retro look of “Undertale” and pairs well with the climactic moment in the game’s story.
NUMBER ONE: “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X
For a man who chose his stage name as a joke, it’s only fitting that Lil Nas X’s smash hit “Old Town Road” would be a joke, too. First released in 2018, the song became a meme the following year after it trended on TikTok.
In terms of sound, the song wins for being both the most addictive and innovative. The blend between country and trap is seamless, with the country vocals and lazy guitar beat accentuated by modern trap drums and satisfying 808s. Lil Nas X’s Southern twang adds richness to the track while Billy Ray Cyrus brings that authentic country tone, making for a fantastic vocal performance. Finally, the lyrics are masterfully packed with satisfying rhyme and alliteration, cowboy imagery, and personality.
The song’s music video also stands out for the way it addresses the racial controversy around this song. In 2019, Billboard removed “Old Town Road” from its country chart, a move which many suspected was racially motivated. Yet, in the song’s “Official Movie,” Lil Nas X enjoys himself in the face of violent white cowboys who “weren’t too welcoming to outsiders,” and even persuades an all-white room of cowboys to party. The way the song persevered through its removal from the country charts to become an anthem for the “black yeehaw agenda” is perhaps the greatest thing a meme song has ever achieved, earning the song its number one spot.
The songs came, they fought and grappled with each other, and now no other ranking is acceptable. While “Never Gonna Give You Up” might have been an easy last place, the competition for second and third place was fierce. Although meme songs may not matter much in the grand scheme of the universe, they certainly matter in the bizarre world of teen culture and, of course, in our hearts.