As you scroll through Instagram’s Explore section, checking out the curated “Videos You Might Like” (that may or may not come from Facebook’s data gathering algorithms) you come across a video where someone, be it a character from Spongebob or Despicable Me, gets insulted by another character. Cue a black and white screen on their reaction, along with. . . the Evil Morty’s Theme Song?
On paper, this sounds pretty generic and lame. But we all know that these kinds of memes, where a joke combined with a song creates so much more than just a simple FBI gag. There’s more emotion; more intensity. The presence of that song creates a feeling that otherwise wouldn’t ever come to surface.
Take another example: the Shooting Stars song. It’s most commonly played with a character, snipped out as they are tripping or falling, flying through a variety of scenes from the subatomic level to the cosmos. It never makes sense. But it’s funny, in that you just see someone in an awkward position spinning in unnatural conditions to upbeat music. There’s just so much contradictory information ongoing at once that there’s no point in trying to understand – you just have to accept it. Without that music, would the same effect be created? Not at all.
With this unioning of song and joke, it all boils down to one thing: the song needs to have a quality melody that definitively conveys a personality. Be it sad, with the Evil Morty’s, or carefree, like the Shooting Stars, that familiar melody is what makes or breaks the meme. As said before, the melody doesn’t necessarily have to agree with what’s going on: the Shooting Star meme works because nothing about it makes sense. However, the melody just needs to be memorable and identifiable, in that it can be used to create a specific mood no matter what the joke is about.
In this regard, what about memey songs on their own? A song with a distinct theme can be a meme in it of itself, such as with What Does the Fox Say or We Are Number One. Those songs grew wildly popular for their unique, bizarre style that simply stood out on their own. They have been paired up with jokes over time, but at their core, their popularity lies in the simple fact that they were quirkily idiosyncratic.
We like songs that are memey for the same reason we like memes at all: they directly exemplify emotions that we otherwise wouldn’t have. It fills the holes of our generation, created by the increasing pressure put onto us by older generations on our job to go to college and be successful in an increasingly competitive environment, fix the growing climate catastrophe before it is too late, and resolve the gun debate.
Or, maybe it’s just because they’re funny and unusual.