Famous Memes Then And Now

Famous Memes Then And Now


Who doesn’t love memes? From the dankest image macros to your mom’s Facebook memes, there’s something for everyone. Yet what we tend to forget is that memes are often real people with real lives.

So, what’s it like being a meme? How does one become a meme? And what happens after you become a meme? Let’s find out, as we take a look at some famous memes then and now!

Bad Luck Brian

Let’s take a trip back to 2012. You were probably still poking people on Facebook, while also being completely convinced that the world’s about to end. It was probably around this time when you first saw Kyle Craven’s 2005 yearbook photo or, as it were: ‘Bad Luck Brian’.


It was meme that shows a brace-faced teen who, according to the captions, often finds himself in hilariously humiliating situations. Like throwing his own birthday party and not being invited.


Despite the meme’s central focus experiencing some awful hypotheticals, the real-life Kyle actually has a great sense of humor. He was in on the joke from the start, having posed with an intentionally goofy smile for this yearbook photo. Little did Kyle know, however, that his intentionally terrible portrait would give birth to a little baby Brian, who’d become one of the greatest memes ever.

Half a decade after the photo had been taken, it’s 2012, and Kyle’s school-chum, Ian Davies, makes a meme from the photo and uploads it to Reddit. Ian created the character of an unlucky guy, hence the subsequent name, ‘Bad luck Brian’.

Ian’s original meme joked about getting a DUI on a driving test, but it wasn’t until another Reddit user recaptioned the photo with a trusty old poop joke that Bad Luck Brian began capture the internet’s imagination, with millions of people sharing jokes at “Brian’s” expense.


Sixteen years on and the man behind the meme, Kyle Craven, is all grown up. From getting his braces off, to even having a wife and two kids, it seems things aren’t so bad after all. After his school days, Kyle went on to graduate in Construction Management, which serves him well at his father’s construction company.

What’s more, his infamous yearbook photo really has proven to be the money-shot, as he’s secured countless merchandising deals. From board games and Walmart t-shirts, to even featuring in McDonalds’ online marketing, it seems lady-luck really is on Brian’s side now.

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Success Kid

Success Kid is a magnificent vintage meme. Ranking among other dust-covered meme ancestors, like ‘Bad luck Brian’, Success Kid is just one of those memes that speaks to a bygone era of memology, yet it lives on as one of the founding fathers.

It began in 2007, with a snapshot of 11-month-old Sammy Griner at the beach; with a fistful of sand and a face full of pride, the meme was hatched.


Sammy’s mom, Lainey, uploaded the photo to Flickr, where it was initially perceived as a kid who hates sandcastles. However, the focus soon shifted to his proud face and pumped fist, which matched perfectly with text prompts about small personal victories, leading to the name ‘Success Kid’.

In 2012 the photo was licensed and has since brought the family considerable revenue through a range of merchandising deals. Not only that, but the meme is so powerful that it’s even saved a life. In 2015 Sammy’s dad, Justin, was in need of kidney transplant. And by the power of the meme, the family raised over $100,000 for the surgery on a GoFundMe page.

Sammy is now 15 and looks a whole lot different. And besides being Success Kid, these days he’s also Cool Kid, as he enjoys art, music, and skateboarding. No word on whether he still hates sandcastles, though.


Overly Attached Girlfriend

Did you know that Justin Bieber is kinda responsible for one of the greatest memes ever? Picture this: it’s 2012. Hormonal teens swoon in their masses for the Bieber, they call themselves ‘Beliebers’.

J.B. held a competition where fans could parody his hit song, “Boyfriend”, but from the perspective of the girlfriend. This inspired then 21-year-old Laina Morris to create an “overly-attached girlfriend” parody.

With wide-eyes and a wider, unnerving grin, Laina’s parody about obsessively stalking and controlling her boyfriend rapidly became viral, amassing more than 170,000 views in its first day.

Watch on YouTube

And it wasn’t long before screenshots of Laina’s face were characterized into the Overly Attached Girlfriend memes we know today.

But where is Laina now? Locking men up in her basement? Not quite. The now-30-year-old has hung up the old wide-eyes and murder-you-in-your-sleep smile. For 8 years, she rode the wave of YouTube success but, in a video titled ‘Breaking Up with You… Tube’, uploaded July 2019, she said farewell, revealing the toll content-creating had taken on her mental health.

But the hustle wasn’t over. Cashing in on her meme, Laina managed to sell the macro image as an NFT in April 2021 for $411,000!

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And if you’re wondering ‘what is an NFT?’, it’s essentially a digital signature, or ‘token’, that a creator can assign to their intellectual property, officially certifying it as the ‘original’. Although, how meaningful paying to own the original copy of a meme that can be downloaded online for free is well that’s up to you to decide.

NFTs aside, Laina is still very much active on Instagram, and aside from short comedy skits, she blesses the world with regular pics of her dogs, Gilly and Biscuit. And, I have to say, being an Overly Attached Dog Mom seems a much healthier option than the meme that made her famous.

Disaster Girl

If you’ve ever wondered what happens if you don’t buy Cookies from the girl scouts who knock on your door, just look at this meme.


Jokes aside, the girl pictured in this classic ‘disaster girl’ meme is actually 5-year-old Zoe Roth, who, to my knowledge, is neither a Girl Scout nor Firestarter. In a Buzzfeed interview, the now 22-year-old revealed the true origins of the hilariously sinister-looking image.

She explained that someone in her neighborhood wanted to clear their land, so they donated their house to the fire brigade for a test burn. Zoe’s dad, an amateur photographer, saw this as a perfect photo-op, and asked Zoe to pose in front of the house.

Fast forward to 2008, and his photo won a competition in the JPG photography magazine. Having gained attention from this, it began to circulate the internet, with humorous fake context added by text overlays. Before the Roths knew it, the photo had gone viral.

Going by the memes, you might assume Zoe now resides in a Women’s House of Detention. But she’s actually a graduate of the University of North Carolina, after, ironically, studying peace, war and defense.

Not only that, but she’s even managed to strike a $486,716 fortune after selling her meme as an NFT back in April 2021.

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Seems like a lot to pay, sure, but would you dare to say no to that fiery gaze?

Side-Eyeing Chloe

Disgust. Confusion. Anger. That’s exactly how you want your kid to react when you surprise them with a Disneyland trip, right?

Well, back in 2013, 2-year-old Chloe Clem became a viral meme due to her relatable ‘side-eye’ expression. After being told the news that she was going to Disneyland, Chloe glared into the soul of the internet, in a video that now boasts over 20 million views.

Watch on YouTube

Now, while it’s more likely that Chloe was just startled, rather than angered, by the revelation, her reaction still made for great meme-material, and was made into a GIF by Tumblr users. This was brought to wider attention soon after in a Buzzfeed article, and thus the ‘Side-Eyeing Chloe’ meme was born!

But has Chloe managed to turn that frown upside-down? Well, the now 11-year-old is doing regular things for her age, like making slime, with updates occasionally being shared on the YouTube channel run by her mom.

And speaking of Chloe’s mom, going by this recreation of her daughter’s famous photo, you can see where Chloe gets it from!


What’s more, the pair have hatched a cunning plan to capitalize on Chloe’s signature side-eye. They plan to take their meme to the NFT market, with bids starting at $15,000.

And while mom wants to use the money to put Chloe through college, Chloe says she’d like to use the money to buy a pony and, ironically, build her own Disney World. Which just goes to show, even someone with a reaction as bitterly disgusted as Side-Eye Chloe can have a change of heart over time!

Nyan Cat

In early 2011, our meme-cestors were yet to imagine a flying, rainbow-farting, Pop-Tart cat. But, for the greater good of mankind, that was all about to change. 2011’s very own Michelangelo, Chris Torres, has since explained how it began with a charity fundraiser.

He was taking part in a drawing livestream where viewers could make requests, as they hurled different words towards him, he decided to make an amalgamation of them all, which resulted in a rainbow-farting Pop-Tart cat.

The doodle was great, but as he slept that night, Chris literally had dreams of taking it to the next level. He claims as soon as he woke up, he began creating the 8-bit animation we now know as ‘Nyan Cat’.


And the best part is, barring its Pop-Tart body and flying abilities, the cat was inspired by Chris’ own Russian Blue, Marty! The good news is that Chris also recently sold the meme as an NFT, raking in a whopping $587,000.

The bad news, however, is that in November 2012, Marty, the muse for Nyan Cat, sadly passed away. Though I’d like to think that he’s somewhere up there still flying high.

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Charlie Bit My Finger

These days, YouTube is overflowing with content – heck, it’s what keep me in a job! Yet in the olden days of YouTube, watching a baby bite his older brother’s finger was enough to keep us entertained for hours!

In May 2007, British father, Howard Davies-Carr, uploaded a video of his two sons, Harry and Charlie, as a way to keep in touch with their godfather who lived in America.


The hilarious video, which centers around Harry getting his finger bitten by Charlie, quickly caught more than just their godfather’s attention, as it gained 92 million views in its first 2 years. It became the platform’s most viewed video in 2009, with 130 million views. As of mid-2021, the video had snapped up a mind-blowing 886 million views!

But what are things like for the Davies-Carr family now? Well, the boys are all grown up; Charlie the finger chomper is now 14 and Harry the finger chompee 17. Neither have delved into a career of cannibalism.

They’re still at school, so we’re yet to see what they’ll pursue, though Charlie has enjoyed his taste of internet fame and plans to become a vlogger, while Harry likes the idea of becoming an engineer.

In May 2021, the family sold the video as an NFT for a staggering $760,999, coincidentally to the same guy who also bought ‘Disaster Girl’ and ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend’, removing it from YouTube as part of the process.

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And while memes may seem like a dumb purchase, like precious artworks, they’re predicted by some to hold their value and become more valuable over time.

Have You Ever Had A Dream?

If memes were poetry, then this next entry, one of my personal favorites, would be the work of Shakespeare. Just check this video:

Watch on YouTube

Couldn’t have put it better myself. This meme’s origins began in 1999 when an HBO production for a video adaptation of the children’s book, ‘Goodnight Moon’ visited a little lad named Joe Cirkiel’s school to audition kids.

Joe was keen to audition, but when interviewed, things took a turn. When asked about dreams, Joe attempted to reference a line from one of his favorite movies, Hercules.

Watch on YouTube

Though Joe’s interpretation was hardly Oscar-worthy, after being invited to the screening, Joe was surprised to see that his audition had been used as a blooper. The audience erupted into laughter, but Joe was left woefully embarrassed.

12 years later in 2011, YouTuber ‘lololark’ uploaded the clip, and since then it has been reposted and gained over 78 million views.

But what’s this little dreamer doing now? According to his LinkedIn profile, Joe is now founder of his own company ‘Far East Coast LLC’, where he successfully works generating and signal-boosting social media content.

Blinking White Guy

If you looked up the expression ‘what the heck’, you’d probably be presented with a picture of Drew Scanlon’s face, or rather, ‘Blinking White Guy’.

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It is, after all, the most accurate display of bafflement humanity has produced to date. But, as memes often are, it was a string of unrelated events that led to the inception of this classic meme.

It’s 2013 and Drew makes his routine appearance on the YouTube channel GiantBomb. While playing the game ‘Starbound’, one of the players commentates, ‘I’ve been doing some farming… with my hoe,’ it was this double-entendre that prompted Drew to perform his iconic blinks.

Watch on YouTube

The meme is first thought to have been used in 2015 in a comment on NeoGAF, a videogame discussion forum. It wasn’t until 2017 that the meme spiked in popularity, when it began being repurposed for various reactions on Twitter.

These days, almost a decade since the original video aired, Drew looks a little different. With grown out hair and beard, plus of course a little bit of age, Drew doesn’t get recognized very often. He even says most folks don’t realize he’s the guy from the famous meme.

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But with great meme comes great responsibility, and Drew has used his meme-gained fame to raise over $78,000 for the national Multiple Sclerosis Society, proving that everything can change in a blink!

Distracted Boyfriend

If you type ‘famous memes’ into Google, one of the first ones you’ll see is none other than ‘Distracted Boyfriend’. A true masterpiece gifted to us by stock photography.


Created by stock photographer Antonio Guillem, the photo was taken in 2015. In an interview with Wired, Guillem said he planned to create a series of stock photos exploring infidelity, but “in a playful and fun” way.

Fast forward to 2017 and the Shutterstock image was posted into a Turkish progressive rock Facebook group. The meme centered around Phil Collins favoring pop music over progressive rock.


And it was from there on that ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ came to symbolize the preference for something you want, over something you already have.

Upon discovering they’d been meme-ed, the models and Guillem were astonished by its virality, with Guillem even claiming to not know what a meme was. Little is known about where the models are now, but when they are is an entirely different question.

In a weird glitch of the matrix, people have discovered a vintage edition of Distracted Boyfriend. The shot comes from Charlie Chaplin’s 1922 film, ‘Pay Day’, and the resemblance is uncanny.

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Time travel or not, it’s clear to see, no matter the time or place, human beings never quite seem satisfied with what they already have!

Hide the Pain Harold

In the land of the meme, stock photography really is the gift that keeps on giving. And if you ask me, András Arató’s series of stock photos, or should I say, ‘Hide the Pain Harold’, is the eighth wonder of the world.


While on holiday, Andras uploaded a few selfies to social media, which caught the attention of a stock photographer who was clearly after a ‘someone-is-pointing-a-gun-at-me’ kinda smile.

After tracking Andras down, they produced hundreds of stock photos which showed Andras in a variety of situations and occupations. Andras later explained how he became tired of having to smile during the shoots, which is why his smile looks like it’s causing him grave pain.

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While the first use of these images can be traced back to 2011, the fictional character ‘Harold’ is thought to have been born in 2014. In a 4chan thread that year, users created a narrative about an unhappy and silently hateful man, who’s working as a stock-photography model, spawning the nickname ‘Hide the Pain Harold’.

When Andras initially discovered people were taking his photos out of context and adding funny text, he wasn’t best pleased, stating: “I’m not a funny guy”. Though upon reflection, Andras now takes it in his stride and embraces his meme status. He says that he sees the joy he brings to people’s lives and how happy they are when they spot him in public.


The story of Doge is truly one of rags to riches. After being born at a Japanese puppy farm that was eventually shutdown by the authorities, the Shiba Inu was sent to the animal shelter.

It was here that she would be adopted and named ‘Kabosu’ by her new mom, Atsuko Satō. In 2010, Atsuko uploaded photos of Kabosu to her personal blog, though there was one particular shot that grabbed people’s attention.

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The name ‘Doge’ was first assigned to the cute pooch in 2010 after a Reddit user reposted the photo, with the intentional misspelling, to a small, but positive response.

Then, in 2012, more photos of Kabosu were posted to the Tumblr blog ‘Shiba Confessions’ where they were overlayed broken English phrases in Comic Sans, such as ‘wow’, and ‘so scare’.


These phrases seemed to fit the inner mind of a dog bizarrely well, and the meme’s popularity began to increase. It was in August 2013, though, when for some reason a group of 4chan users raided the tongue-in-cheek patriotic subreddit r/Murica with dozens of images of Doge, that things began to really take off.

And unlike previous clashes between Reddit and 4chan, there was little opposition; the meme, instead, being embraced, and spreading across the web like wildfire.

Since her rise to fame, Doge has not only entered the hearts of millions, but the cryptocurrency market! In case you’ve been living under a rock, Bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, is essentially a digital currency that can be exchanged for traditional money.

And in 2013, software engineers Billy Markus and Jackson Palmer created their own cryptocurrency with ‘Dogecoin’. Doge is basically royalty, her face plastered on her own virtual penny!


In November 2021, the O.G. Doge, Kabosu, turned 16, as she celebrated with her 375,000 Instagram followers. However, the beloved dog is now suffering from leukemia.


2013 was a simpler time when Vine still existed. It was essentially the TikTok for Millennials. Many stars rose from the platform, but none more meme-worthy than Gavin Thomas.

Making his debut in 2013, when he was just 2-and-a-half, Gavin found fame through his uncle, Nick Mastodon’s Vines. His cameos on Nick’s Vine account were extremely popular, thanks to his hilariously expressive facial expressions and the occasional seemingly fake smile that could rival Hide the Pain Harold’s at times.

Watch on YouTube

Naturally, people in their droves began turning screenshots of Gavin into memes, usually with text mentioning some uncomfortable situation that matched Gavin’s expressions. Gavin’s mom, Kate, later explained how she never expected any of the extensive popularity, but that it was great to see so many people show love for her son.

These days, Gavin is a little more mature, a now 9-year-old boy. We can assume he’s grown out of those adorable Ninja Turtles pyjamies. He’s also acquired an astonishing 1.6 million followers on his own Instagram, where he keeps his fans happy with regular Gavin content, often co-starring his chickens.

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The great thing is, now that he’s approaching his teenage years, when Gavin inevitably experiences all those cringeworthy teen moments everyone goes through in high school, he’ll be able to use his own baby videos for the perfect reaction gifs!

Roll Safe

Like Gavin, Kayode Ewumi is another meme legend who found fame using Vine. Kayode created the character Reece Smith, who due to his initials had given himself the nickname ‘Roll Safe’. With his lisp and various shenanigans, he was presented as a lovable idiot, and unintentionally became a meme.

Kayode’s Vine character was such a hit, that he accepted an offer to develop Roll Safe in the form of an online mockumentary series, produced by BBC.

Yet there was one meme-able moment in particular that stuck out. First screenshotted and utilized as a text reaction shot by the ‘FootyHumor’ Twitter account in 2016, a simple, yet impactful grin and tap to the head is all it would take to blast Roll Safe into meme royalty.

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The meme soon spread, being used to express clever thinking, either as a gesture of outsmarting someone, or sarcastically, when jokingly presenting an obviously dumb idea as smart.

By 2017, the meme had rolled safe to success, but in 2022, what’s Kayode doing now? Well, much to fans’ disappointment, Kayode never continued the Roll Safe character, even after reportedly being offered big-bucks to do so.

Kayode’s explained in interviews how, in his view, leaving fans wanting more would maintain the value of the character. Not only this, but his clear comedic ability also left him in high in demand, leading to other projects, such as the BBC TV sitcom ‘Enterprice’, which Kayode wrote and starred in.


And nothing says Roll Safe like the kind of outsmarting that elevates someone from a meme to a TV star!

Feel Old Yet?

Ironically, the very topic of this article, memes then and now, has itself become a meme. Therefore, I’d be remiss not to delve into it a little.

Often with the caption ‘feel old yet?’, this variety of meme shows both meme-stars and celebrities jokingly paired with an older look-alike. The results, while completely fictional, can be pretty convincing, though most of the time, they’re just hilarious!

That being said, I have to admit, I’m still not convinced some of these aren’t the real deal!

Aren't Sid from Toy Story and actor Will Poulter aren’t the same person, just existing in alternate universes.

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And Draco Malfoy? This one’s a stretch, but if, hypothetically, Harry Potter and Draco were to have a rap-battle, I know who I’d put my money on.


I’d just like to clarify that Malfoy isn’t the real Slim-Shady. Although, if he is, he should probably stand up.

I hope you enjoyed our investigation of the most famous memes then and now! Thanks for reading.

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