The first meme of 2018 was Mariah Carey publicly complaining that, prior to her New Year’s Eve performance, no one had brought her “hot tea.” It was funny and in keeping with Carey’s legendary diva antics, but it was also a GIF-able summation of the year’s desperate need for soothing. President Trump had closed out a horribly tense first year in the White House; Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria left devastation in their wakes; a man opened fire on a Las Vegas music festival, killing dozens; North Korea was testing nuclear weapons; we learned that Hollywood (and especially Harvey Weinstein) was a sexist hotbed of sexual coercion. We all needed that hot tea. The first memes of 2019 (Chrissy Teigen getting poked in the eye with an umbrella notwithstanding) strike a markedly different tone, often displaying a desperate kind of self-actualized intention.
If 2018 was the year of peak self-care, 2019 might shape up to be the year of peak self-optimization. This year the internet meme machine has churned out new New Year’s resolution formats focused on fine adjustment rather than vague, unattainable goals. It’s taking early stabs at defining “2019 energy” as something wacky but intentional. And it is obsessed with the beaming organization deity that is Marie Kondo, sending screenshots of her new Netflix program, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, zooming across Twitter. In 2019, meme creators are abandoning the typical resolution, which so often feels like a list of personal failings, for something more technical, informed, and designed to hack the human psyche: a quest for subtle shifts that will radically change the way you perceive your world, a kind of psychic weighted blanket to mollify 2019’s inevitable crises.
In 2019, meme creators are abandoning the typical resolution for
something designed to hack the human psyche: a psychic weighted
blanket to mollify 2019’s inevitable crises.
To say that most New Year’s resolutions are unsustainable and doomed to failure is, at this point, cliché. But rather than bemoaning the inevitability of failure, this year has people thinking granularly. Interest in habit– and resolution-tracking apps has spiked, as have the number of studies arguing that, to stick to resolutions, you should really just be sleeping more. It’s very Silicon Valley: Just hack your own brain into the most optimized version of itself.
That ethos has also bled over to memetic New Year’s resolution formats. Very Instagrammable lists of little things you’d like to do more and less replaced idealistic self-imposed goalposts. Over on Twitter, meme makers (semi-ironically) fixated on small moments to celebrate as emblems of the “2019 energy” they’d like to embody in the next year, which ranged from a dog in an excellent turtleneck to Catherine Zeta-Jones declaring she’ll no longer apologize for her success. Rather than dreary resolution fatalism or calling for wholesale change, these memes are more about celebrating the good things you’re already doing and fine-tuning the rest.
Over the last few days, that vibe has extended beyond overtly resolution-minded posts, helped along by Marie Kondo, the best-selling Japanese tidying guru behind the KonMari method of organization that has earned a cult-like following. Ever since Netflix released Tidying Up With Marie Kondo on New Year’s Day, Twitter has been awash with Kondo memes. The program is brimming with 2019 energy: Kondo and her translator arrive at the cluttered home of a harried American family, offer organization tips, and instruct them to keep only items that “spark joy” and to discard the rest after tenderly thanking the item for its service.
In places, the show is weird enough to be more traditional meme fodder—watching tiny Kondo gracefully kneel to greet each house while baffled Americans look on is certainly an experience—but it’s the show’s peaceful conclusions that have become a meme. The show gives the sense that familial harmony is attainable through small, simple acts of self-refinement, such as putting your stuff in boxes within boxes. It’s not a typical reality TV makeover show: There is no shocking aspirational-yet-unattainable transformation, just better folding and a palpable calm that radiates from those Kondo has assisted.
The show gives the sense that familial harmony is attainable through
small, simple acts of self-refinement, such as putting your stuff in
boxes within boxes.
To many, the meme bridge between this year and last is Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” which came out in November. The Kondo memes in particular re-create that same feeling of moving on by graciously, gratefully discarding the things holding you back. (For Kondo, it’s just bad shirts rather than exes.) It’s too early to say definitively, but this internet obsession with self-optimization could point to a zeitgeist shift: If 2017 was a dumpster fire and 2018 was about healing through self-care, 2019 memes are emphasizing tweaking your behavior as a form of self-love. It’s a move toward mindful inwardness that feels like a culture battening down the hatches against a broader world that often defies logic and decency. We know now that that hot tea—or any other form of well-being ex machina—is never actually going to arrive, so we’re learning to thank our socks instead.