In 2018, meme trends have been going slower than usual, and this seems to have become the norm. Certain popular memes are reused and milked for creativity before they are discarded again to make room for more attempts at the same thing, and it appears people are getting bored with this inclination. In early August, users of r/memeeconomy turned on one another over the subreddit’s tendency to favor two particular types of formats, SpongeBob and label memes, over more original content. For several weeks after, everyone tried to either avoid or exploit these, and it led to a period of time in which original content was harder to find. Then, the rise of a new meme in August marked an end to this, as well as the beginning of a potential shift in meme trends – Johnny Johnny Yes Papa.
Johnny Johnny is significant because it’s one of very few memes to have been both dank and mainstream simultaneously. It gained its popularity when a children’s YouTube video titled “Yes Mommy Song” went viral on Twitter, racking up a total of nearly 120 million views and counting. From there, Johnny Johnny blew up on every social media platform, both captivating and terrifying millions of people nationwide.
From the original video alone, it’s easy to see why Johnny Johnny became a meme. It seems like everyone online loves dark humor, and this is the darkest kind there is – perpetuating the reign of something that was intended to be a family-friendly parable but instead ended up giving children a reason to fear the internet.
Based off an inexplicably famous nursery rhyme, the plot of “Yes Mommy Song” follows failing attempts to eat made by Johnny, an ambiguously-aged child whose head accounts for more than half of his total height and leaves him with an unfortunate resemblance to the Boss Baby. Johnny’s father refuses to allow him to consume anything, from sandwiches to toothpaste to sugar. However, a four-foot-tall sentient ice cream cone, who is either a mutated sibling or lives in Johnny’s tormented subconscious mind, graciously provides him with a lollipop in order to prevent the boy from starving.
This alone should have been enough material for memes, but the endeavors of Johnny Johnny gained further attention because “Yes Mommy Song” is only one of 223 videos in a universe straight out of a poorly animated nightmare. These other videos are equally disturbing and portray Johnny, his parents, and his many siblings all participating in inexplicable activities such as bathing in an outdoor swimming pool during a thunderstorm, eating “ball ice cream” in various fruit flavors while accompanied by a gorilla, and robbing a very reluctant talking refrigerator of the food (or organs?) it apparently needs to survive.
The same two voice actors were used for every character, random sound effects are inappropriately timed to follow their every movement, and the English is not translated well enough to be intelligible. But these other flaws are nothing compared to the visual aspects, which are perhaps the greatest appeal of the Johnny Johnny meme. In these videos, adults walk like they are attempting to lunge across the floor at the slowest pace possible. Every time someone turns their abnormally large head, their unfocusing eyes have to follow one by one. Crudely-drawn dust clouds are kicked up every time a character takes a step; after all, they are disturbing the hallowed ground upon which horrid creatures like them should never walk. The animation has inspired people to attempt to do worse, which has led to the creation of crudely-animated remakes far worse than the original.
Most of these videos revolved around Johnny eating sugar. Sometimes he’d eat other foods and even random objects, such as silverware and live pigs. Surreal edits and deep fried memes became common as well. And since internet users can’t be trusted with anything, the memes got progressively more twisted until they ended up with some wildly inappropriate takes on Johnny’s relationship with his father. For a little while, we all forgot about the SpongeBob and label meme dilemma, and managed to focus on Johnny Johnny.
Johnny Johnny memes were at their peak for about a week and yet continued to live on well past that point, becoming a meme with an exceptional lifespan. Predictably, not all of that time was spent within the dank meme community, but instead in the mainstream media.
One of the most popular draws to Johnny Johnny was the numerous conspiracy theories that broke out across the internet. The most popular of which is the belief that Johnny is the victim of an abusive household, which is easily justified considering Johnny, who is apparently starving through the entire video, is only loved by an ice cream cone in human shorts. Johnny Johnny also became the source of text posts and other mainstream forms of memes, as well as simply a source of jokes in online conversations.
Because of how big the Johnny Johnny became, it could be an indicator of a bigger trend in the meme economy. Back at the beginning of August, the lack of new original content led to the creation of memes mocking memeing itself. This means the addition of Johnny Johnny might have prevented the meme economy from dissolving itself in a black hole of failing stock photo formats. It also might have attracted newer members of the dank meme community, similar to how Harambe memes caused people to be more interested in viral trends back in 2016. However, there’s a downside – if more people following the mainstream media are becoming aware of current meme trends, it could also result in memes going normie faster. Either way, the scale of which Johnny Johnny has impacted the meme economy is yet to be seen.