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“If you play this song on New Year’s Eve”: 2017’s last great meme is all about what you make of it

The moral of the meme: Celebrate 2018 any way you like.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

If you’ve been on social media at all this week, you’ve probably seen variants of the last great meme craze of 2017: advice on how to ring in the new year with the perfect song.

The “If You Play This Song on New Year’s Eve” meme goes like this: “If you play [X song] at exactly [X:XX:XX time] on New Year’s Eve, [some amazing, profound, hilarious, or ironic part of X song] will play as the clock strikes midnight. Start the new year off right.”

The website KnowYourMeme identifies this type of fixed-format text meme as a “snowclone,” and for the second half of December, this particular snowclone has flooded several social media platforms, especially Twitter. Its appeal seems to lie in the fact that everyone has a different idea about what the perfect song or mood to transition from one year to the next should be.

Popular recurring choices include just about any excerpt of Toto’s “Africa,” the drum solo in Phil Collins’s “Coming in the Air Tonight,” the “Ting goes Skraaa!” part of Big Shaq’s viral gangsta rap parody “Man’s Not Hot,” and the opening, “It’s Britney, bitch,” from Britney Spears’s song “Gimme More,” to name just a few of many, many suggestions.

You might think a meme this straightforward couldn’t possibly have very many layers, but in fact there are many layers. Let’s peel them back together.

The New Year’s Eve song meme originated on Reddit

Like many trends that became huge Twitter memes, this one actually started elsewhere. In this instance, “elsewhere” was Reddit on December 13, when a Frank Ocean fan going by the name tomboytom posted about exactly when to start playing Ocean’s single “Nights” if you want to hear its prominent rhythmic and tonal transition right at the stroke of midnight.

Two days later, Twitter user blondedocean rephrased and reposted tomboytom’s discovery in a massively viral tweet.

From there, the meme was born.

The meme quickly gained popularity thanks to both its time-sensitive nature and a few especially viral iterations

Unlike some of the great memes of 2017 that percolated quietly for months before suddenly exploding into the internet hivemind’s collective consciousness, this one went viral almost immediately, due to both its urgency — New Year’s Eve is right around the corner! — and the benefit of some prominent early examples that everyone could get behind, and thus were willing to share far and wide.

One heavy-hitter that made the rounds initially was Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life”:

And in a year where Kesha’s album Rainbow encapsulated the cultural zeitgeist, it’s no surprise many people liked the idea of having her sing us into 2018:

Other favorite songs included the aforementioned “Africa” by Toto, which tends to be a recurring favorite whenever pop classics are being crowdsourced, and The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.”

Others were popular perhaps because they were just a bit inexplicable, but felt right anyway:

All of which leads us to the undisputed king of the viral meme moment. Apparently most of the internet’s participants in this game think the ideal transition tune for ringing in 2018 is ... a one-measure drum break from Phil Collins:

Because the meme is so easily adaptable, there are also lots of joke variants

Of course, like all memes, this one has been subject to plenty of attempts to vary or subvert its theme. Among the most popular variants is the suggestion to watch something instead of listening to a song:

Many folks have also seized the opportunity to mix up the spirit of the moment:

This is how we ended up with many derisive variants of the meme, because let’s face it: For a lot of people, cynicism went hand-in-hand with 2017:

It wouldn’t be a 2017-ending meme without a nod toward abject existential despair, so there are lots of ironic references to that, too

With so many people struggling to be optimistic about the coming year based on their experiences in 2017, several song and lyric suggestions have reflected a pervasive sense of dread:

Meanwhile, lots of people dispensed with the song choice altogether in favor of getting a good night’s sleep.

And last but not least, there’s the Gucci Gang sidebar

Because the New Year’s Eve song meme has been so massively popular, it offers an enlightening look at what’s been on people’s minds as we close out 2017. But among the many themes that have emerged, there’s also been an outpouring of hatred for one specific song.

Lil B’s “Gucci Gang” has mainly coasted to fame on the strength of its austere lyrics, in which Lil’ B intones “Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang,” over and over and over again. The repetition hasn’t prevented the song from climbing the charts and garnering over 350 million views on YouTube, but clearly, many people don’t particularly care for it:

Alas, the New Year’s Eve song meme won’t allow you to leave behind your least-favorite songs of the year. And sure, as some people have been quick to point out, there are plenty of people who’d rather say goodbye to 2017 by doing something other than trying to precisely time a song down to seconds just before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

But it is a neat way to stop and think about what songs (or other kinds of media) mean the most to you, and how they relate to this moment in time: which among them best encapsulates your personal feelings about 2017, and which will help you kick off the new year with, if not a bang, then at least a “Skrraaaa!”

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