The coming of May 1, with its promise of spring and seasonal cultural rituals across the world, has always been a big deal. But in recent years, May has come to occupy a special place on the internet, which has become, essentially, the virtual equivalent of a maypole: a yearly excuse for frolicking.
May 1 is an international workers holiday, and in conjunction with that role, this year the day is playing host to a number of protests and date-related activist movements around the world, including international labor protests. But accompanying this more serious side of the date is a completely frivolous popular internet meme that’s become associated with May 1 — even though technically it reaches its nexus on April 30.
“It’s Gonna Be May” shows how humans are capable of celebrating something that doesn’t actually exist
On January 29, 2012, a Tumblr user named amyricha (now deactivated) posted a now-famous image to their blog that singlehandedly invented Tumblr’s “It’s Gonna Be May” meme.
The image — which alludes to Justin Timberlake’s famous mispronunciation of the final word in the 2000 NSYNC hit “It’s Gonna Be Me” — instantly spawned an annually recurring joke across Tumblr: Every April, for pretty much the whole month, is “It’s Gonna Be May” time.
Over time, the joke has entered broader popular culture — this year, even Good Morning America noticed it.
And last year, so did Timberlake himself.
Everybody... It is ACTUALLY GONNA BE MAY!#canyoumemeyourself— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) April 29, 2016
Probably not, right?
This anticipation for a single day is obviously a hallmark of any culture with significant holidays. But on Tumblr especially, due to the site’s mix of whimsy and deliberate hyperindulgence, certain months of the year become as important as the specific date being anticipated. For example, on Tumblr, the entire month of October becomes Halloween — so much so that the changeover from September to October has become a part of broader internet meme culture.
So when April 1 rolls around, the “It’s Gonna Be May” meme kicks into gear on Tumblr and elsewhere. But instead of anticipating a date where you actually get candy, it’s anticipating a date that has no accompanying form of celebration. Why?
Put simply: Because it’s fun.
And after five years, the meme has grown so meta that Tumblr has reached next-level meme-ing, combining the reader’s understanding of the ubiquitous nature of “It’s Gonna Be May” with a completely separate meme about the ramen noodle nature of Justin Timberlake’s late-period NSYNC hair to give us this meme-ception:
The meme reveals the power of a single memorable internet image
But the “It’s Gonna Be May” meme has had tangible effects beyond meme-ing for meme’s sake. Over the years, the meme has caused a huge resurgence for the NSYNC song that started it all; every since the meme began, YouTube plays of the song have spiked around this time of the year:
According to the publicist Rogers & Cowan, the YouTube statistics are clear:
- Since 2012, “It’s Gonna Be Me” has received the most traffic annually each April 30, for a current total of nearly 57 million views.
- The average play count for the song increases on April 30, gaining more than five times the play counts for the previous week, while daily searches for the phrase “gonna be me” also increase.
- The “gonna be May” spike also boosts play counts across NSYNC’s channel, with other songs gaining average spikes of 23 percent in views and 26 percent in shares.
But the growing popularity of “It’s Gonna Be May” over time means that other challengers have started appearing on the horizon.
If the month of April has been a difficult one & you can't wait for it to finally be over, at least take some comfort in knowing this: pic.twitter.com/tx21reXxy6— hellresidentNY (@hellresidentNY) May 1, 2017
Where does this rabbit hole end? Or, perhaps more fittingly, when?
Wait — you know when.