Top Social Media Trends of 2023: Roman Empire, Grimace Shake, Keith Lee and More

Algorithms are getting good, alarmingly so, at feeding you content targeted to your weird and wonderful and even secret interests. Still, a lot of interesting stories end up falling outside our digital castle walls. This list is an attempt to rectify that, revisiting the people, trends, feuds and frenzies that took off on social media platforms in 2023 but might not have broken into your personal World Wide Web.

Did you see the olive oil executive trying to start beef with another olive oil executive on LinkedIn? How about the woman who gets paid thousands of dollars by pretending to be a video game character? Or the young Texan who is facing prison time after his lavish wedding blew up on TikTok? We’ve got you covered.


Hail, Caesar?

Find a man, any man, and ask him how often he thinks about the Roman Empire. According to TikTok, the answer is at least once a day. Viral videos on the platform inspired a “Saturday Night Live” sketch in November. “The Roman Empire, Ancient Rome,” rapped the episode’s guest host, Jason Momoa. “Five times a day, it pops into my dome.”

Don’t Call It a Snack

Girl Dinner was a big summertime TikTok trend. A number of people — mostly young women, as the name implies — showed off nicely arranged plates comprising a bit of this (cheese), a bit of that (bread, maybe) and a few other things (pickle spear, nuts, salami slice). Proponents said the trend freed them from the tyranny of traditional dinner. Detractors claimed it glorified eating disorders.

A Yassified Barney

After Barney the purple dinosaur got a makeover in February, baffled fans filled the internet with talk of the character’s new teeth, brighter purple skin, larger eyes and perhaps even a bit of rhinoplasty. (Make that dinoplasty. I’ll be here all article.)

The Return of Joe Cool

The “Peanuts” dog created by Charles M. Schulz found a new generation of fans this year. In April, the American Red Cross was inundated with young people looking to donate blood in exchange for a limited-edition Snoopy T-shirt. In October, The Atlantic labeled the cartoon beagle “The Hero Gen Z Needs.”

A Broadway-Style Rap. What Could Go Wrong?

Ariana DeBose’s opening number at the British Academy Film Awards in February quickly became a meme. Was it bizarre? Yes. Could you look away? Absolutely not. DeBose, a member of the original “Hamilton” cast, brought the earnest enthusiasm of a Broadway star to a rap that included the lines “Angela Bassett did the thing / Viola Davis, my Woman King.” Social media loved it. And hated it.

An Underground Star

Sabrina Bahsoon, a law school graduate in her early 20s, racked up millions of online views this year by filming herself lip-syncing in the London Underground amid unsuspecting commuters. Tube Girl, as she was known, inspired numerous copycats.


Gimme Five Margaritas!

On the campus of Louisiana State University in May, Cindy Smock, a 65-year-old evangelical preacher, tried to sell students on the benefits of abstinence by listing the sexual acts that women will supposedly perform after drinking certain numbers of margaritas. Shortly after a video of Sister Cindy’s sermon hit social media, her words inspired a banger of a tune (known as “Gimme One Margarita”) that became TikTok’s song of the summer.

Mm, Mm, Good?

Writer-comedian Annie Rauwerda stirred up a big reaction on the internet — and in her New York City neighborhood — when she cooked a pot of vegan stew for over a month this summer. Her concoction was based on the “perpetual stews” of culinary lore, and Rauwerda brought it to a playground each week for anyone who wanted a taste. As it bubbled and steamed in the pot, she encouraged people to toss in their own ingredients, so that it never tasted the same way twice.

The Milkshake of Death

In June, McDonald’s added something to its menu: the Grimace Shake, named in honor of the purple bloblike creature that has long been a foil to the chain’s signature clown. The beverage soon gave rise to a TikTok trend: In video after video, creators started out by pretending to give a positive review of the shake — only to end up dead in a pool of purple goo. Did McDonald’s mind? Nope. “This is free advertising,” said Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Atlanta Gets Keith Lee’d

Keith Lee, a food obsessive with more than 15 million TikTok followers, has posted influential reviews of restaurants in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. But he might have had his biggest effect during a visit to Atlanta in the fall, when he gave voice to the gripes of local restaurant-goers by dragging establishments that charged extra for butter, syrup and hot sauce. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted Lee’s power over the city’s dining scene in a story headlined “Move over, Michelin, Atlanta just got Keith Lee’d.”


A Viral Campus Concoction

Social media helped spread the popularity of a campus drink, BORG, an acronym for “blackout rage gallon.” In viral TikTok videos, student mixologists filled plastic gallon jugs with water, alcohol, sweet flavorings and a hangover remedy, like Pedialyte. “You don’t taste any of the liquor, which is the great part,” one college student said. Officials were less pleased by the trend. In March, the Amherst Fire Department in Amherst, Massachusetts, reported 28 requests for ambulance transports during a BORG-fueled party at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The Pesto Prompt

Susi Vidal, a TikTok creator in Arizona, posted a video in September about how to make homemade pesto. “Call me crazy if you want,” she says at the start, “but I’ve never liked store-bought pesto.” With that, Vidal inspired a wave of TikTok users to repost the opening of her video as the intro to much crazier confessional stories of their own about ghosts, bad dates and stalkers.

Krispy Meme

It was an image that launched a thousand Halloween costumes: Justin Bieber and his wife, Hailey, at a Krispy Kreme counter. In the photo, the celebrity couple appears to be dressed for wildly different functions, with perhaps neither appropriately attired for ordering and eating fresh doughnuts. Hailey Bieber is wearing a strapless red minidress and red heels; Justin Bieber is outfitted in gray shorts, yellow Crocs and a pink baseball cap perched atop a gray hood. The picture was meant to promote Hailey Bieber’s cosmetics line — and it had the desired effect on the social media hive mind.

Ice Cream So Good

TikTok creator PinkyDoll became a social media celebrity in July because of the livestreams and videos in which she played blank-eyed video game characters, the kind who says inane things like “Mmm, ice cream so good,” which became a catchphrase. Though she was the subject of some online mockery, PinkyDoll made thousands of dollars from her online work.


Big on Social

“Hello, Christ? I’m ’bout to sin again.” That’s a line from “You Wish,” a song by Los Angeles rap duo Flyana Boss that was huge on social media this summer. In the fall, a snippet of the song “Water,” by South African singer Tyla, swept the internet, thanks, in part, to the TikTok dance challenge that went with it. (In case you had finally gotten that one out of your head, its refrain goes: “Make me sweat / Make me hotter / Make me lose my breath / Make me water.”) “Water” was followed by another TikTok earworm, “It Girl,” by Aliyah Bah, whose multilayered fashion sense, known as Aliyahcore, trended online earlier in the year.

Cute and Cuter

Social media also fueled the rise of a number of novelty songs. A ditty created by pet owners to soothe an anxious dog in elevators became an anthem for anxious humans everywhere. Sing it with me: “She’s so brave / She’s well behaved / She is not afraid!” A fiendishly catchy song from the children’s puppet show “Nanalan’” introduced millions of people to Mona and the program’s other super-cute characters. “Who’s that wonderful girl?” the “Nanalan’” song goes. “Could she be any cuter?”

Spoofs Become Hits

“Planet of the Bass,” a parody of a ’90s Eurodance track, had a moment in August. Some internet users were amused, and others were horrified, by its kooky music video and baffling lyrics (“Women are my favorite guy”). Shoutout to DJ Crazy Times, aka Kyle Gordon, a comedian in New York City. In a similar vein, DJ Mandy, a 19-year-old student in California, made ripples this year as the Internet’s most inept disc jockey. Social media users couldn’t resist sharing videos that showed her making awkward mash-ups and beat drops, complete with a nonsensical transition from Flo Rida to Taylor Swift.

The Quiet Game

“Look around, everybody on mute,” Beyoncé sang each night of her “Renaissance” tour. That line, from the song “Energy,” gave rise to a social media challenge wherein audiences competed to see which crowd could be the most hushed. If you couldn’t get tickets, the best seat in the house was a TikTok livestream.


Emily Getting Married

Emily Mariko burst onto the viral scene in 2021 thanks to her simple recipe for salmon leftovers. In June, her California wedding became the talk of TikTok. People couldn’t get enough of the details, from the brown bridesmaids dresses to Mariko’s many outfit changes. It is unclear if salmon was served.

Sofia, Also Getting Married

This “quiet luxury” ceremony was anything but quiet. Social media users could not stop talking about the wedding of Sofia Richie Grainge, the daughter of Lionel Richie, to Elliot Grainge, a music executive. The soft, subtle makeup! The looks! The slicked-back bun! The South of France backdrop! Months after the April event, TikTok creators were still borrowing from Richie Grainge’s wedding-day style.

TikTok’s Wedding Fail

Lunden Stallings and Olivia Bennett built a huge following on TikTok, partly because of their country-club fashion sense. And so their October ceremony was highly anticipated by fans, who dubbed it TikTok’s royal wedding. The excitement, however, was short-lived. Days after the event, old tweets resurfaced in which one of the brides had repeatedly used a racial slur. The couple issued an apology and added an “anti-racist resources” page to their website, but the damage was done.

There Goes the Groom

Jacob LaGrone and Madelaine Brockway, a wealthy young couple from Texas, caused an online stir thanks to their lavish wedding, a five-day affair that included stops at the Versailles, the Paris Opera house and a reception headlined by Adam Levine of Maroon 5. Brockway posted several wedding videos on TikTok, all of which went viral and caused commenters to ask, Who are these people? The videos were deleted a few days after the ceremony, when surprising facts emerged about the groom. Namely, that he had fired a gun at police officers from Westworth Village and Westover Hills, Texas, who were trying to serve him with an indictment in March. LaGrone is now facing a potential life sentence.


An Oily Fight

A niche drama in the world of olive oil startups went online in April. The CEO and co-founder of Graza logged on to LinkedIn — a site not known as a forum for beefs — to accuse another olive oil company of stealing his idea. The idea being a squeeze bottle.

Mascara Fraud?

Mikayla Nogueira, a beauty influencer known for her Boston accent, caused a bit of an online ruckus in January after posting an ad for L’Oreal Telescopic Life mascara. In the video, Nogueira appears to be wearing false eyelashes, rather than the product she was promoting. (Someone fibbed on the internet? For money? Say it ain’t so!)

To Catch a Tabi Thief

Alex Dougé, a social media coordinator in New York, met a man named Josh on Tinder and brought him back to her apartment. The next morning she discovered that her Tabi Mary-Janes, a pricey shoe from the brand Margiela, were missing. After Dougé recapped the saga on TikTok, internet sleuths quickly located the man. It turned out that he had indeed stolen the prize shoes — and given them to his girlfriend! Oh, the drama! Dougé eventually got her Tabis back, and social media welcomed a new addition to the roster of awful internet men.

Riverboat Brawl

A brawl on the Alabama riverfront made national news after a video of the incident went viral in August. The fight came about after five white boaters attacked a Black riverboat captain, who had instructed them to dock their pontoon elsewhere. A Black bystander joined the melee on the captain’s behalf, wielding a folding chair as a weapon. In the brawl’s aftermath, the humble folding chair became a symbol of resistance.

Viral Trial

Gwyneth Paltrow on trial for an accident on the slopes of the Deer Valley Resort in Utah was the internet gift that kept on giving. Social media platforms were blanketed with memes about the proceedings in March as jurors heard testimony on who was to blame for the collision — the Oscar-winning actress or the retired optometrist who had sued her for more than $300,000. Online highlights included Paltrow’s answer to the question of the “losses” she had suffered because of the incident. “Well,” she said, “we lost half a day of skiing.” The jury found her Gwynocent.

Apartment Madness

Emma Ganzarain, a resource management employee in Oslo, Norway, just wanted to share photos of her redecorated apartment with her TikTok followers. Before she moved in, she explained, her boyfriend had lived there by himself, and she believed that she had brought some order to the place. Outraged commenters did not agree, accusing Ganzarain of turning a homey apartment into a sad beige nightmare.


These Boots Were Not Made For Walking

Fashion or marketing ploy? Cartoonish red boots were the talk of TikTok for a moment in February. The bloated footwear was designed by MSCHF, a New York collective with a knack for designing clothes and household goods that send the internet into a frenzy.

Law Roach (Kinda) Retires

Law Roach, an award-winning stylist for celebrities including Anne Hathaway and Celine Dion, created some confusion among the more fashion-conscious quarters of social media in March, when he abruptly announced that he was retiring, only to walk days later alongside Naomi Campbell in a runway show. He later clarified that he was retiring only from styling.

The Bedbugs of Paris

What’s French for schadenfreude? Amid the glam of Paris Fashion Week, a story crawled into the headlines. Bedbugs! Everywhere! Videos on social media raised the alarm by showing the little creatures scampering through the Paris Métro.

Platform as Runway

Kristina Avakyan, a New York resident, gained popularity on TikTok for videos in which she modeled eccentric outfits on subway platforms. She faced criticism after an interview with The Cut, in which she said that people in Harlem and Queens don’t understand her fashion sense.

Endless AI Portraits

Throughout the year, AI generators spat out images of people looking like modified, slightly shinier versions of themselves (with, occasionally, an extra finger or two). The AI yearbook photo generator was particularly popular on Instagram. But viewers beware! Pope Francis was not papped walking around in a puffy white Balenciaga coat. That was just some fairly convincing AI art.


A Hairbrush Microphone Masterpiece

The Mattison twins, a pair of TikTok creators, performed a funny lip-sync cover of Lady A’s “Need You Now,” singing into a hair brush suspended from the ceiling. (This hairbrush mic is one of the comedy duo’s go-to props.) The low-quality video, posted in February, recalled the simpler comedy of the Vine era (2013-17, RIP).

Dances With Knives

An Instagram video of Britney Spears dancing in her home wielding two large knives grabbed the attention of viewers in September. Some concerned fans reported the video to the police, to Spears’ chagrin. “So unacceptable for cops to listen to random fans and come in to my home unwarranted,” she wrote on Instagram. “I’ve been bullied in my home for so long now … ITS ENOUGH!” She later added that the knives were props.

So Unfair

In perhaps the most perfect nepo baby behavior of all time, Romy Mars, the teenage daughter of director Sofia Coppola and singer Thomas Mars, was grounded for (wait for it) trying to charter a helicopter from New York to Maryland using her father’s credit card. “I wanted to have dinner with my camp friend,” Romy Mars said in a TikTok. She added that her parents had rules against her using social media.


A Woman of the People

In a scene from “Beckham,” the Netflix documentary series about David Beckham, his wife, Victoria Beckham, is seen telling the camera that she grew up “very working class.” At that moment, her husband pokes his head into the room to ask what kind of car her father drove her to school in. The former Spice Girl tries to duck the question before finally answering, “In the ’80s, my dad had a Rolls-Royce.” After the clip went viral, Beckham embraced it, posting it on her own TikTok account.

Feud? What Feud?

“Sex and the City” cast member Kim Cattrall made a brief cameo in season two of the show’s reboot, “And Just Like That …”. She was not in the same frame as any of the other members of the famous foursome, and if you blinked you’d have missed her. But, still, there she was. Our Samantha. Her minutes-long appearance inspired so many memes, tweets and TikToks you might have thought she was there all along.


Ozempic Mania

Weight loss drugs made their way to the online set this year, with some influencers casting stigma aside and unabashedly proclaiming their Ozempic use.

Djerf Dupe Drama

Matilda Djerf, a popular Swedish influencer and a founder of the fashion brand Djerf Avenue, irked fans when her team started reporting TikTok videos that mentioned places to purchase dupes — inexpensive copies — of her pricey designs.

Rocky Hockey Romance

Drama rippled through a niche literary community — fans of hockey romance novels — when Felicia Wennberg, the wife of NHL player Alex Wennberg, said that certain book lovers had become “predatory and exploiting” in their comments about her husband.

Bud Light Backlash

In April, transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney partnered with Bud Light for a video promoting the brand. The online ad featuring Mulvaney angered many conservatives, who called for a boycott. As sales of the beer plunged, musician Kid Rock posted a video that showed him shooting a stack of Bud Light cases. Months later, TMZ posted a video of him drinking the very same beer at a concert.

Taylor Made Travis Famous. Right?

Football star Travis Kelce was already a household name before he was romantically linked to one of the most famous women on the planet. This fall, as a prank, many women filmed themselves telling men — usually husbands or boyfriends — that Swift was going to put Kelce on the map. Based on the videos, it seems like every guy took the bait.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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