It’s hard to believe, but another decade is coming to a close. The 2010’s will soon become the 2020’s — gods help us all. So before we cross that bridge into the next 10 years of unknown, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the fads, trends, and world-changing events that have shaped the past decade.
From smartphones to Grumpy Cat, from Bitcoin to selfie sticks, all the best (and worst) of the 2010’s are here. So let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
40. The 2016 clown invasion
Throughout 2016, there were sightings of evil clowns reported in almost every state as well as in countries around the world. They were often spotted near wooded areas or schools, and some people even reported being attacked by them.
Explanations vary. The clown sightings may have started as an unorthodox promotion campaign for the movie It and subsequently inspired copycats. On the other hand, some researchers suggest that the whole thing was an instance of mass hysteria.
Welcome to the 2010’s, where we never quite know what’s real anymore!
39. Fidget spinners
Remember when fidget spinners suddenly became absurdly popular in 2017, for no apparent reason? (They were actually invented in 1993.)
Suddenly everyone was talking about how they cured ADHD — despite there being no evidence at all to support that hypothesis — and everybody had to have one. Then schools started banning them, the rest of us got bored, and you couldn’t give the things away.
38. Kony 2012
Kony 2012 was both a documentary film and a political movement with the aim of bringing the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army employed child soldiers, to justice. The movement was widely popular among young activist types who put up posters and scheduled screenings to “make [Kony] famous.” The campaign also faced criticism for being overly simplistic, inaccurate, and a fad.
Kony is still on the loose, exact whereabouts unknown.
37. Blue and black or white and gold?
Is it blue and black, or white and gold? That argument took over the internet back in 2015 over a picture of a dress. People spent days arguing back and forth about who was right.
For the record: it is in fact blue and black. Psychologists and neuroscientists are still researching the reasons why some people see the colors differently, but it’s really not worth fighting about.
36. Laurel or yanny?
A similar debate swept the web in 2018, with people arguing over the audio clip below. Apparently, 47% of people hear the voice saying “Yanny” while 53% hear him saying “Laurel”. In reality, both sounds are present, but some listeners focus on the higher pitched “Yanny”, while others can only hear the lower-pitched “Laurel.”
Of course, that didn’t stop people from bickering over who was right for days.
35. Pokémon GO
In July 2016, you, may have noticed there were a lot more people out walking around than usual. It wasn’t a return to nature, but a return to the world of Pokémon. It allows players to walk around, collecting, training, and battling imaginary monsters as though they were present in the real world.
While undeniably fun, the game was criticized because some players managed to get themselves killed by wandering into dangerous areas in search of Pokémon; others killed or injured pedestrians as a result of distracted driving.
Hipsters have kind of always been around, but they took on new life in the 2010’s. They were (are!) identifiable by their flannel shirts, horn-rimmed glasses, over-the-top beards and moustaches, tattoos, Pabst Blue Ribbon, eschewing of the mainstream, conspicuous love of indie culture, and insistence on irony.
33. Yoga pants
As far as women’s fashion goes, the 2010’s will probably be remembered as the decade when athletic wear became not only acceptable but also trendy.
Apparently, the real change came in 2014 when women started to prefer leggings to jeans. Nowadays, yoga pants are de rigeur even if you’ve never been in a yoga studio and have no intention of ever entering one.
32. Electronic dance music
It’s been around for decades, but the 2010’s saw EDM become more popular and mainstream than ever before. EDM festivals and shows have largely eclipsed more traditional musical genres, as what used to be known as “rave culture” has become more acceptable and more commercial.
You’ve done it, I’ve done it, even your grandma has probably done it. We don’t have to be proud of it, but we do have to acknowledge it.
The dab may be the most recognizable dance move of the decade. All you have to do is cock your head and stick your arms out to the side, parallel to one another.
Every decade has a move that gets done to death, and this is probably ours.
Harambe was a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo who was shot and killed by an employee after a small child fell into his enclosure.
The tragic death of Harambe became one of the biggest internet sensations of the decade, and 2016’s undisputed meme of the year. Denizens of the internet were very fond of writing comically over-the-top tributes to Harambe. As People magazine put it, “Harambe continues to live on in the collective mind of the internet, entering into a rarefied state of venerated meme status.”
29. Gangnam Style
In 2012, the video of this catchy single by Korean pop star Psy became the first YouTube video to receive a billion views. The song is a sort of parody of the lifestyles of the rich and famous in the Seoul district of Gangnam, and was also noted for Psy’s hilariously energetic dance moves which themselves inspired much imitation and parody.
28. Selfies (and selfie sticks)
Selfies have been around for a long time in the strictest definition of the word, but that word wasn’t added to the Oxford dictionary until 2013.
And although they didn’t really become popular until 2014, we somehow get the feeling that the enduring image of 2010’s people will be tourists holding selfie sticks and making duck faces. That will be our bell-bottoms.
In 2013, one of the most popular Google searches was “what is twerking?” Now no one even needs to ask unless they’re 200 years old or spent the last 30 years in a bunker.
Although twerking has roots in West African dance that stretch back centuries, and has long been popular in New Orleans, it went mainstream in the 2010’s. Too mainstream, some would argue, with even Miley Cyrus putting her, um, twist on the move.
26. Slender Man
Slender Man began as an internet meme, a creepy but popular character who featured in online stories in which he often terrorized and abducted people. This nightmare fuel character gradually became a sort of cultural icon — at least to a niche audience.
The story took a dark turn in 2014 when a number of violent acts were associated with fans of Slender Man who were apparently trying to emulate or impress him.
25. The Harlem Shake
In 2013, it became inexplicably popular for groups of people to film and post videos of themselves convulsing to excerpts of the song Harlem Shake. It’s important to note that they weren’t doing the actual Harlem Shake dance, just sort of writhing around.
Like all memes, this one eventually went too far and faded away. When the hosts of the Today show are doing their own version of a meme… you know it’s time to bury it forever.
24. Food trucks
No longer just a place to grab a hot dog and some fries when you’re too lazy to make lunch, food trucks have become increasingly elaborate and even gourmet in the past decade. In major cities, you’ll find food trucks that specialize in every kind of cuisine. Dumplings, pho, pulled pork, tacos… The food truck is definitely the tastiest fad of the 2010’s, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
23. Gluten free diets
Choosing a gluten free diet is an effective treatment for people with celiac disease of wheat allergy. But in the 2010’s, thanks to some dubiously researched books, ‘going gluten free’ became a popular fad. It was such a big deal at its height that even joking about people needlessly opting for gluten free ingredients became a cliché in itself.
22. Jersey Shore
MTV’s highest rated show ever (yiiiiiiikes), Jersey Shore technically premiered in 2009. But we’re putting it down as a firm staple of the culture of the early 2010’s.
This reality show followed the …adventures?… of a group of housemates living in a New Jersey beach town for the summer. Hence the title. If you were around when this show was on the air, you will no doubt remember a bunch of misguided young people trying to dress and act like the cast. Or maybe you were one of those misguided young people. No judgements.
21. Grumpy Cat
You have to remember Grumpy Cat (real name: Tardar Sauce). She became an internet sensation way back in 2012 because of her perpetual scowl. Her adorably miserable demeanor (actually a side effect of her dwarfism) spawned a million memes, which usually featured incredibly cynical remarks plastered over her face. The internet made her one of the most famous animals in the world.
Sadly, Tardar Sauce died in May of 2019. She was too beautiful and too grumpy for any other decade.
20. Occupy Wall Street
At the height of the economic downturn in 2011, many young protestors took to New York’s Zuccotti Park to voice their disapproval of Wall Street investors, whom they blamed for the recession. Huge numbers of people began camping out and living rough in the park, as the movement spread to other cities and even other countries.
Although the whole thing fizzled out in 2012, it started a conversation about wealth inequality and corporate greed that is still going on, and in many ways has defined this whole decade.
19. Gay marriage
As of 2015, same-sex couples have the right to marry in every single state; ten years earlier, it had been legal in only one. The shift of public opinion to majority support for marriage equality will long be remembered as one of the most positive things that happened in the 2010’s, even if the issue remains controversial to many people.
18. Internet challenges
The Ice Bucket Challenge was to raise awareness for ALS, but there have been others that weren’t so positive, like the potentially deadly (or at least very painful) Cinnamon Challenge or the Tide Pod Challenge.
“Millennials are lazy.”
“They don’t know how to cope with the real world.”
Millennials this, millennials that. The word has been used so broadly and so flippantly that it’s almost meaningless at this point. Is someone who was born in 1985 a millennial? I don’t know! But I do know that the term has been one of the most indispensable buzzwords of our decade.
Whoever they (we?) are, they’ve arguably been the most important cultural cohort of the past ten years.
Yes, you can now get paid to be a “social media influencer.” In fact, it can make you a billionaire.
If you have enough followers on Instagram or Facebook, companies will pay you just to promote stuff. We have turned the phrase ‘famous for being famous’ into a multi-billion dollar industry, one that requires essentially no knowledge or skill in order to obtain stunning success.
15. Mental health awareness
One of the positive developments of the last 10 years is that some of the stigma around mental health issues has finally started to evaporate, and people feel more comfortable talking about their problems. Of course, we still haven’t really done a great job at solving those problems… so I guess that’s a challenge for future us.
14. Video games
In previous decades, if you were obsessed with video games you got bullied at school and no girls would ever date you. In the 2010’s, if you didn’t play video games you got bullied in school and no girls would ever date you.
One of the interesting phenomena of our times is that nerd culture has become, simply, culture.
13. Superhero movies
Of the top 10 highest grossing films of the 2010s, half were superhero movies. And all of them were either a) adaptations from comic books, b) adaptations from book books, or c) reboots or remakes of previous movie franchises.
The 2010’s were the era of the superhero movie for sure, but in a broader sense, they have been the era of the adaptation, the remake, and the reboot. Maybe we’ll get some actual new movies next decade?
Bitcoin was actually invented in 2009, but its explosion will forever be linked to the 2010’s.
In case you prefer your money to come in paper form, cryptocurrencies are decentralized digital currencies with values relative to real money, that you can use to trade for stuff online.
If we’re being honest, we don’t really understand any more about it than that.
11. Fake news
We’re talking about real fake news (if that can possibly be a thing), not just shouting “fake news!” when someone says something we don’t like.
One of the major differences between 2019 and 2010 is that everyone is online now. And that means there’s something online for everyone. Sadly, that includes BS news stories that play into people’s prejudices and get passed around just like hoax e-mail forwards did in the previous decade.
10. Outrage culture
The prevalence of social media has made it super easy and quick for us to register our anger at the latest outrage, express it, and then move on with our lives. For the benefit of future historians, here’s how it works.
- Someone says something stupid on Twitter.
- Everyone on Twitter freaks out, piling on with comments and retweets.
- Anderson Cooper talks about it on CNN.
- Two weeks later, no one even remembers.
9. Digital music
Of course, digital music goes back quite a ways. But it wasn’t so long ago that we measured the popularity of a musician by how many physical albums she or he sold. Now it’s about how many people stream and download your new track. Gone are the old-fashioned days of ‘going platinum.’
8. Online news
Similarly, magazines and newspapers no longer do the bulk of their business in print. The way to make money now is by attracting an online audience and selling ads. This has completely changed the landscape of the news media, making it tighter, slicker, more sensationalist, and more ‘shareable’ — but often less informative.
Remember when you had to download movies on Limewire or something like that if you didn’t want to pay for them?
The age of super slow, super illegal downloads has been replaced by streaming services like Netflix. Streaming is now so quick, easy, and cheap that random people can make handsome livings playing video games online while other people watch.
6. Dating apps
Online dating existed before 2010, but the release of ‘swipe’ apps — most prominently Tinder in 2012 — completely changed the game, ushering in an era when online dating/hooking up became completely normal and even pervasive, sometimes to the exclusion of anything else.
Memes have been around for a long time. The term was in fact invented by Richard Dawkins in 1976. But the power and pervasiveness of memes has been amplified a hundred times in the past decade.
In the 2000’s, memes were silly little jokes for internet nerds about Chuck Norris throwing children into the sun or whatever. In the 2010’s, memes became one of the majors ways people communicate (and compete) with one another online, satirizing and summarizing everything from hip hop beefs to philosophical spats to politics.
4. Donald Trump
We avoided mentioning him for as long as possible, but seriously: it’s impossible to have a retrospective on the past ten years without mentioning the Donald. The dude went from being a reality show star to being president of the most powerful country in the world inside ten years. Future historians will dedicate whole careers to trying to explain how (and why) that happened.
Even though Barack Obama was president for the majority of the decade, the 2010’s will always be remembered as the era of Trump.
Back in the 00’s, I had a flip phone that I thought was the greatest thing ever. And so did you.
It was in the 2010’s that smartphones capable of video calling, responding to voice commands, taking your temperature etc. first became widely (and then universally) popular.
This has arguably changed our lives more than anything else on this list, especially because of…
2. The social media boom
Remember back in the 2000s when social media was in its infancy? Yeah, neither do we.
It seems like Facebook has been at the center of our social lives forever, but the explosion of social media is really a phenomenon of the 2010’s. When future historians look back on this decade, the pivotal role played by platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit in shaping our discourse will be one of the major themes they have to grapple with — for better and for worse.
In October 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral, with millions of women (and men) taking to social media to share their stories of harassment, abuse, and assault.
Maybe we’re ending here on more of an optimistic prediction than a note of nostalgia, but we think (hope) that this moment marked a real change in our society, that such behavior will be far less tolerated in the future, and that victims will feel more empowered to speak out than they did in future decades.