When words fail, there are always gifs.
So many gifs.
They can articulate complicated feelings, punctuate thoughtful prose, and perpetuate inside jokes, in a fleshed-out way that your favorite emoji never could. They are complete statements, often eloquently rendered, and requiring no further explanation.
Perhaps the most useful function of these punchy cyclical clips, though, is as an avatar of reaction. For instance, if a friend were to text me roughly any random news item from 2019, my response might be this:
However, the above example—No. 24 on Giphy’s just-released top-25 gifs of the year list—is not necessarily representative of the online experience in 2019. While it was an objectively rocky year politically and in world affairs, people online retained their capacity for jubilation.
And gifs helped them express it.
Here’s a breakdown of the most common trends apparent in this list. There are six that express some form of disapproval, ranging from a dismissive ‘whatever’ via Phoebe from Friends (#11 with 168.5m views) to The Kid Mero’s emphatic headshaking (#9 with 179m views.)
A more cynical person, beaten down by the oppressive pace and tone of the news cycle, might think that clips such as these would make up the bulk of the top-25 list. Perhaps such people would feel a spark in their dulled hearts upon learning that five gifs on the list are devoted to general celebration and five more embody agreement and approval. The positive ones handily outweigh the negative.
For anyone wondering the difference between celebration and approval, here is an example of the former, courtesy of pop star Khalid doing a happy dance in his “Young, Dumb and Broke” video (#10 with 169.7m views.)
And here is what approval looks like, courtesy of Keanu Reeves in Always Be My Maybe (#7 with 195.4m views.)
The abundance of these kinds of celebratory and affirming clips proves that not every internet conversation this year was about how everything is terrible. Even the most extremely online among us possesses the wherewithal to tune out the news at times and find joy when it rears its gorgeous head.
Of course, sometimes approval gifs can be used in an ironic or schadenfreude-type way, which is almost the same thing, karmically, as what the more negative gifs accomplish. For instance, if you noticed a public figure you despised being dragged, you might respond with this one of Nick Kroll re-creating an infamous Jack Nicholson moment from The Departed (#12 with 162.3m views.)
Then again, people also use that repeating image to comment on something innocuous that makes them happy. Gif-users contain multitudes.
As a tip, though, before using any of the entries on this list, whether celebrating or commiserating, it’s important for some of us to be mindful of potentially performing digital blackface with gifs.
Now get out there and be the gif you wish to see in the world.