The Game of Thrones Starbucks cup debacle. Watching Notre Dame go up in flames. The moment the world fell in love with Baby Yoda. Going through Google’s top searches of the year feels like flipping through a scrapbook of the internet’s collective obsessions. Released this week, the company’s annual “Year in Search” gives a snapshot of the most impactful celebrities, news, and trends of 2019—at least, in terms of Google searches—and this year’s data illustrates one fact very clearly: After its first full calendar year in America, TikTok has become the new progenitor of memes.
The music app’s influence can even be seen at the international level in this year’s most searched song, “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X. Before it became the longest-running #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for six Grammys, hundreds of thousands of users were dancing to the catchy country-rap mashup in TikTok videos, helping to propel it to virality.
E-girl and e-boy, a scene-culture-inspired take on the iconic Instagram influencer that’s native to TikTok, came in as the second and third top fashion searches. It’s a subculture that flirts the line between ironic exaggeration of internet celebrity and genuine fashion trend among the youths. Either way, the formula behind this e-girl style—dyed hair, bold eye makeup, cutesy punk clothing—is so routinely mocked as cookie-cutter that the concept was partially popularized by a meme about a mythical “e-girl factory” that churns them out.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be 2019 without VSCO girls making an appearance. If that just sounds like gibberish to you, you’re definitely not alone: VSCO was a top search across three different categories, and “What is a VSCO girl” was one of this year’s most searched questions. Named after a popular photo-editing app, VSCO girls are Gen-Z’s entry into the hall of ubiquitous high school stereotypes—you know: your jocks, your geeks, etc. They’re identifiable by their HydroFlask water bottles, puka shell necklaces, and scrunches, they routinely spout meme-y catchphrases like “sksksk” and “and I oop,” and you’ll find no end to videos mocking this caricature on Tiktok.
Since its debut in August 2018, TikTok has been downloaded 1.5 billion times, shooting it to the top of app charts and, apparently, Google searches too. Per a Business Insider report, the short-form video app is now even beginning to rival other veteran social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, which have 2.4 billion downloads and 1.4 billion downloads respectively, according to analytics firm SensorTower. And it’s that same kind of rapid growth that’s also attracted plenty of attention from the United States government regarding how TikTok handles data from minors and its relationship with its parent company, the Beijing-based ByteDance, and the Chinese government at large.
As for other tech, the recently released iPhone 11 was the only gadget to break the top ten Google searches of 2019, proving Apple continues to dominate the cultural zeitgeist no matter how many smartphones come onto the market. Though Disney’s dedicated streaming service, Disney+, managed to top the charts in America despite its shaky launch. No other streaming services even cracked the list, despite Apple TV+ also debuting this year and NBC’s Peacock and HBO Max generating plenty of buzz ahead of their 2020 launches, which makes things look pretty favorable for Disney holding its own in the so-called “streaming wars.” Though I’ll admit the House of Mouse had an ace up its sleeve with Baby Yoda, the breakout star of Disney’s $100 million Star Wars series The Mandalorian exclusive to Disney+. Google’s yearend statistics reflect as much too: Baby Yoda was this year’s most-searched baby (because, yes, that is a category for some reason), thus beating out celebrity spawn from the likes of Cardi B, Kim Kardashian, and literal royalty.
Because 2019 was also the year of making memes into reality, the nationwide mania over Area 51 reflected in Google’s year-end results as well, with the term making the top-1o list across four different categories, including top news search. While the joke Facebook event “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” received millions of pledges over the course of last summer, the actual event only attracted about 100 people, which my colleague Jennings Brown described as a “motley assortment of believers, seekers, and enthusiastic teenagers who descended on a lonely stretch of desert to make their meme dreams real.” And against all odds, they somehow managed to avoid becoming this year’s Fyre Festival fiasco.
What I found most interesting about Google’s “Year in Search” is its list of most-searched questions, which seem to chronicle what everyone was talking about at any given time in 2019. Questions like “What is quid pro quo” (and why won’t the president shut up about it), “What is a boomer,” “What is Bird Box about,” and—now this one I think we can all agree to leave in 2019—“What is momo.”