Here’s why the ‘Girl Explaining’ meme is all over your Twitter feed

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Over the past week, Denise Sanchez has received a flood of text messages letting her know that her picture is all over Twitter. An image taken in 2018 of her apparently speaking passionately into the ear of her rather indifferent ex-boyfriend had gone viral – again.

Enter the “Girl Explaining” meme.

What started as a fleeting moment at a New Year’s music festival in Argentina suddenly took on added meaning through each new post – the photo has since become a template for shouting about pop culture momentsair grievances about the end of “Titanic”, part takes the marvel universe and even push for stock against climate change.

Although the meme gained traction in Sanchez’s native Argentina in 2019, seeing her face splashed across social media in 2022 — and seeing other people projecting their ideas there — surprised her. She said she never imagined the meme doing the global crossover it has since mid-August.

To set the record straight: No, Sanchez wasn’t screaming into the void. She was actually singing a song from cumbia, one of the most popular musical genres in Argentina. This explains his arm gesturing towards the horizon.

“We dance cumbias that way,” Sanchez said. Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite remember the song that was playing because “it happened so long ago.”

As happens all too often, Sanchez was caught unsuspecting in the background of someone else’s photo. About two months later, the actual subject of the photo uploaded it to Twitter and “captioned it something like ‘When Strangers Mess Up Your Photos,'” Sanchez recalled. Another person zoomed in on the amusing sight of Sanchez speaking seemingly loudly to a guy with a totally blank expression. And boom, a meme was born.

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A local nutrition-focused account posted it in 2019 with a plea not to trust detox juices and crash diets. The football teams and their rivals then weighed in. It reached several pages of memes in Spanish.

“It was hilarious to watch it go around,” Sanchez said. “The music festival even gave us free tickets for the following year. But I thought Argentina and other Latin countries would be as far as the meme goes.

In the nearly four years since the photo was taken, a lot has changed in Sanchez’s life. She added several tattoos to her body and dyed her then blonde hair black. She started studying nutrition — a little irony considering the meme’s early days. The guy she was photographed with? They separated a long time ago.

But for the rest of the world, she’s frozen in time as “Girl Explaining” or “Bro Girl.” The resurgence happened on August 15, when a Twitter user shared his photo with a message on the incompatibility between Gemini and Scorpio, according to Know Your Meme. Soon, celebrities, The politicians and brands started to accumulate.

An old meme, with a twist

What makes the photo so shareable and meme-worthy is that it’s essentially a new twist on an old recognizable format, said UK-based researcher Hannah Barton of the story. culture of memes and member of the international research network on memes. Viral memes often follow the same structure: having a “fixed element”, ie an aesthetic or a tone already played, and a “new twist”.

Since at least the early 2010s, there have been different iterations of “Bro Explaining,” or a man talking to a woman who looks like she’d rather be somewhere else. But Sanchez’s photo is one of the first – if not the first – example of the reverse situation, Barton said. The trope is well known; however, the inversion paved the way for people to attack the dynamic or joke about a meme format that is already outdated.

“We know what this format somehow expresses,” Barton said. “And…it’s really kind of a useful format for getting across a variety of different points. It’s the kind of media artifact that’s really useful for mass participation because everyone can put their own spin on it.

While “Bro Explaining” often jokes about the “bro-y” things men say, “Girl Explaining” is mostly an “esoteric explainer meme” – a more complex piece dealing with people’s very niche, but passionate interests. said Jamie Cohen, assistant professor of media studies at CUNY Queens College.

“This young woman is screaming, but everything she is screaming is extremely esoteric and cute and very thorough. It says a lot about how people want to express their speech,” he said. “And also a lot about the fact that we want space to write specific information and we don’t have a container to deliver it.”

The search for authentic spaces not only explains current meme trends, but also the rise of Gen Z favorite apps TikTok and BeReal, Cohen said. Users, especially young people, object to selected filters and feeds. “Girl Explaining” might just be another take on that displeasure.

“It becomes a barrier to not being able to properly and truly use spaces like Facebook or Twitter,” he said. “For example, you might want to express that emotion, feeling, or thought, but where do you put it? You wouldn’t post passionate thoughts like these out there. But this meme provides an opportunity to express a very interesting and niche thought.

For Sanchez, it was surreal to see celebrities she follows, like Hailey Bieber, suddenly post her photo. It’s also kind of weird to see an old photo with your ex stick around forever, she said, but it was fun to see the different takes people had on the moment.

If she were to create her own version of the meme, Sanchez said it would be to raise awareness about gender-based violence. After all, she says, “the purpose of the meme is to talk about those things that we all know are true, but somehow we don’t listen enough.”

But she also knows that the meme will probably die out soon. According to Barton and Cohen, after a meme reaches peak saturation, usage begins to stagnate. His death is destined once it starts posting on Instagram (and, on the face of it, the meme has already reached that point). By the time it hits Facebook, it’s basically a ghost.

Sanchez is ready for the meme to die down, but she knows it’s only a matter of time before someone else unwittingly finds herself in the same situation. Somewhere, one day, someone will make another facial expression that the internet will find common ground with – and then pour over it.

In that case, Sanchez has some advice: “Take it easy and laugh it off.”

And maybe don’t look too hard in the comment sections, she added.