The Origins Of The Surprised Pikachu Meme

No trend moves faster than memes. Fashion trends come and go each season, and food trends do, too. Memes, however, move like the ocean, each wave a new photo or saying that breaks the internet and becomes the latest craze. That is until the next wave hits and the internet has forgotten about the last meme. One phrase that captured Twitter was "tell me without telling me," but it's been phased out. Some memes ultimately last longer than their counterparts. Such is the case for the math lady meme and the meme of the woman yelling at the cat.

One meme that had the internet in hysterics is the Pikachu meme. This one features Pikachu, the yellow mouse-like character from Pokémon, looking surprised with his mouth in an "O" shape. This meme isn't used as much anymore, but it became an instant classic not only because of its hilarious applications but also because of its nostalgia. 

The screencap of Pikachu comes from the Pokémon animated series, which was simply called "Pokémon" at its inception. According to The True Colors, the still is taken from the 1997 episode "Bulbasaur and the Hidden Village," though the episode didn't air internationally until 1998. The Pikachu in question belongs to the series' main character, Ash Ketchum, with whom several generations of viewers and game players have grown up. Pikachu is a figurehead of the entire series, so it's unsurprising that it blew up in this way.

The meme comes from the animated series, but the origin of its rise to prominence is even more intriguing.

This is the woman who accidentally shocked the world with the Pikachu meme

The Pikachu meme was used for the very first time three years ago. According to Know Your Meme, the screencap from "Pokémon" was used as a reaction meme on Tumblr on Sept. 26, 2018. From there, people started reposting it on Facebook and Reddit, among other social sites. Its popularity grew for the rest of 2018, peaking in November of that year before hitting its consistent stride in 2019 and even 2020. According to SlangLang, it became the most used meme of 2018 despite debuting so late in the year.

The story gets a little more interesting, though. Wired explains that a woman named Angela originally posted the meme in 2018, and she told Wired that she took the screenshot in 2017 but didn't use it for an entire year. Wired, though, was curious about this and wondered if the screenshot was a marketing ploy. After all, Pokémon's "Detective Pikachu" film was announced and its first trailer dropped in November 2018, around the same time the meme blew up. However, the meme became popular before the trailer debuted, and the film was kept hush-hush, meaning no random netizens would've known about it.

"I WISH Pokemon hired me as a sleuth marketing coordinator," Angela ultimately told Wired. "That seems like a fun job." For context, Pokémon's animated series has been running consistently since its debut in the mid-'90s, having aired over 1,000 episodes (via Polygon), but the show isn't exactly known for sneaky marketing ploys like this. 

Still, events like this make meme origins especially fun to examine.