Emojis were first invented by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999 Japan and became popularly used in the West during the 2010s after being included in mainstream mobile operating systems like Apple’s iOS system. The term “emoji” comes from the characters 絵 “picture” and 文字 “character” which together translates to the meaning “pictograph”. They are an evolved form of the emoticon, which are textual representations of expressions. The fact that the terms “emoji” and “emoticon” sound similar to the English word “emotion” is simply a very convenient, false cognate. They are primarily used in messaging to express ideas or emotions without having to explicitly use words to explain. There is a plethora of different emojis, from plants to foods to the more commonly used yellow faces. Different platforms have different styles of emojis like Android and Apple iOS most notably, but they tend to have the same ones.
The rise of the “cursed” emojis set started with visual artists on Twitter, Tumblr, and DeviantART who used them as a reference for people who were requesting character commissions in July 2019. These emojis existed before and were made respectively at different times, but this was the first collection to gain wide spread popularity. There was already a trend going on in the art community to use expression sets to practice drawing emotions, but this specific set gained popularity due to how deranged the faces looked. The trend eventually exploded in popularity, as people began taking the expressions from the chart and creating even more variations of “cursed” emojis, extending the reach of the meme. As the meme evolved, there began to be two distinct types of “cursed” emojis.
The first type was simply to be used for expressing emotions. With these “cursed” emojis, you could express an emotion that wasn’t available on the standard emoji keyboard. While the standard emoji keyboard depicted conventional, averages of emotions like angry, sad, or happy, these cursed images were able to express more nuance and specificity. Humans are not uniform in our emotions, there is constant overlap and we often make analogies to known concepts when we talk about how we feel. Like this clown emoji expresses sadness and embarrassment, basically embodying the idiom “feeling like a fool”. Or this stressed out emoji that depicts being on the edge, hyperventilating, and on the verge of losing it. The bloodshot eyes, tear stains on the face, and the empty smile really accurately depicts the feeling of being at your limit. A feeling that someone may not want to or even know how to put into words can be summed up just from sending this image. Or on the more positive end, the big eyed emoji may depict someone feeling shy or give off “preciousness” like a baby, or it could be alternatively be used to depict someone who is about to cry. This emoji has also been dubbed the “powercry” emoji. These all express very specific emotions that wouldn’t be easy to express with a standard emoji set.
The second type of “cursed” emoji is a hybrid combination due to the integration of other memes, which typically happens with all popular memes nowadays. While the first type of “cursed” emoji requires no background knowledge, this type has more layers to it, which means to understand the joke, you have to be aware of the other meme integrated into the emoji. For example, the wide-eyed emoji is a reference to a common camera angle used in anime when a character is about to lose their mind or go “crazy”. This is a popular meme originating from the anime community.
The emoji with the backwards snapback is referring to the classic “fuckboy” meme that makes fun of boys who act extremely cocky and immature towards women, basically the dudes that say “bros before hoes”. Specifically, it’s a reference to the hand position and expression these boys make when they see someone they want to get with, letting out the infamous laugh “ahahah”.
These “cursed” emojis have even gotten so popular that instead of depicting the expressions on their own characters, some artists have instead made characters of the emojis themselves. Twitter user @Pencil_Peach in late 2019 made this fanart of the “stressed out” emoji and the “powercry” emoji, and the story of them as a couple has been picked up as a meme in itself.
This meme of the “cursed” emojis being characters has reaped even more creativity from the art community, as this video shows a rather developed, movie-like story of the cursed emojis interacting with other memes as well. The creator recently even made a part 2 due to how much traction this video received. There’s no doubt that the title is a reference to the infamous Emoji Movie made by Sony and Columbia Pictures in 2017.
The “cursed” emoji meme is a perfect example of how media can evolve and be innovated by different communities. From the mainstream use of emojis by the public, to the more niche art community & anime community, then spat right back out to the general meme community, “cursed” emojis have most certainly made their rounds on the Internet. And it has only been a year since these cursed emojis gained popularity, which just goes to show how the Internet speeds up the production and spread of memes.