Memes for good – a history of We Are Number One

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Memes are generally associated with randomness and funny compositions of images. However, those are not what I am focusing on today. What I want to share with you in this blog is the story of how a meme became an agent for goodness, and how internet communities banded together for a singular wholesome goal.

The story starts in October 2016, when Stefán Karl Stefánsson, performer of Robbie Rotten in the children’s television series LazyTown, announced that he had been diagnosed with bile duct cancer. Subsequently, a GoFundMe campaign was created by LazyTown’s head writer Mark Valenti to pay for Stefan’s living costs when he became too ill to work. 

Stefan’s GoFundMe page

Among Stefan’s works, one of them is the song “We Are Number One”, which depicts the main villain Robbie Rotten (played by Stefan) teaching his dream team (him and 3 imperfect clones of himself) how to be villains as a part of his plan to capture the superhero Sportacus.

This song has been a staple in the meme community of Lazy Town Memes on Facebook, and remixes are present even before the above mentioned event. However, I want to focus on the rise to popularity after the announcement of the GoFundMe page.

Soon after the GoFundMe page was created, the YouTube channel Grandayy created a remix of the song “We Are Number One” titled “we are waking up inside”. As expected, this video is a mush-up of the original “We Are Number One” song and the famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) “Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence. Despite being a very unknown YouTuber and mainly uploading gameplay videos with almost no views, the video generated nearly 200k views upon release.

Grandayy’s first meme video

In the description, Grandayy asks the viewers to contribute to Stefan’s GoFundMe page.

Possibly due to the surprising popularity of the video, Grandayy released another remix days later, this time amassing around 500k views:

This trend continued on for months, with Grandayy himself releasing more than 40 remixed versions each with a different meme. This not only brought huge attention to Stefan’s conditions, but also skyrocketed the Youtube channel’s popularity. This remix where all lyrics are replaced with the “woah” sound effect from Crash Bandicoot has 28 million views to date:

It is not just Grandayy of course. He was only one of the early adopters of the meme. Soon after his success, Word Replacement Remix of the song “We Are Number One” rose to top of the charts in the YouTube community, with many videos over a million views.

Back in October 13th, 2016, an Ask Me Anything thread was created on Reddit by Stefan Karl. In the thread, Stefan acknowledged the popularity of himself as a meme.

Well my daughters have recently informed me of the Lazy town meme trend. I was pleasantly surprised and I have enjoyed the incredible creativity.

Stefan Karl on the AMA thread

However, this is before the explosion of popularity of Word Replacement Remix of the song “We Are Number One”. Likely acknowledging the memes, an update was edited in the thread content to include an announcement of the facebook event of a live streamed performance of the song. The livestream performance featured himself and the original cast of the Rottens clones (Bjorn, Bergur, and Snorri) as well as the composer of the song Máni Svavarsson. On December 9, 2016, the official LazyTown YouTube channel also played along with the meme and uploaded a video titled, “We Are Number One but it’s the original and it’s 1 hour long….”.

Wherever you found an instance of this meme, there is almost always an accompanying statement directing you to the GoFundMe page, even after the page has been deactivated after reaching well past the original goal ($169,670 out of $100,000).

Unfortunately, despite the awareness and funds raised, Stefan’s conditions worsened and the cancer was diagnosed to be untreatable.

As this situation unfolds, please know that Stefan reads and enjoys your memes, artwork and good wishes. He knows how you feel about him and he feels the same toward you. When he’s feeling better and he finds the right venue, he will reach out personally.

Mark Valenti updating on the AMA page.

Stefán Karl Stefánsson died on 21 August 2018 at the age of 43.

Here is a tribute video (and the last “we are number one” remix) made by Grandayy. In the description, instead of the GoFundMe page, the youtuber directs the views to donate to a number of charity organizations to support cancer patients and cancer research.

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