How to become a meme with Naomi Elizabeth

Once a 'Tumblr pop enigma' who disappeared from the internet, Naomi discusses her new guise as an esoteric shitposter.

by Hatti Rex
13 May 2022, 11:32am

Not to sound like a doomscroller, but wouldn’t life be so much easier if we could opt out of having to deal with being a person? No longer having to repress our emotions in order to deal with the daily slog of maintaining a fully-functional life under late-stage capitalism, and instead surrendering to the algorithm to became a cluster of memes instead. Perhaps this is a bit overly nihilistic, seeing as branding yourself online goes hand-in-hand (hand-on-mouse?) with capitalism, but at least you can have a little fun with it.

Someone giving the impression of having already pulled this off is Naomi Elizabeth, whose OC (original content) memes will be instantly recognisable to the chronically online. Typically these images feature Naomi posing in lingerie alongside an irreverent quote, often shared to the meticulously curated Instagram story feeds of the pop-culturally niche. There’s something endearing about the absurdity of these images, which feel like having the ability to read Naomi’s mind and interpretations of everyday encounters. It’s a chance to consider an alternative outlook on life that doesn’t have to be overly serious. “What I’m doing is being funky,” a picture of a Naomi sat facing away on a marble kitchen counter in lacy underwear tells the viewer. “You’ve probably never heard of it.” 

Being funky, in this case, could also be considered as shitposting. The similarities are there in the easily accessible font choices, the non-linear to completely random seeming content that still follows a visually obvious format, and the humour which reads as almost tweet-like. Naomi’s Instagram feed, with its 13k followers and counting, performs identically to how any other shitposting account would. They key difference, however, is that she has inserted herself as the protagonist, rather than taking the role of an omnipresent meme page admin narrator. 

“I think of shitposting as having fun with your buddies, joking around, being silly,” Naomi tells me. “Memes are kind of expendable, and there’s almost the assumption that the person is throwing away their talent. If someone does memes you’re like, why don’t you be a real writer? Why are you doing memes?”

For those of you who are wondering why the name seems familiar, the artist known frequently known as Naomi Elizabeth (though she admits that she has previously used different fake names prior) was once coined a 'Tumblr pop enigma' by Dazed back in 2017 for her glossy-yet-experimental sound and eerie self-made music videos. “This is one of the best songs ever written,” Grimes wrote around the same time, reblogging the music video for Naomi’s biggest track “God Sent Me Here To Rock You”. “She’s impossible to find which makes me more obsessed with her.” Interestingly, the video opens with Naomi wielding a sword amongst palm trees and predates Grimes’ own similar visual for “Genesis” that came out two years later. 

Shortly after the Dazed piece was published, Naomi stopped releasing new material and her previous releases became near-impossible to track down. Under a thread titled “Naomi Elizabeth is very important”, Reddit user and fan carlyslayjedsen describes her style as “the epitome of ‘trash ironic pop that you accidentally end up thinking is good’”, yet clicking the thread’s related YouTube links sends you to pages that are now unavailable. “She's like an absurdist proto-Slayyyter and the bitch has been doing it for a decade.” An edited version of “God Sent Me Here To Rock You” that had been found floating around online was also notably misinterpreted by fans as an unreleased Lana Del Rey song. 

In the past year, her back catalogues have miraculously returned to Spotify, to accompany her self-narrated 2015 audiobook rendition of her novel Ordinary People, Extraordinary Burritos. The once-missing music videos, now reuploaded to her YouTube channel, highlight Naomi’s extraordinary ability to create a high impact on a low budget, providing esoteric and hilarious entertainment whilst centring herself as both the subject and the creator. It was around this quiet return when Naomi inadvertently started to recreate and rebrand.

“I always liked to do photography and video,” Naomi explains the process behind her most recent creative venture. “But then, I wanted to do jokes, and initially I would write the joke on a piece of paper and hold it up in the photo. But, no one could read my handwriting I don’t think, and a piece of paper in a photo is very small.” Scrolling back through her Instagram, you can see these first sign experiments end around last September. “Most people, unless they knew you already, didn’t really have a reason to zoom in. That’s when I fell back on the traditional meme format where you write the joke over the picture.”

Naomi describes the concept behind her images as a snapshot into wistful “shower thoughts”, but could also be viewed like a tourist photo encapsulating a memory. “They’re on their vacation, or relaxing, and what they’re thinking about is the joke,” she says. Whilst her work is often seen racking up a few thousand likes per post and lovingly shared across meme accounts everywhere, audience reactions have been very mixed. 

When Naomi started making music over a decade ago, there was little to no need to post selfies or personal information about ourselves. It was normal for your internet friends to simply be your internet friends and for your IRL friends to be separate. Now the line has been blurred, Instagram now can feel like an interactive and inescapable contact book. BeReal, a new social media platform trying to challenge Instagram’s pursuit of perfection, directly achieves on a scale like never before by giving users a narrow time slot to post an unposed live picture to their friends list. “It’s cool that you can choose to show the best parts of yourself and hide all the parts you don’t like,” Naomi says. “Everyone does it. Even when I see people being extremely real, they’re doing that for a reason. It adds to the mystique.”

Since the peak Tumblr era, the way we have collectively interacted on social media has noticeably changed regardless of intent. “I feel like everyone’s personality is so much more vivid and detailed and visceral now,” Naomi says. Perhaps this has less to do with our conscious efforts of presenting ourselves online, but more about how these new features and platforms force us to interact as older forms phase out. “It used to be enough to perceive the vague character of someone from a distance, in a blurry way. But now you see people’s entire psychology right up front.” 

Despite the ever-evolving tone-change of the internet and its effect on creative output, Naomi’s incidental rebranding of herself as a meme was borne out of necessity, rather than a considered personal relaunch. “I have to do it, because otherwise I’ll be so bored that I will die,” she adds. “I feel bad because I have a bunch of unfinished songs that I really want to get to, but I can’t do it. My brain said no.”

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