President Joe Biden took to X/Twitter last night to acknowledge the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win, posting a photo of his laser-eyed, alter ego “Dark Brandon” — a meme originated from a right-wing slogan but co-opted by Biden’s followers and social media team.
“Just like we drew it up,” read Biden’s post.
The internet has since, and unsurprisingly, had a lot to say.
What is the “Dark Brandon” meme?
The genesis of the Dark Brandon meme is peak internet, which really just means its story is murky and hard to trace. As Vox explained in 2023, the meme seemingly originated at a NASCAR Xfinity Series race in October 2021, when NBC reporter Kelli Stavast determined crowd chants of “Fuck Joe Biden!” as “Let’s go Brandon!” during a live interview with winning driver Brandon Brown.
Conservatives wasted no time in adopting the phrase as an insult toward Biden, with Republicans even using it in speeches in Congress. From there, memes emerged online. The sinister, highly stylized iteration of Biden with glowing red eyes is inflammatory coming from right-wingers, painting the president as a supervillain of sorts. This sort of meme-ing is in line with the “Dark MAGA” subgenre, which features increasingly unhinged and “darker” versions of Donald Trump running for re-election, mostly purported by MAGA followers themselves.
But Democrats determinedly jumped onto the meme in an effort to make it their own. “Dark Brandon” was born, repurposed to celebrate Biden’s position as a leader. The meme picked up pace after the administration announced that it killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a strike in 2022. It also followed a series of political wins orchestrated by Biden that year, like the employment rate hitting a 50-year low and the Senate passing the Inflation Reduction Act.
Since, top members of the Biden administration — from the director of digital strategy to several press officials — have posted the meme frequently. The president himself concluded his speech during the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner last year with a Dark Brandon joke:
Now, the 2024 Biden-Harris campaign is even selling a T-shirt flaunting the meme on its site.
Why did Biden post the Dark Brandon meme?
Biden’s latest Dark Brandon post is no coincidence. Combined with the caption, “Just like we drew it up,” it’s likely a response to the wave of conspiracy theories centering game-rigging, Travis Kelce, and Taylor Swift.
The president has reportedly been angling for a second endorsement from Swift, who previously backed Biden in the 2020 election. This induced Trump supporters into a storm of suspicion, with many claiming Kelce and Swift’s relationship is a gimmick to benefit Biden and that this year’s Super Bowl was “rigged” in favor of Kelce’s team, the Chiefs (who won in the final seconds of the game). This contingent includes Fox News hosts and Trump ally Vivek Ramaswamy, the latter speculating on X: “I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall.”
The long-winded conspiracy had Trump sharing his thoughts on his own social media platform, Truth Social, writing, “I signed and was responsible for the Music Modernization Act for Taylor Swift and all other Musical Artists. Joe Biden didn’t do anything for Taylor, and never will. There’s no way she could endorse Crooked Joe Biden, the worst and most corrupt President in the History of our Country, and be disloyal to the man who made her so much money.”
All of this prefaces Biden’s post, which appears to be mocking the right-wing set over these theories. A TikTok posted by the president (on his brand new account) referenced Dark Brandon to poke fun at the conspiracies, also signaling his social media team’s intention to keep the meme going through election season.
How has the internet responded?
Despite the meme involving key players like Trump and Swift, the internet is also outraged that Biden’s post feels tone deaf and out-of-touch amid the crisis in the Middle East. At the time of the Super Bowl win, Israeli forces were carrying out a special forces operation into Rafah, a southern city in Gaza where Palestinians were finding refuge from the war. The strike killed at least 50 Palestinians. Two Israeli hostages were freed.
On X, people quoted Biden’s posts and shared thoughts on the timing of it all, with many pointing to Biden’s role in the ongoing devastation in Gaza. The nature of the meme doesn’t help: the picture of Biden’s alter ego, stylized with glowing eyes, looks menacing in itself. One user criticized “Joe Biden in fucking meme mode”, while another wrote: “I can’t believe that Biden tweet is real”.