Sometimes, when you least expect it, the internet will solve a mystery for you.
Last year, I spent weeks looking for the creator of the original party parrot, a dancing emoji with a cult following. I went deep on Google. I spoke to the Disciples of Sirocco, a group of Redditors who helped fuel the bird's popularity; the creator of a party parrot website; and fans who made oddball variations on the original. No one knew who made Party Parrot #1.
Then, just this week, I got an email from a Florida man claiming to be the person I had been looking for. What's more, he says he made the original emoji in December 2009 and uploaded it to Something Awful, a website popular in the 2000s for its comedic blog posts and forums. He had no idea his work had turned into a meme until he read my story on Tuesday.
"It was a pretty interesting rabbit hole to fall down," Geiger Powell, a 33-year-old graphic designer, told me over the phone. "I was just so blown away by the whole thing. There's just so many of them. I'm pretty stunned by that."
While party parrot sightings have been made on Twitter and there's a large subreddit dedicated to the animated emoji, its real home is Slack, a messaging service used by 8 million daily active users in more than 100 countries. There are plenty of party parrots that one can upload to Slack, including pizza parrot, blonde sassy parrot, Guy Fieri parrot, and mustache parrot. But Powell has never used Slack. He uses another messaging service that doesn't support emoji for work.
Just some of the many party parrots on cultofthepartyparrot.com
Image: Cult of the Party Parrot
Party parrot lovers had guessed that the ridiculous emoji was a play on a September 2009 viral video of a Kakapo parrot named Sirocco trying to mate with a zoologist's neck. The resemblance was uncanny. Sirocco flaps his wings and bobs his head in a circular motion. The first party parrot has the same long, flat beak that looks like a sunflower seed and oonce-oonce club moves.
The critically endangered Kakapo from New Zealand is a fat, flightless bird that's not great at mating or fending off predators. It's just the type of bizarre animal the internet loves. There are only 148 left as of August 2018; there were 153 as of July 2017.
While Powell's original was green like Sirocco, party parrot as the internet at large knows it flashes bright with neon hues. Powell doesn't know how his green creation got the colorful makeover, nor where the name came from. His original was just called "parrot." So there's still some mystery here.
Party parrot arguably hit peak memedom in late 2016, early 2017. Powell's 2009 version was first uploaded to a college football discussion on a Something Awful forum. Someone shared the video of Sirocco's failed mating session to the forum, and Powell decided to fashion an emoticon for the site. The same day he uploaded it, the forum was obsessing over former NFL player Tim Tebow crying on the sidelines during a Florida Gators game. Amid all the Pac-10 talk, someone chimed in: "I'm quite behind, but what's with the parrot?" It just became a thing. (Something Awful forums are behind a paywall, and the conversation has been archived.)
On Something Awful, you have to pay to host an emoticon that can be called up by a code. Another user paid $30 and the :parrot: code lived on. (The nomenclature was to the point, but not as fun as party parrot's alias.)
But in that football forum, the parrot love was fleeting. It was only after it took on new forms elsewhere that the meme exploded.
"It was over within a week or so, people's excitement for that, so it's bizarre what happened over the years when other people got obsessed with it," Powell said.
Powell's not alone when it comes to sparking a meme and having no idea you helped fuel an online obsession ... until one day you happen upon a link and your jaw drops. There are those who've been able to capitalize on becoming a meme, like the Damn Daniel teens and Chewbacca mom, and on the other side of the coin, those who get exploited for little to no financial gain.
Learning about the plethora of party parrots this week has left Powell wondering about the internet as a meme machine and prompted some self-reflection. He cohosts a podcast about internet subcultures called Report this Post, and he plans to talk about this experience on an upcoming show.
It's made him think about what else he's posted online that may have taken on new life, as well as memes he's participated in that are unknown to the originator.
"I wonder what over the years I've obsessed over that was also someone else's creation," he said. "To be disconnected from it, something that you made so long ago and goes out there, it's like letting a child out into the world to explore."