Top Emoji Trends of 2021

Top Emoji Trends of 2021

As another year enters the annals of history, a new record of global emoji use has been reached. Meanwhile, changes amongst the top ten global emojis continue, though as a whole the world's most popular emojis remain highly stable.

Come the end of the month[1], 21.54% of all global tweets sent in December 2021 have contained at least one of the now 3,633 emojis approved by the Unicode Consortium.

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This is the highest percentage recorded across the last ten years[2], surpassing our previously-reported peak during July 2021[3].

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As shown above, December has been the peak month for emoji use each year going back to 2017, buoyed by the popularity of Christmas emojis such as ๐ŸŽ„ Christmas Tree and ๐ŸŽ… Santa Claus.

You can read more about the usage rates of these and other Christmas emojis here.

๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ”Ÿ Top Ten Emojis

According to the over 386 million tweets we collected throughout 2021, the top ten most used emojis across the year were, in descending order:

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  1. ๐Ÿ˜ญ Loudly Crying Face
  2. ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy
  3. ๐Ÿฅบ Pleading Face
  4. ๐Ÿคฃ Rolling on the Floor Laughing
  5. โค๏ธ Red Heart
  6. โœจ Sparkles
  7. ๐Ÿ™ Folded Hands
  8. ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes
  9. ๐Ÿฅฐ Smiling Face with Hearts
  10. ๐Ÿ˜Š Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes

These are the exact same ten emojis that topped our 2020 review, albeit with some slight adjustments in order.

No other emojis entered the top ten on a month-by-month basis in 2021.

This means that the top ten emojis in the world were even more stable in 2021 than in 2020, during which a total of thirteen different emojis appeared across the monthly top ten throughout the year: the current top ten as well as ๐Ÿ’• Two Hearts, ๐Ÿ”ฅ Fire, and ๐Ÿ‘ Thumbs Up.

Most notably, the previously dominant ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy has been usurped by the ๐Ÿ˜ญ Loudly Crying Face as the world's top emoji. According to our data, this has been the case since March of this year.

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Therefore, on Twitter at least, the ๐Ÿ˜ญ Loudly Crying Face remains the most popular emoji in the world.

This may well differ across other platforms, however, as was strongly indicated by Unicode's own emoji data which was released at the start of this month.

Using amalgamated data from across its various members' platforms (including Emojipedia's Twitter data collection), alongside a possibly different method of counting emoji popularity[4], their research found that ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy remained the top emoji across the globe, with the ๐Ÿ˜ญ Loudly Crying Face placing fifth.

This in many ways is unsurprising, given that the platform and context in which emojis are being used can of course dictate the nature of their use, as per the adage "the medium is the message".

Yet with that being said, there is a striking similarity between the emojis that have appeared within the top ten in both our data and the Unicode data: eight of the top ten emojis in each study were the same, with ๐Ÿ‘ Thumbs Up and ๐Ÿ˜˜ Face Blowing a Kiss appearing in Unicode's data in fourth and seventh place respectively -#11 and #23 in our Emojipedia Twitter sample - taking the position of โœจ Sparkles and ๐Ÿฅบ Pleading Face which appear at #14 and #36 within their data.

Returning to Emojipedia's collected 2021 Twitter data, while ๐Ÿ˜ญ Loudly Crying Face and ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy are still the top two emojis in the world, it is evident that neither are at the level of "peak" ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy, which occurred in June 2019.

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This is especially interesting given the overall increase in emoji usage on the platform seen during these years.

While claims that the ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy has been "canceled" are exaggerated, we have seen emoji users begin to speak out alternative means of expressing laugher in emoji in recent years. These have included the ๐Ÿ˜ญ Loudly Crying Face, which is certainly a major contributing factor to its 2021 popularity.

While the top ten emojis on Twitter have as a whole remained incredibly stable since 2020, the cumulative ranking for the year belies some recent changes in the popularity of these emojis.

While the ๐Ÿฅบ Pleading Face had been the third most popular emoji on Twitter since April 2020, the โœจ Sparkles emoji has been experiencing an incredible surge in use since August of 2021.

Thanks to this late 2021 surge, the โœจ Sparkles emoji has passed out โค๏ธ Red Heart, ๐Ÿคฃ Rolling on the Floor Laughing, and ๐Ÿฅบ Pleading Face to become the third most popular emoji on Twitter.

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This leaves the order of the top ten emojis on Twitter at the end of 2021 as follows:

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  1. ๐Ÿ˜ญ Loudly Crying Face
  2. ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy
  3. โœจ Sparkles
  4. ๐Ÿคฃ Rolling on the Floor Laughing
  5. ๐Ÿฅบ Pleading Face
  6. โค๏ธ Red Heart
  7. ๐Ÿ™ Folded Hands
  8. ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes
  9. ๐Ÿฅฐ Smiling Face with Hearts
  10. ๐Ÿ˜Š Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes

๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ†• Top New Emojis

Despite it initially being feared that the pandemic would lead to a major delay in new emojis being approved, 2020 saw two sets of recommendations made by the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee: Emoji 13.0 and Emoji 13.1.

Based on data collected throughout 2021, the top ten most popular emojis from these two sets are as follows:

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  1. โค๏ธโ€๐Ÿ”ฅ Heart on Fire
  2. ๐Ÿฅฒ Smiling Face with Tear
  3. ๐Ÿ˜ตโ€๐Ÿ’ซ Face with Spiral Eyes
  4. ๐Ÿฅธ Disguised Face
  5. ๐Ÿ˜ฎโ€๐Ÿ’จ Face Exhaling
  6. ๐ŸคŒ Pinched Fingers
  7. ๐Ÿˆโ€โฌ› Black Cat
  8. ๐Ÿช„ Magic Wand
  9. ๐Ÿซ€ Anatomical Heart
  10. โค๏ธโ€๐Ÿฉน Mending Heart

The โค๏ธโ€๐Ÿ”ฅ Heart on Fire taking the top spot here is consistent with our earlier research this year ahead of World Emoji Day, where we found the โค๏ธโ€๐Ÿ”ฅ Heart on Fire to be the Most Popular New Emoji as part of the 2021 World Emoji Awards.

The high placement of ๐Ÿฅฒ Smiling Face with Tear is also unsurprising, given that it was declared the Most Anticipated Emoji during our 2020 awards.

This bodes well for 2021's new ๐Ÿซ  Melting Face emoji once it becomes more widely available across our emoji keyboards.

Though only presently available within Google's Android 12L beta release, ๐Ÿซ  Melting Face was found to be 2021's Most Anticipated Emoji, has appeared on the front page of the New York Times, and been included within a segment by American late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert.

๐Ÿ”Ž๐Ÿ“ˆ Other Trends of Note

Last year we noted an increase in use for the ๐Ÿ’‰ Syringe emoji following the announcement of vaccines for COVID-19, with this increased use also noted during the early months of 2021.

Looking at 2021 as a whole, we can see this increased use of ๐Ÿ’‰ Syringe peaked globally in August with a rate of use over double what the emoji experienced in the first month of the year.

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Additionally, earlier this year we assessed use of the ๐Ÿฆ  Microbe and ๐Ÿ˜ท Face With Medical Mask emojis across 2020 and into 2021.

Based on our findings, we concluded by and large that Twitter was quite bored of the pandemic, at least no longer interested in using ๐Ÿฆ  Microbe and ๐Ÿ˜ท Face With Medical Mask to discuss it. Looking at 2021 as a whole, we draw a similar conclusion.

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On a lighter note, one previously obscure emoji was subject to a huge increase in popularity in late 2021 due to a new text-based meme format: the ๐Ÿšฉ Triangular Flag.

Previously most commonly associated with golf alongside โ›ณ Flag in Hole and ๐ŸŒ๏ธ Person Golfing, in October of 2021 this emoji saw a previously unprecedented level of use.

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Channeling the idiom "red flag", users began to use considerable multiples of the ๐Ÿšฉ Triangular Flag emoji as a tongue-in-cheek warning sign, usually concerning the behavior or preferences of another person.

Twitter itself reported a 455% increase in use for the ๐Ÿšฉ Triangular Flag in a single week.

Additionally, the ๐Ÿช‘ Chair saw an increase in use in September of this year following a viral Tiktok video that encouraged others to use this emoji as a symbol for laughter to confuse those not aware of this new suggested meaning.

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While this meme format was primarily focused on Tiktok comments, we were also able to detect a significant increase in use within Twitter data.

These are far from the first instances an emoji has gained unexpected popularity thanks to a new viral meme format.

Some of the popularity of the ๐Ÿฅบ Pleading Face emoji throughout 2020 can be attributed to the shy pose "Two Fingers Touching" meme (๐Ÿฅบ๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿ‘ˆ) (as well as its association with simping), while last year we also found that use of the ๐Ÿ‘๏ธ Eye and ๐Ÿ‘„ Mouth emojis to have increased usage thanks to the ๐Ÿ‘๏ธ๐Ÿ‘„๐Ÿ‘๏ธ "It Is What It is" meme.

Alongside memes, pop culture events can also propel an emoji's use to new heights. For example, during mid-November, the ๐Ÿงฃ Scarf emoji briefly saw a considerable jump in usage.

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The cause? The release of Taylor Swift's 2021 recording of her "Red" album, entitled "Red (Taylor's Version)".

Included on this record was a brand new 10 minute version of her song "All Too Well", which allegedly details the relationship between Swift and actor Jake Gyllenhaal and has opening lyrics that prominently feature a scarf.

Our discovery of this data was covered in a recent Tiktok video by Kindred Media.

@kindredmedia According to @Emojipedia the ๐Ÿงฃ #emoji jumped almost 2000% on the release of @Taylor Swift โ€˜s #redtaylorsversion #swifttok #alltoowell #taylornation โ™ฌ original sound - KindredMedia

The emoji has also continued to have an association with Swift, both within the text of tweets and within Twitter usernames.

This association is similar to that between the ๐Ÿ’œ Purple Heart and the K-Pop band BTS, albeit likely on a much lesser scale. If you'd like to learn more about the momentous connection between BTS and the ๐Ÿ’œ Purple Heart, check our analyses of what every heart emoji really means from earlier this year.

We'll be returning to emoji use in the wake of other pop culture events in 2022.

If you'd like to ensure you won't miss our upcoming analyses you can subscribe to ๐ŸŒฏ Emoji Wrap, Emojipedia's (๐Ÿ†“ Free) monthly newsletter covering all the latest emoji happenings across the globe.

๐Ÿค“ Summary

Following an analysis of 385 million tweets collected in 2021, compared with up to 6.5 billion tweets from years prior, we made the following findings:

๐Ÿ“– Read More

  1. When originally published on 2021-12-31, this article calculated December's emoji use based on the time period 2021-12-01 and 2021-12-29, which saw 21.40% of tweets containing at least one emoji. These charts were updated 2021-01-02 to reflect data from the entire month of December 2021. โ†ฉ๏ธŽ

  2. Despite this new record monthly use, this is the smallest year-on-year increase in emoji usage experienced in December over the last five years: less than half the year-on-year increase between December 2019 and 2020. Last year we had hypothesized that the ongoing global pandemic had decreased the growth rate of emoji usage. This could still be the case, especially in light of recent developments, though other factors are almost certainly also at play. โ†ฉ๏ธŽ

  3. At the time of its publication, our World Emoji Day article reported the July 2021 rate of emoji use on Twitter as being 20.69%, as was the case for the period between 2021-07-01 to 2021-07-12. The final percentage for the full month was 20.59%, which was lower than the previous month's rate of 20.55%. โ†ฉ๏ธŽ

  4. When conducting our data analyses, Emojipedia counts the number of tweets containing at least one instance of an emoji. This means that regardless of if a tweet contains multiples of the same emoji, whether they're placed separately to bookend different text strings (e.g. "โœจthank u, nextโœจ") or placed in a row in a beat gesture-esque repetition (e.g. "omg no ๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ’€"), we only consider this to be one instance of that emoji. Given the popularity of using emojis as digital gestures, especially those used to convey humor, counting each emoji within a message or tweet would certainly lead to different results and emoji rankings. This was almost certainly a major contributing factor to why our 2020 review of emoji use on Twitter differed from the platform's own published emoji rankings that year. Other possible reasons include that Emojipedia's Twitter data collection uses what is known as Twitter's Spritzer data stream, which allows access a small but largely representative sample of all tweets. โ†ฉ๏ธŽ