Elon Musk wasn’t “memeing” when he posted a head-scratching tweet Monday stating that he “did meme review” with Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. On Friday, Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg posted a new installment of his popular YouTube series “Meme Review” featuring Musk and Roiland for the final segment. Contrary to Musk’s previous internet appearances, this one substituted dank blunts with meta memes.
The duo spent their six minute segment of the video flipping through mostly Musk-themed memes about his obsession with electric cars and Star Wars. Musk didn’t use his time in front of Kjellberg’s 86 million subscribers to plug Tesla, SpaceX, or any of this other ventures, instead he mostly just laughed at himself.
“The past couple of years have been…particular last year was meme city,” Musk responded when Roiland asked if it was strange to be laughing at memes of himself. “Yeah meme city. So I’ve seen a lot of memes.”
From anyone else it would have been a pretty forgettable, light-hearted internet appearance, but for a controversial entrepreneur whose penchant for off-the-cuff twetes is facing ever-increasing scrutiny, rebranding as an irreverent memelord is a stroke of genius.
As of Friday, Musk has almost 25 million followers on Twitter, many of whom could be reasonably described as “highly engaged.” This massive following is more than just a way to hype products, they’re also a fanbase Musk uses to hawk hats and sell flamethrowers, an unconventional but effective way of raising capital (strangely, most companies, even the cool ones, don’t enjoy a fanbase so devoted they’ll clamor for branded caps.)
It is very hard to see how Musk would have been able to maintain that rapport with so many fans, or garner that much attention, while still running each and every Tweet through a compliance department, as the SEC decision over his infamous “funding secured” post seem to require (the SEC’s agreement calls for, specifically, “additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications”).
Another problem facing Musk is that, with so many ventures spread out over so many industries, from cars, aerospace, and battery manufacturing to solar panels and A.I., there is a lot of territory where Musk could run the risk of making a forward-looking statement that runs the risk of misleading investors. Simply calling a company in any one of those industries cool could be reasonably interpreted as a sign that a Musk project, or Musk acquisition, etc, could be in the works.
The CEO also seems aware that some of his previous Twitter behavior crossed a line, from the unfounded accusations to the handful of tweets he’s tried to wipe from the internet. Pivoting to memes is a way he can continue to put out weird content that turns heads and gains him more fans online, while also stridently avoiding statements that seem likely to attract unwanted scrutiny or attention, particularly from the Wall Street crowd.
Internet culture is much safer territory, PR-wise, but still an area where Musk is certainly no slouch, either. Kjellberg’s fans have been inundating Musk’s mentions for months about appearing on the show, tweeting “host meme review” at him. This was all seemingly a grassroots campaign to cement Kjellberg status as most popular YouTuber. The content creator currently has the most subscribers on the platform, but India-based music company T-Series isn’t far behind.
The goal was that if Elon Musk actually appeared on Meme Review, it would be such a publicity stunt that Kjellberg’s subscriber count would jump up, edging out T-Series. But by joining in the benign internet feud, Musk stands to benefit just as much.