A shaggy, white-furred bird at least eight feet tall stands in a desolate polar landscape. A soundtrack of strange clicks and mechanical whirs plays over grainy footage of a human cautiously approaching the creature. “Luh calm fit,” reads the text spliced over the frame, a phrase coined by fashion influencers on TikTok last summer to describe a comfortable outfit. Scrolling onto the next TikTok feels a little like walking out of the screening room in the museum after seeing an experimental film installation you didn’t fully understand.
However, detecting that you stayed a moment longer than usual on the weird bird TikTok, the algorithm serves you another. And another. Weeks later, you’re at a Halloween party and somebody dressed exactly like the bird waddles up to you.
Erosion Bird (also known as Opuim Bird) is one of the most popular and visually striking memes of this year. It may be weird, but it’s not unprecedented: It draws from a rich tradition of past memes and internet aesthetics.
Solitary cryptids, conceived by online artists and elaborated through a communal process, have been beloved meme figures since at least the days of the SCP Foundation wiki and Slenderman in the early 2010s. Erosion Bird, first posted by user @drevfx, works and circulates in the same way, but on TikTok. While it draws from a deep well of lore, the story of Erosion Bird is also profoundly 2023. It’s the latest in a wave of memes generated by AI, a technology that has allowed creators to produce ever-more intricate content with relative ease.
Erosion Bird leans into the uncanniness and inconsistency produced by AI: The bird looks slightly different in every subsequent meme it appears in, and the weirdness of the medium matches the weirdness of the creature.
But what has attracted the most attention is the bird’s attire. Almost immediately, commenters on the first video recognized the bird’s cozy shaggy coat as a chic, low-effort outfit — “luh calm fit.”
The bird’s fit has inspired many imitators who craft Erosion Bird costumes out of towels and sheets, transforming an AI art-generated look into a real-life outfit. Fashion house Collina Strada pulled off a similar maneuver earlier this year, crafting a series of outfits based on AI-generated designs and the This Is Fine meme.
Memes lack the authorial anchoring of other works of art — anybody can take a post and riff on it, and so Erosion Bird has journeyed through several different corners of TikTok. Many postings claim the creature represents a “meme from the future” that we can’t yet understand, and some warn of a vague, sinister disaster soon to come — perhaps climate-related, or perhaps political. These postings have taken on an increasingly paranoid slant, including cryptic listings of longitude and latitude coordinates alongside warnings of an imminent cataclysm.
Terminally online people come across conspiracy theories pretty frequently. These have a specific style to them, turns of phrase and visual cues that are meant to hook and convince. Erosion Bird takes these cues — ominous warnings, grainy footage, cryptic numbers — and applies them to a silly creature that does not really exist, appropriating the aesthetics of this content type and parodying them. In the same way that the medium and visual codes of television echo in visual forms that have little to do with the TV screen, TikTok can be a germinating ground where new materials, processes, and ways of working are first experimented with.
In the 1870s, the new manufacture of premixed paint in portable tubes accompanied the development of plein air painting: Because of the new technology, Impressionists like Berthe Morisot and Claude Monet could go outdoors and capture a passing tint of natural light without needing to mix pigments by hand. Art reflects technological advances in image-making, and meme trends like Erosion Bird (while definitely less significant for humanity, at least for now, than Impressionism) follow this pattern. Without AI image generation and the network effects of TikTok, which allowed it to be cross-influenced by other meme trends like online cryptids, conspiracy aesthetics, and “luh calm fit” fashion posting, Erosion Bird wouldn’t have happened. It reflects this new age in image-making and culture — and there’s only more weirdness to come.