The Results Are In: Here Are the 10 Most Popular Emoji of 2021

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The Unicode Consortium, which is responsible for approving and standardizing the use of emoji around the world, has shared a fun new look into how often some of the most popular emoji were used over the course of the past year.

According to Jennifer Daniel, who chairs the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, 92 percent of the world’s online population regularly use emoji. However, Daniel and her team were determined to find out which emoji people are using the most this year, and the results are somewhat surprising — especially in light of the year we’ve all been having.

It turns out that the overwhelming majority of the most oft-used emoji were those that depict happy and positive vibes.

In fact, the results weren’t significantly different from the last time the Consortium looked at this data two years ago, with most of the same emoji remaining in top place.

At the very top of the list was Face with Tears of Joy (😂), which accounted for 5 percent of all the emoji use worldwide this year, remaining in the top spot.

It appears that reports of Tears of Joy’s death are greatly exaggerated 😂. According to data collected by the Unicode Consortium, the not-for-profit organization responsible for digitizing the world’s languages, Tears of Joy accounts for over 5% of all emoji use.

Jennifer Daniel, Unicode Emoji Subcommittee Chair

The red heart (❤️) was a close second — also unchanged from 2019 — although Daniel notes that “there is a steeeeeep cliff after that” before we hit third place and beyond.

The Top Ten Emoji of 2021

The full rundown of the top-ten emoji may not be all that surprising since there’s a chance that you’ve used more than a few of these in the past year — we know we have. Here’s the list:

  1. 😂 — Face with Tears of Joy
  2. ❤️ — Red Heart
  3. 🤣 — Rolling on the Floor Laughing Face
  4. 👍 — Thumbs Up Sign
  5. 😭 — Loudly Crying Face
  6. 🙏 — Person with Folded Hands
  7. 😘 — Face Throwing a Kiss
  8. 🥰 — Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes and Three Hearts
  9. 😍 — Smiling Face with Heart-Shaped Eyes
  10. 😊 — Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes

While most of the emoji in the top ten have fairly universal meanings — and almost all can be conveyed as “happy” emoji — Person with Folded Hands is a bit of an outlier. While many think of this as the “praying” emoji, it was originally intended to represent please or thank you in Japanese culture. It’s also sometimes used to represent a high-five, although that’s more of an edge case.

The illustration above shows a visual representation of the relative popularity of each emoji by size.

Trends in Emoji Use

What’s particularly interesting is that even with 3,663 emoji currently available, Daniel says the top 100 emoji make up around 82% of total emoji shares. This study was prompted by the subcommittee’s desire to understand what makes certain emoji so popular.

This existential question haunts the subcommittee 👻. So, they set out to understand popularity on a more granular level: What are the most frequently used emoji? What do they have in common? Do we have too much of one type but not enough of another? How do we interpret the 83-spot leap (from 97 to 14!) in the use of Pleading Face 🥺?

Jennifer Daniel, Unicode Emoji Subcommittee Chair

However, as Daniel notes, it’s usually not hard to discern why some emoji are inherently more popular than others. More open-ended emoji — those that can represent multiple concepts — are naturally used in a wider variety of situations and therefore show up more often.

For instance, the crown (👑) is the most commonly used emoji from the clothing collection, while the ones at the bottom of the list are more purely literal ones, such as clutch bag (👝), lab coat (🥼), and flat shoe (🥿). It’s not hard to see how you wouldn’t have too many occasions to use emoji like these.

The trend can also be seen in other categories, where the most popular emoji are those that can represent more nebulous concepts. For instance, within the Transport category, Rocket (🚀) is more frequently used to emphasize rapid progress rather than anything to do with actual space travel (unless you work for NASA, of course).

Popular Emoji Subcategories

Daniel notes that most emoji subcategories sit in the middle of the road in terms of popularity, although there are three that come out overwhelmingly on top:

  1. Face-smiling and most hands such as 😀 😃 😄 😁 😆 😅 🤣 😂 🙂 🙃 😉 😊 😇
  2. Plant-flower emoji, including 💐 🌹 🥀 🌺 🌷 🌸 💮 🏵️ 🌻 🌼. This subcategory dominates the entire Animal & Nature category despite its smaller size. However, Daniel suggests that could simply indicate that “less is more” when it comes to popular emoji.
  3. Emotion emoji, which includes💋 💌 💘 💝 💖 💗 💓 💞 💕 💟 ❣ 💔 ❤ 🧡 💛 💚 💙 💜 🤎 🖤 🤍 💯 💢 💥 💫 💦 💨 🕳 💣 💬 👁️‍🗨️ 🗨 🗯 💭 💤, would apparently be “overwhelmingly and consistently popular” if it was made up of just hearts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the least popular emoji category was Flags, while the least popular subcategory was Country Flags. Ironically, this subcategory is the largest single collection of emoji by a considerable margin — 258 in total — but they’re all used the least. Animal-mammal is the next large subcategory with only 53 emoji, and it doesn’t appear to get much use either. Daniel says the data suggests this one is “at saturation level.”

The results show a need for emoji that can illustrate a wider range of concepts, rather than those limited in scope, such as flags and shower caps. Instead, proposals for new emoji should “focus on globally relevant, well established communicative concepts,” and the committee encourages those submitting proposals to read its guidelines for what makes a strong emoji candidate and pay closer attention to the criteria for inclusion.

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