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YOLO (motto)

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YOLO is an acronym for "you only live once". Similar to carpe diem, it implies that one should enjoy life, even if that entails taking risks. The phrase and acronym are both used in youth culture and music, and were both popularized by the 2011 song "The Motto" by Canadian rapper Drake.


The phrase "you only live once" is commonly attributed to Mae West,[1][2] but variations of the phrase have been in use for over 100 years,[3] including as far back as (the German equivalent of) "one lives but once in the world" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his 1774 play Clavigo and as the title of a waltz, "Man lebt nur einmal!" ("You Only Live Once!") by Johann Strauss II in 1855.

A restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has held a trademark to the phrase "YOLO" in the context of the frozen yogurt business since 2010.[4][5]

Use in music and usage chronology

The phrase has been used many times in music over the years. It was used by The Strokes in the form of their song "You Only Live Once" which was released on their album First Impressions of Earth on January 3, 2006. The motto was used by pop duo Unsolved Mysteries as their song titled "You Only Live Once," which premiered on Episode 7 of American television show Skins (Episode 7 premiered on February 28, 2011).[6] It was also used by American deathcore band Suicide Silence with their song "You Only Live Once," which appeared on their album The Black Crown on July 26, 2011. It was later popularized by rapper Drake, who planned to release a joint mixtape entitled YOLO along with Rick Ross.[7] To promote this mixtape, "YOLO" was mentioned prominently on several of their tracks such as "The Motto," released on November 29, 2011, with the aim of promoting the tape. This use has elevated the word into prominence and common colloquial use.[8] In late 2012, Drake expressed a desire to obtain royalties for use of "YOLO" due to the proliferation of merchandise bearing the phrase and lyrics from his song, which have been commonly seen at stores such as Walgreens and Macy's, but he does not own a trademark on the word.[4][9]

Hip-hop magazine Da South reported that the rapper Lecrae has deconstructed the phrase "YOLO" in his song "No Regrets."[10]

The comedy band The Lonely Island released a song titled "YOLO" parodying the phrase and the people who use it as a lifestyle meme. "YOLO" features singer Adam Levine and rapper Kendrick Lamar, as well as comedy writer Andy Samberg. The song has charted in many countries including #60 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was released as the lead single from the album on January 25, 2013, worldwide outside North America. The single premiered in North America on Saturday Night Live on January 26, 2014, and was released as a single the following day.[11]

The motto was later used on the Disney Channel original series, Liv & Maddie, in a song titled "Froyo YOLO."

In youth culture

The phrase has achieved currency in youth culture. For example, a high school prank in Chicago, Illinois involved high school students chanting "YOLO".[12][13] Some people have graffitied "YOLO" on walls.[14][15] It has become a popular Twitter hashtag.[16] Some youth have said that it is their motto,[17][18] and actor Zac Efron has a tattoo with the acronym.[19] The phrase and acronym are used in merchandise worn by teenagers such as hats and t-shirts.[9]


Online media including The Washington Post and The Huffington Post describe YOLO as the "newest acronym you'll love to hate"[20] and "dumb."[21] The word has been criticized for its use in conjunction with reckless behavior, most notably in a Twitter post by aspiring rapper Ervin McKinness just prior to his death that described driving drunk at 120 mph (193 km/h): "Drunk af going 120 drifting corners #FuckIt YOLO."[22]

In the intro to Saturday Night Live on January 19, 2014, Drake apologized about the phrase, saying he had no idea it would become so big.[23]

See also


  1. ^ Clare Conville, Liz Hoggard, Sarah-Jane Lovet. Dangerous Women: The Guide to Modern Life. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Mae West Quotes". BrainyQuote. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  3. ^ "You Only Live Once – YOLO". Quote Investigator. May 24, 2012. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Burns, Ashley (January 6, 2013). "We Have Some Bad News For Drake Regarding The YOLO Wars". Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  5. ^ "YOLO". LegalForce. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Skins | Ep. 107 | Songs from the Show". MTV. 2014-08-14. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  7. ^ "Drake Won't Name Rick Ross Mixtape "YOLO," Calls Phrase "Epidemic"". Fuse. 2012-06-12. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  8. ^ Roberts, Soraya (2011-12-16). "Zac Efron Adopts Drake’s ‘YOLO’ Motto, as Does Souljaboy". Yahoo! OMG! CA. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  9. ^ a b Diep, Eric (2012-12-05). "Drake Wants Royalties for "YOLO"". XXL Magazine. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  10. ^ Hill, Kellus (14 May 2012). "Lecrae - Church Clothes:". Da South. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  11. ^ "YOLO (feat. Adam Levine & Kendrick Lamar) - Single". iTunes. January 27, 2013. Retrieved December 31, 2014. 
  12. ^ Wright, Sharon (June 1, 2012). "Student Arrested Following Conant High School Senior Prank". NBC Chicago. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Students Lose Prom, Graduation Privileges After Senior Prank". January 6, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  14. ^ Express-Times File Photo. "Clinton Police: Two Men Spray-Paint Profanity, 'YOLO' on Town Structures". Lehigh Valley. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Middle School Boys Accused of Spray-Painting Homes, Destroying Water Fountain". 31 May 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Parents, Students: Hoffman Estates School Overreacted To Senior Prank". CBS Chicago. 1 June 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  17. ^ Swanson, Mirjam (18 May 2012). "Track and Field: Mitchells making most of it". Press-Enterprise. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  18. ^ Dye, Kevin. "Class of 2012 calls it a year". The Madison Press. Archived from the original on March 3, 2013. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Zac Efron Tat-Tat-Tatted Up!". 
  20. ^ Judkis, Maura (25 February 2011). "#YOLO: The Newest Acronym You’ll Love to Hate". Washington Post Style Blog. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  21. ^ Walsh, Megan (17 May 2012). "YOLO: The Evolution of the Acronym". Huffington Post (The Black Sheep Online). 
  22. ^ Lupkin, Sydney (December 21, 2012). "Young Adults Tweet #YOLO When They Don't Study, Get Drunk or Drive Too Fast". ABC News. Retrieved 29 December 2012. 
  23. ^ Hosted by Drake, SNL. "Drake's SNL Intro". Gossip Cop. Retrieved January 28, 2014.