It’s over a decade since the first ever YouTube upload. I’d ask where the time has gone but let’s face it, the answer’s probably ‘on YouTube’. The web’s go-to place for procrastination, it’s amazing how many hours can slip away from you as you hop from viral video to viral video. There’s been no shortage of music-themed viral videos. Here’s 15 you might have forgotten, or in the case of the obnoxiously infectious Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’, tried to forget…
What’s so fascinating about a dude in headphones lipsyncing to one of the most annoying songs of all time? Er, everything, obviously. Gary Brolsma’s interpretive performance of ‘Dragostea din tei’ by Moldovan irritants O-Zone is commendably zealous – and with all the fist-pumping and head-shaking you almost don’t notice that he’s sitting down. After debuting on Newgrounds.com in 2004, the video exploded upon hitting YouTube in August 2006 and has since racked up almost 57 million views. Phwoar.
OK Go hit the treadmill
OK GO have probably become more famous for their videos than for their music itself, and might have conceivably sank long ago were it not for YouTube’s making their videos word-of-mouth smashes. In fairness, the huge effort they put in and the amount of fun they seem to have making them is totally deserving of recognition. The first video of theirs to hit the big time was ‘Here It Goes Again’ in 2006, which features an intricate treadmill dance and was one of the most popular YouTube videos before being removed from the band’s channel. Since then their biggest hit has been 2010’s ‘This Too Shall Pass’, a Rube Goldberg Machine of awe-inspiring proportions.
Tay Zonday singing ‘Chocolate Rain’, a song of his own composition, has amassed 102 million views since first cropping up on YouTube. The deep baritone and arpeggiated piano are, obviously, key elements, but Zonday’s quirks are what make this video so compelling. That’s not just his fear of audibly drawing breath: look out also for his uncertain smile to the camera at the end of the video. What a guy.
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Filipino prisoners do ‘Thriller’
The Philippines’ CPDRC ‘dancing inmates’ became what you might call criminally popular (wahey!) in 2007 upon the release of their routine for Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. The dancing scheme was devised to keep the prisoners mentally and physically fit, but the video’s fame also earned them a visit from Jackson’s choreographer in 2010, who taught them the ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ routine from the late singer’s ‘This Is It’ show.
Ah, Rickrolling, that persistent internet rash. It all started in May 2007 when 4chan users created a fake link to the GTA IV trailer. Less than a year later it was estimated that over 18 million Americans had experienced the phenomenon, which actually helped revive Rick Astley’s career in 2008 – and even had one physics student rickroll his teacher in 2014. In 2010, the bizarre meme Trololo took up the trolling mantle.
“Hide your kids, hide your wife…”
In Huntsville, Alabama, a local news story turned global when The Gregory Brothers autotuned the passionate reaction of Antoine Dodson, speaking about the attempted rape of his sister. His matter-of-fact, rhythmic delivery became notorious. “You can run and tell that, homeboy,” he declares, straight to camera. The concept was most recently used as the title sequence for Tina Fey’s ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’, but there’s no topping this classic.
Kid raps ‘Super Bass’
Move over Nicki Minaj. Sophia Grace Brownlee, from Essex, gave an almost word-perfect performance of the fairly adult ‘Super Bass’ in 2011 and within a month she was performing it on Ellen with Minaj herself. Now 11 and eschewing childhood, she’s released her own single and is in talks to record an album.
Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’
This is the second-most disliked video on YouTube, just behind Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’. But why? From the profound lyrics (eating cereal, choosing a car seat, having fun) to the mind-blowing dramatic sequences (Rebecca waking up at 7 AM, Rebecca in the car with her cool friends, Rebecca at an awesome party) there so much to love. And a few months later she was called in to breathe life into Katy Perry’s video for ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)’
With over 2 billion views and 9 million likes, the Psy video is instantly recognisable. Thirty seconds in, with snow and debris whooshing into the singer’s face, the video crosses the line into the absurd, with overblown set-pieces and Psy’s ‘horse trot’ dance move poking fun at the posers of the Gangnam district of Seoul. His follow-up failed to set the world alight.
One Pound Fish Man
Up in E13 there once lived a man named Muhammad Shahid Nazir from Pakistan, who used to sing a funny song at Queens Market to sell his fish. Everyone loved it. He became famous. And then Warner Music came, he was rebranded as One Pound Fish Man, and he released his song ‘One Pound Fish’ as a proper single and everything. We hope all his dreams came true.
Bowie in space
YouTube is full of people covering Bowie but none quite with the interstellar pull of Commander Chris Hadfield’s video, set in zero gravity against spectacular views of Earth. ‘Space Oddity’ in space. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Kanye’s overblown video for Bound 2 was parodied beautifully, shot-for-shot, by James Franco and Seth Rogen while on the set of 2014 film The Interview. The side-by-side comparison video shows impressive precision from the actors: they mock it properly, particularly with Seth Rogen playing the topless Kim Kardashian, pouting provocatively to camera, nuzzling into Franco’s Kanye and shaking out his imaginary locks. Ain’t they cute. Ye and Kim loved it.
Possibly the biggest novelty phenomenon on YouTube, Baauer’s ‘Harlem Shake’ exploded after a video by The Sunny Coast Skate appeared in February 2013, featuring a lone dancer infecting a roomful of static people with dance – almost like some sort of, uh, virus. Within days it was bloody everywhere, and people were still making their own versions a month later. Luckily a non-verbal agreement to ostracise anyone caught perpetuating the meme meant the practice died pretty soon after.
The world gets happy for Pharrell
‘Happy’ – the biggest-selling single of 2014 and one of the most ubiquitous in recent memory – started life as the first ever 24-hour video, featuring different groups of people dancing around LA in 4-minute chunks. Later it developed into a sort of improvised global tour, where people from different cities danced to the song all over their cities. The trend attracted even more attention when Iranian teenagers were arrested for dancing in the street.
Musicians do the Ice Bucket Challenge
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was 2014’s big ‘get involved’ internet sensation, and many musicians did just that: everyone from Taylor Swift and Dr Dre to Ed Sheeran and even Shania Twain got involved. Katy Perry’s was statuesque, Lady Gaga’s was typically gothic and arty, Drake’s happened onstage with Lil Wayne, while Dave Grohl crowbarred in a Carrie reference. And who can forget Liam Gallagher’s go at getting in on the act? Good times.