This weekend, Psy galloped past Justin Bieber on his invisible horse, overtaking the Canadian munchkin’s ‘Baby’ and making ‘Gangnam Style’ the most watched music video of all time on YouTube. As of about five minutes ago it’s been watched 825 million times. To put that in context, if you rounded up every single person in the USA and UK, then everyone from Psy’s home country South Korea, then added the population of Brazil, France, Germany and Spain, you would still only have 810 million people. We’re talking earth-shaking numbers here. Psy-smic waves. So what does it take to get the whole world watching? Let’s look for clues from the top 20 most watched music videos of all time.
1. Psy – ‘Gangnam Style’ – 825,545,515 views
2. Justin Bieber – ‘Baby’ feat. Ludacris – 805,345,307
3. Jennifer Lopez – ‘On The Floor’ feat. Pitbull – 624,956,977
4. Eminem – ‘Love The Way You Lie’ feat. Rihanna – 517, 584,675
5. LMFAO – ‘Party Rock Anthem’ – feat. Lauren Bennet, GoonRock – 503,403,118
6. Shakira – ‘Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)’ – 501,070,549
7. Lady Gaga – ‘Bad Romance’ – 497,614,676
8. Michel Teló – ‘Ai Se Eu Te Pego’ – 461,757,094
9. Eminem – ‘Not Afraid’ – 375,860,997
10. Pitbull – ‘Rain Over Me’ feat. Marc Anthony – 366,087,463
11. Adele – ‘Rolling In The Deep’ – 354,429,102
12. Gotye – ‘Somebody That I Used To Know' feat. Kimbra – 349,602,408
13. Bruno Mars – ‘The Lazy Song’ – 348,742,572
14. Justin Bieber – ‘Never Say Never’ feat. Jaden Smith – 348,154,663
15. Carly Rae Jepson – ‘Call Me Maybe’ – 344,901,144
16. Katy Perry – ‘Firework’ – 336,732,497
17. Miley Cyrus – ‘Party In The U.S.A.’ – 309,902,482
18. Justin Bieber – ‘One Time’ – 306,947,918
19. Nicki Minaj – ‘Super Bass’ – 295,890,674
20. One Direction – ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ – 287,942,189
Despite all the changes that the music industry has gone through since the dawn of the age of the internet, music videos are still wildly popular. If we opened this list up to include non-music videos, only one would make it: viral sensation ‘Charlie bit my finger – again!’ would be in at number seven with 498,011,061 views – and it would still sound more exciting than Justin Bieber. It was also predicted that YouTube would widen access and allow more DIY videos to find an audience. While this is broadly true, if you want to spawn a monster then sign up to a label and get them to fork out for something slick and glossy. Alternatively, get a brand to pay: everyone from Nemiroff vodka (Gaga) to Swarovski jewellery (J.Lo) handed over some cash and in return got the sort of adverts that people actually willingly choose to watch.
There seems to be a disproportionate number of ‘Feat.’ tags near the top of the list, which would seem to be a good tactic for broadening your appeal. Don’t be afraid to go for something a bit unusual. If you’re a tiny pubescent pop muppet, why not throw in a 35-year-old rapper from the Dirty South? If you’re one of the most respected and revered rappers of your generation, why not sign up the world’s biggest pop princess? If you’re a slightly faded pop-star from 2000s, why not… OH GOD NO NOT PITBULL.
I know what you’re thinking: ‘Who the hell is Michel Teló?’ I’ll tell you who. He’s a Brazilian singer who had an absolutely massive global hit last year with ‘Ai Se Eu Te Pego!’ I’ve seen the video, and frankly it’s making my ‘big budget’ rule look a bit shaky. So what turned this already mammoth Portugese-language hit into a true monster? It might have had something to do with some guy called Cristiano Ronaldo learning the dance routine and performing it as a celebration. When you notice that Teló is only a couple of places below Shakira’s World Cup anthem ‘Waka, Waka’, you’ll realize it could be worth roping a football player into your video. NB. Under no circumstances should you let John Barnes rap.
There ain’t a lot of rock’n’roll bands on this list, are there? There’s barely a guitar at all (we’re definitely not counting Bruno Mars’ acoustic or plucking Gotye) and the only acts who aren’t solo artists are LMFAO and One Direction. Neither of those are deserving of the term ‘band’ in any world I understand. Still, if you want a planet-conquering video you’re going to have to sack your bandmates. Be gentle: “It’s not you, it’s YouTube.”
Hey, it worked for these guys.