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Top 25 Most Popular YouTube Videos Of All Time: What Makes A Video Go Viral?

YouTube has become a regular staple of Internet culture, amassing over 4 billion views each day and ranked 3rd most popular website on the Internet. Despite YouTube’s overwhelming presence across the web, strategies for becoming a top viewed video continue to baffle many small businesses.

In this blog post today, we’ll be:

Top 25 YouTube Videos of All Time

Let’s talk about the top YouTube videos that have racked up the most views and what we can attribute their success to, with special attention focused on the pop summer hit “Call Me Maybe” and the recent worldwide phenomenon “Gangnam Style.”

1. Justin Bieber – Baby ft. Ludacris - 783,841,685 views

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2. Jennifer Lopez – On The Floor ft. Pitbull - 602,324,655 views

3. Eminem – Love The Way You Lie ft. Rihanna - 498,027,824 views

4. Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) (The Official 2010 FIFA Word Cup (TM) Song) - 493,290,797 views

5. Lady Gaga – Bad Romance - 487,497,199 views

6. LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem ft. Lauren Bennett, GoonRock - 486,594,869 views

7. Charlie bit my finger – again ! - 484,537,283 views

8. Michel Teló – Ai Se Eu Te Pego – Oficial (Assim você me mata) - 438,607,201 views

9. Don Omar – Danza Kuduro ft. Lucenzo - 390,382,121 views

10. Eminem – Not Afraid - 363,839,245 views

11. Pitbull – Rain Over Me ft. Marc Anthony - 346,601,042 views

12. Justin Bieber – Never Say Never ft. Jaden Smith - 339,056,556 views

13. PSY – GANGNAM STYLE (강남스타일) M/V - 337,776,988 views

14. Bruno Mars – The Lazy Song [OFFICIAL VIDEO] - 336,595,959 views

15. Adele – Rolling In The Deep - 334,705,493 views

16. Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra) - 327,179,630 views

17. Katy Perry – Firework - 323,791,296 views

18. Miley Cyrus – Party In The U.S.A. - 302,276,163 views

19. Justin Bieber – One Time - 301,932,299 views

20. Nicki Minaj – Super Bass - 281,519,265 views

21. Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe - 278,438,533 views

22. Rihanna – What’s My Name? ft. Drake - 270,131,195 views

23. Bruno Mars – Grenade [OFFICIAL VIDEO] - 269,659,761 views

24. Pitbull – Give Me Everything ft. Ne-Yo, Afrojack, Nayer - 259,337,175 views

25. Bruno Mars – Just The Way You Are [OFFICIAL VIDEO] - 256,400,502 views

Why Are Music Videos So Popular?

It might at first seem strange that the most popular YouTube videos are nearly exclusively music videos, with the exception of “Charlie Bit My Finger,” an oldie in internet years. What about David at the Dentist? Where are the laughing babies and ninja kittens the wacky web is so well known for?

In truth, it does make sense that the top most viewed YouTube videos are music videos. It’s a common practice to use YouTube as a free computer DJ, rather than pay to download hit songs. Sure, there’s Spotify and Pandora, but when you need a song in a pinch, it doesn’t get much easier than YouTube. Most of the top YouTube videos are pop hits that are popular with younger generations, who would be even more likely to avoid paying to download music.

In this situation, the videos aren’t being watched so much because they are exceptional videos – Just Bieber’s “Baby” video is fairly unremarkable, unless you’re really into disco-tech bowling alleys. These videos are only being used for the audio component. In some sense, it seems almost unjust to mark these videos as “most viewed” because in reality most probably are not being viewed at all.

Most Popular YouTube Videos: Comparing the Success Champions

A recent YouTube trends blog post compared Psy’s “Gangnam Style” to “Call Me Maybe,” as both have obtained immense popularity over the summer of 2012.

As YouTube blogger Kevin Allocca notes, the popularity of “Call Me Maybe” has grown at a steady clip over the past six months, while Psy’s hit “Gangnam Style” exploded over a shorter period, with a much steeper curve.

Top 25 Most Popular YouTube Videos Of All Time: What Makes A Video Go Viral? image best youtube videos

When this graph was created, “Gangnam Style” was trailing behind, but in recent days it has grown to beat “Call Me Maybe.”

Top 25 Most Popular YouTube Videos Of All Time: What Makes A Video Go Viral? image top youtube videos

“Call Me Maybe” has obtained a whopping 270 million views since it was first posted to YouTube on March 1. Remarkably, “Gangnam Style” recently surpassed Carly Rae Jepsen’s pop sensation in just a few months, reaching over 300 million views since July 15.

“Call Me Maybe” has proven its staying power, with it’s poppy tune overpowering the airwaves all summer. Again, its popularity on YouTube is probably purely for its audio – I doubt there are many people who could even tell you more than a handful of scenes from the music video. “Gangnam Style,” on the other hand, definitely owes a healthy portion of its success to its wacky, incredibly bizarre video, although the mad beats certainly deserve a fair share of the credit.

Psy’s dynamic combination of unrelentingly catchy beats with possibly the strangest music video to date has made it the Internet phenomenon it is, with “Gangnam Style” being recognized by Guinness World Records as the “Most ‘Liked’ Video in YouTube History.

Success by Sharing – Parodies and Covers

Besides both being 2012 summer hits, what do these two popular YouTube video sensations have in common? Both have parodies spawning faster than bunnies in heat on Adderall. Many of the most popular YouTube videos, including “Call Me Maybe” and “Gangnam Style,” owe at least part of their success to their parodies and covers.

Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit “Call Me Maybe” generated hundreds of parodies and personalized renditions, featuring celebrities, Olympic swimming teams, President Obama, and even Cookie Monster.

“Gangnam Style” Parodies

The potential success of encouraging “fair use” is also illustrated in the immense success of “Gangnam Style,” whose numerous and instantaneous parodies have obtained their own share of attention.

When a video has many parodies, it garners the attention of mass media outlets. Talk show hosts then end up discussing the interweb spin offs, bringing favorite parody acts on shows and multiplying a video’s virality.

Another major factor that has contributed to both “Gangnam Style” and “Call Me Maybe” receiving worldwide recognition is attention from popular celebrities.

Carly Rae Jepsen has admitted that a positive tweet from Bieber about her song is what sparked the “Call Me Maybe” wildfire. “Gangnam Style” has also been buzzed about by multiple celebrities, culminating in Britney Spears performing Psy’s signature horse-riding move on The Ellen Show.

When musicians and recording studios encourage others to use their songs for personal creations, it often increases the song’s popularity. New listeners may even discover the original song through a subsequent spin-off. The encouragement of parody videos can allow listeners to become more personal with the song, turning it into an object of endearment.

The Ones That Got Away: The Lost Videos

It’s a shame studios sometimes remove popular skit videos because of legal issues, cutting off a video’s viral potential in its prime. If some popular SNL skits were still on YouTube, a few of them would probably be giving Bruno Mars a run for his money. Looking at YouTube’s most popular videos, it’s clear that one of the biggest keys to success is openness and minimal concern over infringement issues (we’re looking at you Apple).

Keys to Creating a Mega-Popular YouTube Video

Looking at the top most popular YouTube videos of all time, and examining their success, there are a number of factors that increase the chances of a YouTube video becoming a mega-hit:

  • Encourage parodies and covers
  • Be hopelessly odd
  • Mad beats
  • A tweet from a celebrity

While this is a difficult recipe for most businesses to stir together, just meeting one or two of these criteria can help you create a YouTube hit. Remember, your video will never reach 100 million hits. It’s just not going to happen. What most businesses want to shoot for is a viral video which becomes ridiculously popular in a short period of time, but doesn’t necessarily have lasting power. While creating a YouTube viral video hit is still extremely difficult, you don’t need to appear on Ellen DeGeneres to do it.

Tips for YouTube Video Success: Humor

You’ll find the Top 25 Most Viewed Videos on YouTube list nearly devoid of humorous videos (again, with old Charlie breaking the status quo). If you were to ignore the music mega-hits, you’d find mostly humor and informational videos.

One technique that tends to find great success is humorous musical pieces- the combination of two paths to YouTube popularity.  The Lonely Island comedic musketeers have mastered this process, and continue to produce videos that jump to the top of YouTube. (Warning, this next video has some explicit, not-safe-for-work language)

Hopefully this examination of the most popular YouTube videos has given you some ideas about how to make your video a hit. Good luck!

Comments on this Article: 1

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  1. Tim says:

    Great article, makes sense.

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