As 2013 draws to a close, we’re looking back at 2013’s biggest, best, and most memorable YouTube videos with some help from the data crunchers over at Tubular Labs. As we delve into the biggest videos of the year, we also couldn’t help but notice some bigger trends:
1) Community Reactions Are Key
This year we saw the importance of the fan and community reaction videos in the domino effect to viral success. From the Harlem Shake phenomenon to music covers and parodies, the success of content isn’t just in the hands of the original creator, but the fans whose reactions and creations around it lead to greater pickup.
2) Pranks Pull Views
This was the year of the prank, from major channels like Vitaly and Roman Atwood getting millions of views with their pranks to Jackass‘ Steve-O launching his own stunt/prank channel. The prank universe, however, brought up many “is it fake?” questions. From Atwood’s anniversary prank to the “Burning My Hair Off” fail to Kimmel’s “Twerking Girl Catches Fire” video, it seems almost every major stunt, prank, or joke video was accompanied by a debate about authenticity.
3) Focus on kids and families
Though YouTube often gets attention for controversial or edgy videos, many of our picks were geared toward younger fans and families, or even featured young people in a central role. (Examples: Kid President, “The Fox,” Lindsey Stirling/Pentatonix, “Convos With My 2 Year Old”)
4) The explosion of dance music
The No. 1 video of the year was Psy’s dance-y “Gentleman,” Ylvis’ parody of EDM songs was the big viral hit, “The Harlem Shake” is built around an electronic dance track, PLUS our pick for Best Effects features a dubstep soundtrack.
5) Indie video games
The No. 1 video game topic of 2013 is an independently produced game, Minecraft. As well, the No. 1 video game channel — PewDiePie — spends much of his time doing Let’s Play videos for indie releases. The few mega-corporations churning out the big-budget video game franchises no longer dominate the conversation.
6) The Entertainment Capital Is Global
International videos dominated views and conversation. We saw this clearly with Ylvis from Norway, PewDiePie from Sweden, Psy from Korea, and even popular celeb interviews like Chris Stark with Mila Kunis.
WARNING: You may be reminded of catchy songs and silly memes that will be stuck in your head clear until 2014. It’s just a chance you’ll have to take. Now on to the list!
NEXT: The viral videos of 2013
VIRAL VIDEO OF THE YEAR: Ylvis – “The Fox”
A video that went so big, even your grandma would know the words by now… if the song had any real words. Norway’s comic duo Ylvis became international superstars off of this parody of contemporary pop-dance music set in the serenity of the woods at night. The animal sing-a-long has netted a whopping 288 million views since being uploaded on September 3 and has inspired parodies from The Dallas Mavericks, Saturday Night Live, Harvard Medical students, professional farmers, and even YouTube itself, which used it as the basis for their 2013 “Rewind” feature.
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR: Psy – “Gentleman”
What IS a mother-father gentleman? Over 600 million views later, and we’re still not sure. But what is certain: Psy continued his YouTube dominance in 2013. His follow-up to 2012’s smash hit “Gangnam Style” was once more the No. 1 most viewed video of the year. (“Gentleman” also broke records for earning the most views in its first 24 hours, and getting to 100 million, 200 million, and 300 million views faster than any video in YouTube’s history.)
MUSIC VIDEO PARODY OF THE YEAR: Bart Baker – “I Knew You Were Trouble”
2013 was the year Bart Baker became the king of YouTube parodies, and this was the video that arguably made his name (and helped to define his style). A sharply satirical (some might say mean?) take on one of the year’s biggest pop songs, Bart’s version of Taylor Swift’s hit mocks her tendency to write creepy, obsessive breakup songs. Bart ended the year with another controversial parody — this time of Lorde’s “Royals” — that was actually pulled from YouTube (briefly) following a complaint from the singer’s label.
TREND OF THE YEAR: “The Harlem Shake”
No, come on, do the Harlem Shake. DO IT! A quirky routine set to Bauuer’s dance song of the same name, the Harlem Shake rocketed to massive overnight popularity back in February, after being kickstarted by a group of Australian teens called “Sunny Coast Skate” and vlogger Filthy Frank. Some of our favorite versions included the iconic take from Maker Studios (which even inspired a “man punching a plastic giraffe” shirt), a version featuring Miami Heat superstars, an underwater edition from the UGA Men’s Swim and Dive Team, and an animated offering courtesy of The Simpsons.
YOUTUBE STAR OF THE YEAR: Pew Die Pie
With over 18 million subscribers behind him, Pew Die Pie (a.k.a. Felix Kjellberg) was without a doubt the most popular individual on YouTube for most of the year. (He had the No. 1 most-subscribed channel from August all the way to November, and was only overtaken by the official YouTube Spotlight Channel run by the site itself.) 2013 was also the year PDP moved from his native Sweden to the U.K. AND the year he took home the Shorty Award in the gaming category. THIS BOY IS ON FIRE!
BREAKTHROUGH YOUTUBE STAR OF 2013: Steve-O
Jackass star Steve-O only joined YouTube in September, but made a big splash right away. Within his first 24 hours on the site, Steve brought in a whopping 120,000 new subscribers! He credits the overnight success to collaborations with some of YouTube’s most notable pranksters, including Vitaly and Roman Atwood, but we also think his style of comedy is an ideal fit for the quick-hit world of online video.
PRANK OF THE YEAR: Roman Atwood – “Anniversary Prank Backfires”
Lots of our favorite pranks this year involve over-the-top intricate setups or practical effects. (Who could forget Vitaly threatening innocents with a prop chainsaw?) But Roman Atwood’s smash hit “Anniversary Prank” only required himself, his girlfriend, and the constant, grinding threat of sexual infidelity. After setting up a hidden camera, Atwood told his beloved Britney that he had cheated on her, hoping for a shocked, saddened reaction. Instead, he got an unexpected, shocking revelation — she had also cheated on him! As Atwood proceeded to flip out, Britney revealed that she had seen him set up his hidden camera and was in on the joke the whole time. Many have accused Atwood of faking or “setting up” the video, but you can’t fake 40 million views — that’s how many people have seen the prank since Atwood uploaded it less than one month ago, on November 20.
WEDDING PROPOSAL OF THE YEAR: Spencer’s Home Depot Marriage Proposal
Over-the-top marriage proposals have become a popular YouTube genre, so we decided it’s time they got a category of their own. And no proposal of 2013 won more accolades, and caused more spontaneous crying fits, than Spencer Stout’s proposal to his partner, Dustin Reeser. The two had met at a Home Depot, you see, so it was only logical to gather together over 30 friends and family members for a proposal celebration/choreographed musical number set to Betty Who’s “Somebody Loves You.” (Sadly, though the proposal was filmed at a hardware store in Salt Lake City, Utah, S+D will have to go elsewhere for their nuptials — gay marriage remains illegal in that particular state…for now.)
COVER OF THE YEAR: Lindsey Stirling and Pentatonix – “Radioactive”
Two of YouTube’s most popular musical acts took on the #3 most listened-to song of 2013. Is it any surprise the result has ended up on this list? Violin wunderkind Lindsey Stirling united with a cappella masters Pentatonix for a new take on Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” set in some kind of dystopian wasteland, and they were rewarded with nearly 50 million views and the first-ever YouTube Music Award for “Response of the Year.” (We’re pretty sure that means “cover song.”)
FAN FILM OF THE YEAR: Wonder Woman // Short By Rainfall Films
The dearth of big-screen female superheroes inspired a number of notable films in 2013, but none was more embraced by the community than Rainfall Films’ take on Wonder Woman. The epic, expansive 2.5 minute short from director Sam Balcomb looks at both sides of the popular superhero – a contemporary version fighting SWAT Team members on a city street as well as WW in her native habitat, fighting mythological monsters. We’ll see Diana of Themyscira on the big screen next year in “Batman vs. Superman,” but will Gal Gadot measure up to Team Unicorn’s Rileah Vanderbilt in the title role? Only time will tell…
NEW SERIES OF THE YEAR: Convos With My 2 Year Old
Sure, a grown man dressing up as a toddler is always funny, but it’s the ways that Matthew Clarke’s “Convos With My 2 Year Old” captures the spunky, no-nonsense personality of the titular Coco that has made it one of the Web’s most popular series of 2013. Since launching Season 1 on May 21st, “Convos” has attracted over 630,000 subscribers and millions of views, and has even seen its plucky protagonist (and her adult male doppelgänger, actor David Milchard) start to grow up. The title changed for the second season to “Convos With My 3 Year Old” after Coco had a birthday.
ONGOING SERIES OF THE YEAR: Epic Rap Battles of History
Though they had previously workshopped the idea of historical figures exchanging pointed rhymes in live settings, Nice Peter and Epic Lloyd released their first YouTube “Epic Rap Battle of History” on September 26th, 2010. (The battle? John Lennon vs. Bill O’Reilly.) The show kicked off its 3rd season in 2013, appropriately with the third face-off between ERB all stars Darth Vader and Adolf Hitler, and followed that up with comedians Key & Peele making their second appearance, this time as Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali. Other notable guest stars this year include Jenna Marbles as Eve, the first woman, Michelle Glavan as Miley Cyrus, Ray William Johnson as Boba Fett and Pew Die Pie as Mikhail Baryshnikov. The star power, teamed with Peter and Lloyd’s trademark hilarious lyrics and sharp historical references, have added up to 8.8 million subscribers to date, and downright staggering views on individual episodes. (Their Mozart vs. Skrillex showdown, starring the creators themselves, has nearly 43 million views to date.)
MOST DISCUSSED YOUTUBE TOPIC OF THE YEAR: Minecraft
Based on advertising campaigns and first-weekend sales figures, it’d be tempting to guess that high profile games like the “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield” series would dominate the YouTube discussion. But though these games make a strong showing, it’s a modest, throwback, independently-released game – “Minecraft” – that proved itself the hottest topic on YouTube this year. Not just the hottest GAMING topic. Hottest OVERALL. “Minecraft” just for the PC has, to date, sold 13 million copies, with a haul of 33 million copies over all consoles and systems. With its noted complexity (and lack of a basic instruction manual), it’s not so surprising that the so-called “building game” would spark heavy online discussion. But it’s not just gameplay tips that have become a hit on the Tubes – animation utilizing the game proves just as popular. Most popular songs at this point get “Minecraft”-themed parodies, and the intricate practice of designing advanced buildings and even roller coaster rides in the game regularly attracts millions of viewers wondering how, exactly, these virtual engineering feats were accomplished.
FAIL OF THE YEAR: Burning My Hair Off
Jimmy Kimmel’s fall hoax, in which a girl appeared to accidentally light herself on fire with a candle while “twerking,” may have gotten more headlines, but Tori Locklear burning off a sizable chunk of her blonde locks with a curling iron scored over twice as many views, with 31.7 million to date. The video – initially meant as a hair-curling tutorial, and closing out with Locklear’s stunned, agonized reaction – was shot in October of 2012 but didn’t make it to YouTube until February of this year. Within days of uploading it, Tori was telling her story to Ellen DeGeneres on TV, and was well on her way to becoming a cautionary tale for daughters everywhere.
MOST INSPIRING VIDEO OF THE YEAR: A Pep Talk from Kid President to You
Kid President is the alias of 10 year old Tennessean Robby Novak. The character was originally created by Novak and Brad Montague for a video promoting an annual benefit dinner at Freed-Hardeman University, featuring a guest appearance from Condoleezza Rice. (Novak’s dad, David, works at the school alongside Montague, who heads up a service-oriented youth program called Go! Camp.) It was clear soon after that Kid President was meant for greater things, and the debut of his infamous “Pep Talk” on the SoulPancake channel in January of 2013 signaled the arrival of a new Internet sensation. The motivational video has received more than 30 million views so far, and kicked off a kid presidential career that – in just one year – has included appearances alongside Beyonce, Andrew WK, Ban Ki-Moon, SoulPancake founder Rainn Wilson and Adult President Barack Obama.
MOVIE PARODY OF THE YEAR: After Ever After
In this elaborate musical parody, singer Jon Cozart (aka Paint) reworks classic Disney songs into funny, sad tales of what happened to the princesses after the movies ended. Included are Ariel from “Little Mermaid,” Jasmine from “Aladdin,” Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” and Pocahontas. Cozart performs all the roles himself, in front of and behind the camera, and took nearly a month to complete the video.
TV PARODY OF THE YEAR: “Joking Bad”
“Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon has had a string of YouTube successes this year, but perhaps his most audacious release was this 13 minute mini-movie parodying the entire series “Breaking Bad,” beginning to end. The video was released on September 11th, to commemorate that month’s final episode of the beloved AMC crime drama, and as of this writing has nearly cracked the 10 million view mark. In addition to Fallon and his announcer Steve Higgins (playing Heisenberg and Jesse, respectively), look out for cameos from “Breaking Bad” stars Bryan Cranston, Bob Odenkirk and Aaron Paul, as well as an appearance from the late night host Fallon will soon succeed, “The Tonight Show’s” Jay Leno.
INTERVIEW OF THE YEAR: Chris Stark Talks to Mila Kunis
Chris Stark was interviewing Mila Kunis at a junket for “Oz, the Great and Powerful” on behalf of Radio 1’s “Scott Mills Show,” and it seemed like maybe it wasn’t going very well. Stark was, after all, nervous and seemed to have trouble focusing his questions on the film. Fortunately, the actress was on board to go a bit off-topic, and what resulted was a charmingly off-the-cuff conversation that gave viewers a rare glimpse behind the entertainment journalism scenes. (Topics include Starks’ friends nicknames, his choice in beers and his favorite football club. Kunis also scored an invite to join Chris’s mates for pints some time.) With over 12 million views, the clip turned Stark into a mini-celebrity in his own right, and earned him further opportunities to conduct more interviews with subjects including Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Aniston and Chloe Grace Moretz.
MADE UP EXCLAMATION OF THE YEAR: Kapooya!
Michelle Clark coined “Kapooya” to describe the sound of large hail chunks hitting her Brookshire, Texas, home in one of the year’s most memorable local news clips. Even without getting the official Gregory Brothers Auto-Tune treatment, Clark’s video scored 3 million views to date.
WEIRDEST OVERNIGHT CELEBRITY OF THE YEAR: Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker
The Internet first met Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, aka “Kai,” on February 2nd of 2013, when an interview with Fresno, California, reporter Jessob Reisbeck went viral online. In the clip, Kai colorfully describes an ill-fated hitchhiking session, in which he was picked up by driver Jett Simmons McBride, who proceeded to slam his car – on purpose – into a PG&E employee working on the side of the road. Kai, seeing McBride go crazy and attack the employee as well as innocent bystanders, did what anyone would do and subdued the man with the blunt end of a hatchet. (His use of the phrase “Smash Smash Suh-MASH!” to describe his actions contributed in no small part to his future infamy.)
Usually, that’s where this story would end. Kai became an Internet celebrity, received the Gregory Brothers auto-tune treatment and the original video racked up 4.4 million views. Unfortunately, there’s a tragic coda to the story, as Kai was shortly thereafter arrested in New Jersey in connection with the murder of lawyer Joseph Galfy Jr. He’s currently in prison awaiting trial for that crime.
BEST USE OF SPECIAL EFFECTS: Kittens on the Beat
Corridor Digital had a lot of showy effects clips this year but none stood out as much as the relatively simple, hilarious “Kittens on the Beat.” In the short, a group of small humanoids are attempting to steal socks, only to be thwarted by a team of very real house cats. The action – set to the song “Wildstyle” by Norwegian dubstep artist Aleksander Vinter – seamlessly blends the real cats with the tiny human sock thieves, and Corridor’s Niko and Sam have received 5.7 million views so far for its efforts.