Viral videos


10 videos that took the internet by storm

Dietrich Neu
Features Editor

Over the past 7 years we have seen a massive shift in the medium by which information is shared. Written letters has been replaced by sending email, CD sales are being swallowed by MP3s, cell phones are better described as mobile computers, and TV is slowly losing ground to video streaming websites all over the world. The internet has quickly become the go-to medium for people to express themselves through writing, music, and video.

Our generation has been affectionately dubbed by some as the “YouTube generation”. Millions upon millions of viewers flood to the web every day to watch anything from legitimate short films, to clips captured by a camera phone. In just six short years, YouTube has gone from startup garage website to the third most-viewed webpage in the world, right behind Google and Facebook.

Although posting videos online wasn’t an impossible task before YouTube’s inception, it was much more difficult, and therefore much less appealing and widespread. With its simple interface, YouTube allowed interested users to post videos online with relative ease. The accessibility of the website allowed for anyone, anywhere, to post whatever they wanted – for the world to see.

The result of this was explosive and people started uploading like madmen.  YouTube allowed everyone, not simply the computer savvy, to display their creative talents or even just a funny moment in their lives. They could express their views on a video blog, or post a video of their kids playing hockey.

YouTube also created an easy avenue for millions users to find content to watch. Not only was it easy to upload content, it was easy for people to access it whenever they wanted. The accessibility of the content allowed for popular videos to spread via word of mouth quickly and easily. A friend could tell another about something they had seen, and that person could view the content within seconds. In today’s age of smartphones, you don’t even have to be at a computer to view a popular video.

The most popular videos on YouTube are some of the most-watched content in the entire world, with some gaining millions of views over a few days.

When someone finds a hit video on YouTube, others find out, fast. This has lead to the popularization of the term “viral video”, comparing the way a virus spreads from one person to another with the way word of a video travels from person to person. TV needs advertising and promotion to build a program, whereas Internet videos are almost all promoted through people talking to one another and sharing through social media.

Although YouTube has accelerated the viral video phenomenon, it would be a lie to say that’s where the trend started. Several videos have reached viral status through person-to-person sharing software, and uploads to various pre-YouTube websites.

For almost as long as it was possible for upload videos to the internet, people having been capturing whatever they see and posting it online for the world to enjoy. This has resulted in fame for some, humiliation for others, and most importantly, entertainment for viewers.

For whatever the reason – whether it be because the video displays a child with an exceptional skill, a kid  slinging around a broomstick like a light-sabre, or the remixed interview of a ghetto feminine hair dresser – internet videos have the proven ability to eclipse any mainstream media in popularity and provide their creators with fame and fortune in a relatively short amount of time.

In light of YouTube’s most recent viral hit “Friday”, a gut-wrenching pop tune created by “artist” Rebecca Black, the Carillon has compiled a list of the most popular viral internet hits from the past decade. Some of them are funny, others ugly, and some of them are downright weird. But, for whatever the reason, these videos and Internet memes have slowly worked their way into the fabric of our pop culture.

The Bed Intruder Song

Leave it to the YouTube generation to turn something like a news report on an attempted rape into one of the most popular music videos of the year. What is now known as the Bed Intruder Song started out as a routine news report on the attempted rape of a young woman named Kelly Dodson. An interview with Kelly’s brother Antoine was posted to YouTube as part of the news station’s YouTube channel. Two days after the video was posted, a group of musicians who call themselves The Gregory Brothers remixed and auto-tuned the interview into a song; it went viral within days. Millions of people flooded to YouTube to watch Dodson’s passionate and flamboyant interview remixed to a beat. The video started to make its way into Billboard charts around the world, topping at number 89 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and selling over 100,000 thousand copies on iTunes.

The effects of the video were profound, immediately skyrocketing Antoine and the Gregory Brothers into the spotlight. Antoine became an Internet celebrity overnight, doing radio interviews all over the world and live performances at events such as the 2010 BET awards.

In January of this year it was announced via MSN that Dodson had begun filming a pilot episode for a new reality show, following him and his family on their move to L.A. and Dodson’s attempt to capitalize on his newfound fame.

People can now buy Bed Intruder costumes modeled after the outfit that Dodson was wearing at the time of the interview, other merchandise such as t-shirts, imitation do-rags, wigs, and iPhone apps are being sold to capitalize on the video’s notoriety.

Although the massive popularity of this video has died down significantly, the impact it had on the Dodson family and The Gregory Brothers has changed their lives permanently. If you need an indication of how powerful a viral video can be in today’s day and age, you need look no further than "The Bed Intruder Song."

The Homeless Man with a Golden Voice

Of all the viral videos in existence, this one has the most heart-warming story to go along side. Ted Williams, a homeless man from Columbus, Ohio, was captured on video performing his golden radio voice for a videographer from Columbus Dispatch. The video displayed Williams doing voiceovers, much like what you would hear during radio commercial breaks. His crisp, booming voice was shockingly radio worthy, and unsurprisingly word spread very quickly about the homeless man with the golden pipes.

Only two days after the original video was posted to YouTube, Williams started getting interview requests from news stations around the US. Next came job offers, a lot of them. Williams eventually decided to work for MSNBC and Kraft Foods doing voiceovers. Not bad for a man who was homeless just a short time ago.

The media had a field day with the Williams story, telling the world about his struggles and his rise to fame. The attention from large broadcasting corporations like MSNBC also allowed Williams to be reunited with his mother, who he hadn’t seen in years. 

This might be the best feel-good story of them all, the world watched as a man went from a homeless, depressed drug addict, to a man who has been reunited with his mother and living his dreams of becoming a successful voiceover artist. Just a plain old feel-good story, not to mention great PR for MSNBC and Kraft Food.

And most importantly, this sends a message to all the other homeless people out there: you need an act.

Star Wars Kid (2002)

For most of us, watching someone make an ass of himself is an irresistible opportunity to feel slightly better about ourselves. There is something oddly satisfying about watching some obscure event and asking yourself “what the hell is this guy thinking?” For people who enjoy the misery of others, Star Wars Kid is a classic, a pre-YouTube classic in fact.  The video depicts a young high school student from Quebec wielding a golf ball retriever around like a light-sabre.

The video was filmed in the student’s high school film studio. Unfortunately for him, a copy was accidently left in the studio and one of his classmates found it and converted it to an electronic file on his computer. The video was then distributed around the school before one student started to post it on P2P applications such as Limewire.

The video became an instant cult favourite and a huge underground Internet meme, a little too huge in fact. The student in the video, who has had his identity concealed, issued a lawsuit for the emotional damage he endured during the video’s popularity streak, and what a streak it was.

Although the video hit its popularity peak before YouTube was in play, the video was still a massive hit. The Viral Factory estimated that the video has been viewed over 900 million times since its creation.

Spoofs of the video have been done by the likes of South Park, American Dad, and Arrested Development, among others. The first copy of the video was posted on YouTube in 2010, eight years after the original release, achieving over 20 million views.

Numa Numa Dance (2004)

This is the video responsible for the Numa Numa phenomenon. A man named Gary Brolsma decided to release a video of himself lip-syncing to the song “Dragostea din tei” by the band O-Zone. What was intended to be a silly waste of time turned into a massive Internet hit and one of the most widespread internet memes in history.

The video is a short clip of Brolsma dancing and enthusiastically lip-syncing to the words of the O-Zone track before the video cuts off mid-song. But the short minute and a half was enough to get the job done; it was a monster hit.

The video was originally posted to the website Newgrounds; after that it was copied to hundreds of others. To date, it is estimated that the video has been viewed over 700 million times, trailing only Star Wars Kid.

Brolsma has received media attention from ABC’s Good Morning America, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and VH1’s The Best Week Ever.  According to the New York Times, Brolsma was turned off by the idea of becoming a media celebrity and cancelled several media appearances, keeping himself out of the spotlight for several years.

Brolsma reappeared years later in a Vizio ad during the Superbowl, and even conducted a band to play the song at halftime during an NCAA college football game. Numa Numa Dance has also been seen and mentioned in shows like NCIS and South Park as well. In Brolsma’s case, becoming famous was as simple as turning on his headphones, a web camera, and letting his inner nerd run wild on screen – just like that, permanently ingrained in pop culture.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time (2002)

Originally posted on the forums as an amusing waste of time, the song “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” is now one of the most popular and recognizable Internet phenomenons in the world.

The video shows a repetitive, pixelated, dancing banana gyrating and fist pumping his way around a screen to the tune of the Buckwheat Boyz song “Peanut Butter Jelly Time”.

Maybe it is the repetitive nature of the song. Or maybe it’s the idea that there is a banana dancing to a song called “Peanut Butter Jelly Time”.  Whatever the reason, PBJT was a massive Internet hit.

The song is incredibly easy to remember as well; if you can remember the title, you can remember the song, because that’s pretty much the whole thing. “PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIIIIME!” rinse and repeat.

The song’s creators, The Buckwheat Boyz, turned the song into some minor success, such as an opening gig for rapper Nas. But the fame didn’t last, and The Buckwheat Boyz’s 15 minutes of fame ran out a long time ago.

Leeroy Jenkins

With the massive popularity of the online multiplayer RPG World of Warcraft, it seems like it was only a matter of time before the game produced a massive Internet meme to go along with it.

The video was released to YouTube by a Warcraft players guild named “PALS FOR LIFE” and immediately became famous, not only in the Warcraft community, but in the mainstream media as well.

The video depicts the guild members carefully discussing detailed battle plan for an imminent assault on their enemies; but, one of their members, Leeroy, was away from his computer. Leeroy returns, completely ignorant of the strategy, and runs into the battle screaming “Leeeeroy Jenkins!” This subsequently ruined the carefully planned attack for the others. As Leeroy dives into the battle, his guild mates chase after him in a swirling sea of confusion. Everyone is easily killed as Leeroy runs headlong into battle and the meticulous plan is falls apart.

The video became an instant hit, and the quintessential cool moment for World of Warcraft. For many, it was the only cool moment the game produced.

The game show Jeopardy featured “Leeroy” as a clue during their college week tournament; no one buzzed on the clue. References to the video have been made on South Park and in the Armed Forces Journal. “Leeroy” Easter eggs and achievements have been permanently added to the World of Warcraft game.

Ben Schulz, the creator of the character, was invited to BlizzCon 2007 to speak about the creation of the video and how it all happened. When asked if the video was staged, Schulz replied, “No, we were all drinking 40s and yelling at each other.” Interesting.

Getting “Rickrolled”

OK, this isn’t really a single viral video, but it is one hell of an Internet meme using a YouTube video. “Rickrolling” as it is known, is a bait-and-switch where a user clicks on a link, thinking that it’s relevant, and boom, they are greeted by the video for Rick Astley’s song “Never Gonna Give You Up”. At that point, the user has been rickrolled.

The act of rickrolling has made its way across all corners of the Internet, and even into public events such as basketball games and parades. It is arguably the most contagious theme for a bait-and-switch ever made. On the Internet, rickrolling has become a harmless way to pull a fast one on absolutely anyone. The great thing about rickrolling is that it’s nearly impossible to see it coming.

This technique has even been used to illuminate security defaults in websites like Facebook and PayPal, to prank call news and radio call-in shows, and even to make a copycat website that tricked users with a similar domain name to a popular Scientologist website, then hit them with some Rick Astley upon arrival.

Afro Ninja

Who doesn’t like watching someone fall flat on their face? No one! That would explain why Afro Ninja went viral. The video is leaked footage of an audition reel for a Nike commercial with LeBron James and famous martial artist Jim Kelly. Mark Hicks, the “Afro Ninja”, is seen in the video attempting to do a back flip followed by an impressive display of his nunchuck skills. Instead, Hicks, who was apparently suffering from jetlag, botched the opening flip by landing on his face, not his feet. Hicks, severely concussed and confused, attempted to get back to his feet and continue the display. The result was a split second on his feet, followed by a lumbering fall off camera with nunchucks swinging all the while.

When Hicks was asked about the video later he stated “I was sick because it takes a long time to gain respect and trust in the stunt business … I felt like this video would destroy all that I had worked for by making me look like a goof.”

Thankfully for Hicks, he was given another chance at the role, and he won. He is also making a film about titled Afro Ninja, and has made an appearance on the Tonight Show to discuss the video. Although Hicks has never embraced the video, claiming that it has only made things harder for him, it is certainly a viral video that will be forever etched in Internet culture.


Charlie Bit My Finger

I don’t know what is so funny about a young baby biting the finger of his older brother, but apparently 286 million people do. The video Charlie Bit My Finger is the most popular amateur video on YouTube.

The idea is simple enough; the two boys are sitting in a chair, the younger one bites his older brother’s finger, and then seemingly grins at his handiwork while he brother screams “Charlie bit me!” in a thick English accent.

As the numbers show, this was another monster hit. Debuting in 2007, the video has averaged six million hits a month for the last four years. The baby-on-baby crime was ranked as the number one viral video of all time by Time magazine.

Although the parents of the two boys have said that they do not want to commercialize their children by creating merchandise with their faces on it, some web experts estimated that they could have made around 100,000 euros from advertisements played during the video alone.

The boys now have their own video blog online. The blog captures all the riveting drama in the lives of three-year-olds; and yes, it gets millions of hits per episode. According to their mother, the boys are just beginning to learn about what they are a part of. 

The Evolution of Dance

Dancing is an interesting activity. Pretty much everyone sucks at it, which is probably why it is so fun to watch. The YouTube monster hit The Evolution of Dance capitalized on our society’s love affair with watching people dance. It’s just plain funny.

This video has been described by some as “the funniest 6 minutes you will ever see.” That’s up for debate, but the video is freaking hilarious nonetheless.

The Evolution of Dance features a man named Judson Laipply dancing his way through a progression of 12 popular dance songs while a crowd in the background cheers him on. The clip is pretty impressive. The balls it takes to get on stage and dance like Laipply did is worth some respect. All of the dance moves in the video go hand in hand with the time period of the songs playing, and Liapply pulls them off quite well.

Liapply’s video has earned him appearances in BBC commercials, interviews on the show Rude Tube, and a quick showing in a Weezer music video. Like Leeroy Jenkins, The Evolution of Dance was used as a clue on Jeopardy.  The popular TV show The Office also paid homage to the video when the character Andy did the dance in an attempt to distract another character.

Before Charlie Bit My Finger, this was the most-watched YouTube clip in the world, as well as the highest-rated and most-discussed.

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