Making an incredibly successful YouTube video is the holy grail for any digital marketer. Gaining a place in the most watched YouTube videos list is a great ambition to have, but you'll be up against some stiff competition. Let's take a look at the top 10 most viewed YouTube videos and see what the secret to their success is.
Top 10 most watched YouTube videos
You may have expected this, but the majority of the most popular YouTube videos are actually music videos. Most, but not all. Here's our list based on the latest statistics available right now:
1. Despacito - Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee
Despacito, the Spanish word for 'slowly', has broken all records in terms of the most viewed YouTube videos, reaching the milestone of two billion views faster than any other video, ever. It went on to reach 2.5 billion views faster than any other, and now boasts more than five billion views, making it the most watched YouTube video of all time.
As a song that's almost completely sung in Spanish, the immense popularity of this video surprised everyone. Although hugely popular in Hispanic countries, Despacito was also top of the charts in 45 different countries, from Uruguay to Japan to Italy, so what made it so popular? Experts have speculated that it's mix of Caribbean, Latin, pop and rap gave it a broad appeal. It's earwormish nature, danceable beat and perfectly summery vibe have propelled this fairly mediocre video to the heights of YouTube stardom that the rest of us can only dream about.
2. See You Again - Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth
See You Again is a pretty cool song, but is it really cool enough to be number two of the most watched YouTube videos? Sure, the tune is catchy, and the video production is probably better than that of Despacito, but it's rapid rise to YouTube stardom was still rather unexpected. Over 800 days after release, the video had clocked up almost three billion views, unseating the reigning champion of YouTube views, Psy and his K-Pop masterpiece, Gangnam Style, and today it's sitting comfortably in the number two spot with 3.6 billion watches.
So, why did this tune go so viral? Was it the loyal Fast and the Furious fan base craving more time with the Furious 7 soundtrack, or was it the tributary nature of the video paying homage to the late Paul Walker that was bringing in the views? In truth, it was probably both and also neither. The main influencer here was simply that a lot more people were using YouTube. Between 2015 and 2016, YouTube experienced a 17 per cent increase in music video viewers and a total 25 per cent increase in video streams. See You Again was simply in the right place at the right time.
3. Shape of You - Ed Sheeran
If there's one artist who has rocked the music scene more than any other in recent years, Mr. Sheeran is it. His double lead single from his latest album ÷ (divide) has been his most successful to date, racking up 3.5 billion views on YouTube to date with millions more added each day. It is Spotify's most popular song ever with 1.5 billion streams and currently holds the record for the most number of weeks spent in the Billboard top 10. It's was nominated for best single at the Brit Awards 2018 but was pipped at the post by Rag'n'Bone Man with Human.
But why does everyone love Shape of You so much? It's a pretty simple song, with four basic chords and fairly boring romantic lyrics; what makes it so special? Some of it's success is down to the physical construction of the music itself, with a pentatonic scale offering a tried and tested catchiness that's impossible to resist. Even if you're not a Sheeran fan, exposure has made this song familiar to you, being popular in clubs, pubs, restaurants and with buskers on street corners (not to mention certain Christmas adverts, right?). Add to all this the rise in general popularity of music videos, it's clear to see how it's become one of the most viewed YouTube videos of all time.
4. Gangnam Style - Psy
We'd be surprised if you could honestly say you'd never heard of Gangnam Style (and perhaps secretly tried a few horse dance moves yourself), and Psy himself was undoubtedly pretty surprised too when he rocketed to internet fame in 2013. At it's peak, this K-Pop legend was racking up 72 views per second and averaged 33 views a second for two whole years. Today, he's fourth in the list with a total of 3.2 billion views (and yes, people are still watching).
Although it might seem Psy was inherently lucky when his song became such a huge hit, actually what he did was very clever. As well as combining a catchy tune with a ridiculously funny video, he intentionally left copyright off the video itself, almost inviting others to create their own parodies of the video, which they did in their droves. The dance he created was nothing short of genius, easily replicable by others all over the world. Despite being 'K-Pop', Psy's own look is a world away from the polished pretty boy image of other artists in this genre, offering more of an anti-pop image from a guy who is clearly comfortable in his own skin. The result is the full package of measures, and deservedly places Gangnam Style in the top 10 most watched YouTube videos of all time.
5. Masha and the Bear: Recipe for Disaster - Get Movies
A rather unusual entry for our number five slot, Masha and the Bear, as you might have guessed, is not a music video at all. It's not even an official video, and to top it off it's in Russian! Masha and the Bear is incredibly popular in Russia, being based loosely on an old Russian folk story, and since all 68 episodes have been uploaded to YouTube, three have surpassed the one billion view mark.
This particular episode is the crowning glory, having racked up 3.1 billion views over the years. The reason for this particular episode's incredibly popularity is not entirely clear, although it is thought that perhaps the way Masha herself is portrayed have helped its success. Dressed in a folk costume with no legs on show and a headscarf makes the video acceptable to Muslim audiences around the world, which may have helped to spread its popularity.
6. Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
Also with 3.1 billion views, the inimitably catchy Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson has been his biggest hit to date. Boasting chart topping success in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many other locations around the world, the single won two Grammys, record of the year and spent 14 weeks at number one in the US. So, what was it that got people watching, singing and dancing along with Ronson and Mars?
Part of the success is undoubtedly down to the amazing lyrics of the song. From repeating how hot he is to namechecking Michelle Pfeiffer and Saint Laurent, this is feelgood power lyrics at their very best. The simple four chord structure and effortlessly funky beat helps its appeal bridge the generations, and the video itself just screams fun, fun, fun! Don't believe us, just watch (the YouTube video, of course)!
7. Sorry - Justin Bieber
It's no surprise that the young person's sensation that is Justin Bieber had to make an appearance in our top 10 most watched YouTube videos. He is, after all, the epitome of the YouTube generation, and has plenty of other well watched videos in his archives. Selling 10 million copies in 2016 alone and topping the charts in 13 countries, Sorry has racked up, to date, 2.9 billion hits on YouTube, making it his most successful music video ever. So, what was the secret to this hits success?
Actually, we think that the reason for success of this particular Bieber creation is due in part to the mismatch between the visuals and the audio. A languishing video requesting redemption from a lover would typically be shot in gritty black and white and feature the singer moping about feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, Bieber opted to recruit lively dancers from New Zealand's ReQuest Dance Crew and furnish them with eye popping outfits and lively dance moves to make up for the potentially depressing lyrics.
8. Sugar - Maroon 5
Maroon 5 have enjoyed a somewhat tumultuous career, achieving fame in the noughties, disappearing for a while and then returning with outstanding hits such as 'moves like Jagger' and 'One more night'. But this song, Sugar, has been their biggest video hit to date. Why? Well, the proof is in the pudding as they say.
This was a completely new concept video, shot in a variety of locations around Los Angeles and featuring Maroon 5 crashing numerous weddings. The reality is that the band did arrange things somewhat with the groom, although the bride and her guests had no idea. The resulting video is a joy to watch, as the assembled wedding parties express their shock, surprise, fear and even anger as Levine and his crew pitch up and start singing.
9. Shake It Off - Taylor Swift
After a song drought of almost a year, devoted fans of Taylor Swift were sick to death of hearing 'I Knew you were Trouble' on the radio five hundred times a day, so Shake it Off was almost guaranteed to be a big hit. Going straight into number one at the charts and staying in the Hot 100 for 50 consecutive weeks, it's success on YouTube was even greater, boasting 2.5 billion views to date and making it the 9th most watched video on YouTube. But how?
Swift is a master of generating internet attention. With over 100 million Instagram followers, Taylor set about whipping her 'Little Monsters' into a frenzy about the forthcoming release of her new single. As a result, Shake it Off was pretty much all the internet cared about for a full 24 hours. The lyrics tread a thin line between playful mockery of Swift and self-aware empowerment but are also super easy to memories and sing along with. Well played madam, well played.
10. Roar - Katy Perry
In 2013, Katy Perry took a short break out of kissing girls and liking it, as well as marrying (and divorcing) Russell Brand in order to release this banging new single. By the end of the year, Roar had sold almost 10 million copies and had topped the charts in 12 different countries. It's success on the radio was only surpassed by the success of the colorful music video on YouTube, where it has secured 2.5 billion views to date.
What's not to love about this particular video, we ask? The lyrics are super empowering, you can run to it, dance to it or just belt out your own roar alongside Katy. The visuals are awesome too, in particular the CGI animals and skimpy leopard print bikini, which undoubtedly helped its popularity. In a year which was tough personally for Perry, she hit back and produced this powerful song, showing once again that she is indeed a champion.
The most viewed videos on YouTube are constantly changing, and as more and more people choose to consume their visual content in this way, we'll undoubtedly see more records broken, more changes to this top 10 and more exciting content being produced. Were you surprised by our list? Who did you think should have made the top 10? Let us know!
Liza Brown is a writer and a lover of all things video.
Follow @Liza Brown
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