Reduce this decade to a word, and you might come up with YouTube. (That or another webbed-out compound word like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or Craigslist.) Little changed our day-to-day more than the massive online experience-catalogue. YouTube not only democratized video, but gave us a kind of global omniscience, a remote control for what we see outside the confines of our personal experience. It also lent anyone with a video camera a soapbox, giving entertainment a whole new level of Darwinism.
Behold, my top ten YouTube videos of the decade, judged by popularity, brilliance, stickiness and hilarity. And to make it more interesting, I added a section at the bottom detailing what it’s been like having a minor YouTube hit.
10. Keyboard Cat
A fat kitty playing a Casio became the internet equivalent of the vaudeville hook- society simply doesn’t get any better than that. There are plenty of great Keyboard Cat videos- it was a toss up between this one and Walker: Texas Ranger starring an AIDS infected Haley Joel Osment.
This remixed trailer is to video mashups what Danger Mouse and Girl Talk are to their musical equivalent. Quite simply, this is the one that got our attention and started it all. We can thank Robert Ryang for all the subsequent Brokeback trailer parodies, and the millions of other mashup trailers that followed. Sheer brilliance.
8. Inmates Dance Thriller
1500 inmates at a prison in the Phillipines do a choreographed dance to Michael Jackson’s crowning achievement. MJ’s GF is played by an openly gay pizza chef convict. Chrisanto Nierre, who played the King himself, said it best. “I hope that all the people who see us will be happy in knowing that we, despite being prisoners, we were able to do this. Before the dancing, our problems were really heavy to bear. Dancing takes our minds away from our problems. Our bodies became more healthy. As for the judges, they may be impressed with us, seeing that we are being rehabilitated and this could help our case. We are being rehabilitated in a good way.” We’re just glad the world was able to watch.
7. David After Dentist
I remember this viral video’s outbreak better than any other- it completely dominated my Facebook wall for the better part of the week, and after I posted it, I remember almost all of my friends (who hadn’t already tossed up the link) reposting it almost immediately. What’s not to love? A kid that’s been legally drugged talking like a stoner- safe, oddly heartwarming and hilarious. Its victory was inevitable. Of course, for the real brilliance, click here– one of my favorite parodies.
The poster boys for YouTube, The Lonely Island’s ascent perfectly coincided with the site’s rocket up the Alexa charts. I remember first catching their brilliance at Poptenners Jamie & Chris’s old apartment years ago. It felt like only a matter of weeks before we heard the news that Lorne Michaels had hired the three of them for SNL. Since then, they’re responsible for a huge percentage of what I find funny on TV. Thankfully, I can leave the cathode ray tube off and catch them all on YouTube. I think Kablammo best encapsulates all their genius. I also think it might have inspired Pure West’s first intern’s video.
5. Rap Chop
Not only does this combine the brilliance of the ‘Shining’ trailer with the stickiness of David After Dentist, this video was actually bought by Slap Chop, and is now their infomercial. I love when the internet plucks talented people from obscurity and laces their palm with a fat check.
4. Numa Numa Guy
Blame it on the face or blame it on the song? Maybe it was the combo that spread across the web like wildfire, ultimately inspiring one of the most ridiculous samples in hip hop history. Nonetheless, I’ve gotta give props to the original Moldovan song Dragostea Din Tei. Catchy as all hell.
3. GI Joe PSAs
Probably the only online videos as ubiquitous as StrongBad in the early ’00s, this GI Joe PSA’s take WTF to new, incredible dimensions. And just about everyone I’ve met under the age of 35 chuckles when someone says “Porkchop sandwiches!”
This is simply my all-time favorite YouTube video- my favorite example of borrowed-IP brilliance. I still laugh every time.
1. JK Wedding Dance
What JK Wedding Dance does, and it does it effortlessly, is present us with the ultimate wish fullfillment. It tells us that undeniably, life can give us happy, Hollywood endings, and shows us (if not for the first time, one of the first) that real life can have climactic third acts that rival the best musicals, or Shakespearean and romantic comedies. It’s not life imitating art imitating life, its proof that life functions the same way art does- in three acts, with clear protagonists and replete with dance numbers.
Reality television has spent its entire brief life trying to package people’s lives into three acts, with the same beats and dramatic structure as fictional TV shows and movies- but it’s so obvious what it’s doing, and you can tell they work so hard at it, that it never comes across as genuine.
JK Wedding Dance spares us the first 85 minutes of the movie- it just gives us the final five. The climax of a Baz Lurhmann movie. The final scene of nearly every romantic comedy since Billy Shakes. It makes us believe that the love between that entire wedding party, and towards that bride and groom, is unfathomable- the kind of love we read about and watch in dark theaters, and channels billions of dollars into the entertainment industry. That kind of crazy, ideal love, all expressed in a dance number.
People loop this video in with other wedding dance videos, but its really nothing like them. It’s the ineffable proof we’ve all been searching for, and that’s why it has a cosmic trajectory, an unmatched power, and a knack for conquering our hearts. It tells us what we’ve wanted to hear since our first feel-good movie experience. This Is How It Really Happens.
Life After a Minor YouTube Hit
None of us remembers exactly when we (Pure West- five of Popten’s writing stable) decided to make farting into a tennis match, but it was around the time that we were churning out comedy shorts, a few years before Second Skin. Juan decided to keep the production values really high on this one, lugging tons of equipment and bringing on some actual actors (two friends, one who now writes for Popten) to keep it a bit more pro than our usual stuff at the time.
We shot the whole thing in an afternoon, and Juan spent a long while editing it to perfection- the fart noises took him an especially long time, but what mattered more than the farts? When we finally posted it to YouTube, we had our fingers crossed for ten thousand views.
It took off immediately, though it continued building momentum. In no time the video had accrued 20,000, then 50,000, and before we knew it 100,000 views. We were freaking out.
The first surreal moment was having the actress in the video tell us that she’d been stopped on the street more than once- recognized from Fart Match- as embarrassing as it sounds, I imagine. The views kept climbing and climbing. Someone showed us what a google search for Fart Match brought up- websites around the world embedding our video. Before we knew it, a Spanish TV station had copied our idea and posted it to YouTube.
Then we got the call from BET. They were putting together a pilot that featured funny YouTube videos, and they wanted Fart Match on it. Of course, we gave them the thumbs up, and that was the last we heard of it. Apparently the pilot didn’t make it. But the views kept climbing, and before we knew it, we’d reached 500,000 views.
MTV called a few years later- they were creating a pilot for a show that featured funny YouTube videos, and they wanted Fart Match on their show. We still haven’t heard back, so I imagine something similar happened there.
Right now Fart Match is at a little over 600,000 views. Obviously, there are tons and tons of YouTube videos that have over 1 million views, but I’ve rarely read an account of how it affected the creators of the video. So here’s what 600,000 views gets you- two almost-TV-deals and a bunch of recognition for actors with remarkable flatulence. It’s been a fun little ride with Fart Match, though nothing would prepare us for Second Skin a few years later.