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.

Skip ahead to a top 25 youtube video artists:

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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. PSY - GANGNAM STYLE (강남스타일) M/V - 795,294,541 views 


2. Justin Bieber - Baby ft. Ludacris - 803,225,890 views


3. Jennifer Lopez - On The Floor ft. Pitbull - 623,842,109 views


4. Eminem - Love The Way You Lie ft. Rihanna - 516,705,966 views


5. LMFAO - Party Rock Anthem ft. Lauren Bennett, GoonRock - 502,507,173 views


6. Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) (The Official 2010 FIFA Word Cup (TM) Song) - 500,667,104 views


7. Lady Gaga - Bad Romance - 497,082,520 views


8. Charlie bit my finger - again ! - 497,222,405 views


9. Michel Teló - Ai Se Eu Te Pego - Oficial (Assim você me mata) - 460,537,547 views


10. Don Omar - Danza Kuduro ft. Lucenzo - 405,843,529 views


11. Eminem - Not Afraid - 363,839,245 views


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


13. Justin Bieber - Never Say Never ft. Jaden Smith - 339,056,556 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.


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



“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 the YouTube site and the YouTube mobile app. (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!

(Read More: How To Advertise in YouTube Videos)

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Richard Kraneis
Oct 02, 2012

I'm not the target audience...As my daughter normally says if we watch TV together:"Dad, you're not the target audience."And so it goes...But from a post perspective, I'm sure today's "Top 25" post will generate website visitors to WordStream for a few years into the future.  Congratulationson a great post idea.Richard 

Megan Marrs
Oct 03, 2012

Thanks Richard. Sounds like your daughter could have a future in marketing!

jeremy widdup
Oct 02, 2012

I am a little confused by the basis of how you reached the conclusion of what makes a video viral on your argument.Where is the data to support your central argument that the reason that Youtube videos most views is based upon only the value of the audio - And its ease of access that is aactually the real reason?I supose I am asking if this is this just an oppionion that you hold or do you have data to support your comments? 

Megan Marrs
Oct 03, 2012

Hi Jeremy, thanks for the question.Even though I talk a bit about viral videos, this top 25 list isn't really composed of what I'd label as YouTube videos that have gone "viral". I talk about viral videos because some of these videos could certainly be considered viral (especially "Gangnam Style" and "Call Me Maybe", which are two videos I discuss in length), although not all of them. I think measuring a video's virality would require looking at the amount of views over a very limited time period (maybe a month) and seeing the rate of growth over that time.This list is more about the "most popular" YouTube videos - simply the videos that have the greatest number of views currently on YouTube. The idea that the audio component is the major reason for most of these videos' popularity is more an opinion. I don't see these videos as having an interesting or unique enough video component to justify their popularity (especially compared to other videos on YouTube), but I'm sure not everyone would agree.Do you have any different theories as to why these YouTube videos are popular? 

jeremy widdup
Oct 03, 2012

Hi Megan, Thanks for your response - It was interesting to see.Popularity video is difficult to separate out from its components set - Fans want to see their idol, want to also see them in a cinema graphic composition to enhance their experience. The music that makes them fanes and followable is attached to the video and the video generates the virality in a new media setting. It is difficult to believe that a fan would use a video to listen to a video just to hear the music - They want to see the star they are a fan of and then this movement which is set to music in a cinemagraphic setting creates the essence of the value. Trying to separate out the pieces of the value only reduces the value of video to being a system not a schema, where the reality is that its the videos ability to garner context that in turn generates the feeling and then the experience of the overall value generation.It is difficult to believe that a fan would follow a written text single article as much as they do a video and similarly they would not make an image viral, but might click and share upon it occasionally to make a share. A music videos already has a belief, a metal positioning and an emotional heritage preset  that the fan carries around in their head and the video supports this need for reassurance and excitement releasing why they like/love this music celebrity every time they press play. No other media can be turned on and consumed this way that provides this level of satisfaction to the fan. Nor can the fan actually consume the celebrity in any better more satisfying way.

May 18, 2015

Hey! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same
niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on.
You have done a wonderful job!

Oct 02, 2012

I tried my hand at making a youtube video with stick figures. It was really fun, though not quite viral LOL. You can see a more professional video over at Taking the Challenge

Megan Marrs
Oct 03, 2012

Looks like your link doesn't work. The good thing about YouTube these days is that it really lends itself to the amateur movie maker. 

Mar 24, 2015

After looking into a handful of the blog articles on your website,
I truly like your technique of writing a blog. I bookmarked it to my
bookmark website list and will be checking back in the near future.
Please visit my website too and tell me your opinion.

Oct 05, 2012

Yes i agree! What a wonderful blog! Regards from Werbeagentur Muenchen

Megan Marrs
Oct 19, 2012

Thanks Robert!

Dec 22, 2012

Hello Megan, unfortunately since short are all videos locked  in Germany! Thanks to GEMA."... because it may contain music for which the necessary music rights were not granted by the Gema" .Very, very bad 

Dec 22, 2012

Hello Megan, unfortunately since short are all videos locked  in Germany! Thanks to GEMA."... because it may contain music for which the necessary music rights were not granted by the Gema" .Very, very badRegards Gründer 

Oct 06, 2015

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Megan Gilbert
Jan 14, 2013

Hi! Soooo....any advice for an upcoming local musician that does not know celebreties for endorsement and, thoughI am wierd and funny, not usually something I want to be on my videos of performing? I have heard it's all about thewords you use in the title and descriptions of your video and not so much the tags.  Any advice in this area?? Thanks :)

Matt C
Oct 08, 2013

I use the free liking tool at for my videos. It shows quick results for my videos. It's an easy way to get in the highest rated videos for your corresponding keywords.

levante cream
Apr 21, 2015

Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my
comment didn't show up. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just
wanted to say great blog!

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