One aspect of modern popular culture became popular in 2005 with the invention of YouTube. Since
then, popular videos have dominated the site, gaining thousands, even millions, of individual views.
These so-called viral videos have become a staple in modern culture, but what makes them popular?
What makes a video of a guy singing about fish gain 20 million views or a child biting his brother’s finger
get watched over half a billion times? The answer is in fact simple.
An important factor in a video’s potential fame, or “virality,” is music. Whether it is an early video,
like “Evolution of Dance” or “Chocolate Rain,” or a more recent one like “One Pound Fish” or “Dumb
Ways to Die,” music is a major factor in what makes a video become viral. The music usually adds to the
content and takes the forefront, instead of acting in the background.
Another way in which a video can gain virality is the cute factor. If the video contains babies, puppies,
kittens or other baby animals, the amount of content that appeals to the sweet spot in our hearts tend
to increase how many times the video is passed around and watched.
While the cuteness may appeal more to the ladies, guys will gravitate more towards another genre
of viral videos. These videos usually involve pain, failure and plenty of both. Some of these videos, like
“Catch the Ice Dude,” can be featured in shows, such as Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0” and YouTube’s own
RayWilliamJohnson channel. Usually, the hosts of these shows react to the videos the same way most
viewers react to them—either by cringing along with the person in pain or laughing at the person for
Whereas the pervious genre contained videos of people failing to do something, another group
of videos feature an amazing feat or a task that is hard to accomplish. It could be simply a nearly
impossible event, like making the game-winning basketball shot at the end of the game, or a simple feat
done excellent way, like dodging a ball by doing a flip worthy of a stuntman. Although they do not have
as much virality as the videos of people failing, these are usually the videos that make people feel good
Although all of the previous factors in videos have the potential for virality, one of the biggest factors
for popularity makes people scratch their heads in confusion, or gasp in terror. Usually placed in class
and known by Internet users as “the weird place of YouTube,” these videos are either quirky, like “The
Invisible Drive Thru Prank,” or shocking, like “Golden Eagle Snatches Kid.” These videos, although
different, tend to show the same reaction of awe.
Viral videos like these often have something else attached to them. For example, the man in “Catch
the Ice Dude” was actually promoting his band before hurting himself. “Dumb Ways to Die” was actually
intended to be a public service announcement from Metro to be careful around trains and platforms.
Even “Golden Eagle Snatches Kid” was fabricated by four college students from Montreal, Canada, for
one of their classes.
If a video is viral enough, the publishers of the video can benefit financially by partnering with
YouTube. If the person or group accepts, then YouTube can run ads on the video and give a slight
cut to the video publishers. Some people who published famous Internet videos became Internet
celebrities, such as Tay Zonday, who starred in “Chocolate Rain,” and Smosh, who gained fame when
their “Pokemon Theme Song Music Video” became the most watched video on YouTube in 2005.
These videos show that the potential for a YouTube sensation can exist anywhere. The next viral
video could be a cat dancing to a catchy tune, a prank that scares or shocks people or a person leaping
from building to another, whether they make the jump or not. These videos can also have a huge payoff,
and all they require is a recording camera.