Bay-bee shark, doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo… Did you immediately know the melody to that last line? Of course you did. The Baby Shark dance may not have swept the Top 40 charts, but it’s become one of the most popular melodies on the entire planet over the past few years.

Why? One word: YouTube.

YouTube has become everything to us, simultaneously this generation’s favorite talent show, podcast player, music player, even our 21st-century version of America’s Funniest Home Videos. And because of that, it’s become possible for videos like Baby Shark to not just go viral—but go thermonuclear. 

But what does it take to achieve that kind of success, the kind that generates billions of views? Let’s dig through some YouTube analytics to find five of the most viewed YouTube videos ever.

#1: Baby Shark

<em>“Baby Shark” made internet history as the first video on YouTube with over 10 billion views.</em>

The list of most popular YouTube videos begins with Baby Shark, the earworm of a kid’s cartoon-slash-song that has swept the world since its publication over five years ago. 

Although originally a popular campfire song, it was the South Korean company Pinkfong’s version that found viral success. This video offers the song in high-quality audio, accompanied by bright color animations kids can’t help but love.

What else is there to say? Create a video for kids, make it catchy, and you have some potential viral YouTube videos on your hands.

#2: Despacito

<em>“Despacito” by Luis Fonsi came out in 2017, highlighting the usual marriage between viral songs and YouTube hits.</em>

Speaking of earworms you can’t get out of your head, let’s look at #2 on the list of most famous YouTube videos: Despacito by Luis Fonsi, ft. Daddy Yankee.

This crossover hit has had over 7 billion views on YouTube’s platform, cementing its status as one of the biggest things to come out of 2017. Because the music video is pretty much standard fare, its success on YouTube highlights one key element you’ll notice from some of the most viral videos ever: It’s all about the music.

#3: Johny Johny Yes Papa

<em>“Johny Johny Yes Papa”</em> <em>is another one of the most viewed Youtube videos</em> <em>combining children’s content with a catchy tune.</em>

It’s easy to see why children’s songs are so popular on YouTube—parents and caregivers rely on the platform to distract their children while they’re busy cleaning up spit-up and dirty diapers. But videos like Johny Johny Yes Papa highlight why some of the most popular YouTube videos are more than mere children’s fodder.

This video has a catchy tune, sure. But it also has a story with a baby as its protagonist: Johny spends the entire video trying to get his hands on some sugar for a snack.

Not exactly The Odyssey in terms of storytelling, but it doesn’t have to be: It’s a fun, cute video that perfectly matches its music and content to its target audience. Maybe that’s why it currently has over 6.2 billion views.

#4: Shape of You

<em>Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” features a captivating, story-telling style music video to go along with its smash hit single.</em>

This one isn’t so much for the kids. 

Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You was one of the defining songs of 2017 (What is it with 2017, anyway?), and its accompanying music video has earned well over 5 billion views on YouTube alone.

The lyrics “I’m in love with your body” might not be any parent’s idea of a YouTube hit, but the video takes a sudden turn from the dramatic to the comedic when it’s revealed that Sheeran’s big fight at the end…is actually a sumo wrestling contest. Like all of the other smash viral successes on this list so far, it’s light, fun, and catchy. We’re beginning to notice a theme.

#5: See You Again

<em>Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” from 2015 became the anthem for the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, particularly in the wake of actor Paul Walker’s death</em>, <em>and quickly rose to be one of the most viewed Youtube videos ever.</em>

Light and catchy? Catchy, certainly—but not light. See You Again from the Fast and the Furious soundtrack in 2015 became a hit after actor Paul Walker died in an off-set car accident. 

It’s no wonder the song resonated with audiences. It probably would have been a hit even without the complex real-life emotions behind it. But combine a beloved actor’s death with a fitting music video tribute to the franchise he helped fuel, and you have the recipe for billions of views. As of today, See You Again has been watched plenty of times—with over 5.4 billion clicks on YouTube.

What Makes a YouTube Viral Hit?

If you’re building your YouTube media empire, you should look at the list of YouTube videos with the most views and ask yourself a simple question. What do all of the above have in common? There are two elements that keep popping up: telling a story or singing a song.

For Despacito, YouTube success came because it was one of the catchiest songs of its day. For Johny Johny Yes Papa or See You Again, the stories behind the music played more important roles. 

But that might not be what you’re after. Maybe you’re trying to break your way into a YouTube travel audience. Maybe you’ve got other plans, like becoming a makeup influencer. 

Either way, it’s clear YouTube audiences will happily reward a video that gets caught inside their head for one reason or another. You may not be at 10 billion views just yet, and you may have to learn your way through hashtags and analytics first. But as long as you keep your eyes on the prize and find a story to tell, YouTube viral success is always on the horizon.

Tell the Story of Your Next Viral Hit

Storytelling Through Film: How to Create Engaging Videos for Youtube

Written By

Dan Kenitz

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