The internet has a reputation for being a strange place, usually based on the content that goes so viral it’s impossible not to know about it. While viral videos come from amazingly diverse sources ranging from pet owners to professional music producers, some of the most viral videos of all time are also some of the weirdest.
Of course, it would be easy to rank the most viral videos ever made based on how many views they’ve gotten, as done by Style Caster, but that would include a lot of Taylor Swift singles. The viral videos that people really remember are the quirky ones, the confusing ones, the ones that sent a ripple effect of parodies and references throughout the internet–and will for years to come.
10. “Miss Teen USA 2007 – South Carolina answers a question” If we were to rank viral videos solely on views, this South Carolina beauty pageant contestant wouldn’t be on the list. But it would be a challenge to find anyone on the internet (and some outside of it) who hasn’t seen this 30-second train wreck. People still talk about this poor blonde’s attempt at advocating for geography education almost eight years later, probably because it’s a perfect caricature of American stupidity.
9. “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!” This gem of a viral video from Chris Crocker has fallen out of popularity lately, which keeps it from being higher on the list–but it’s still an uncomfortably clickable clip that most internet users remember with a cringe. It’s an honest Britney Spears’ fan’s plea for peace and quiet for his favorite pop starlet, made especially famous for the unabashed emotional volcano (and the alarming guy-liner in the video thumbnail that had every early YouTuber user wondering “Is that a guy or a girl?”) Many of the parodies of this viral video were mean-spirited and full of mockery.
8. “Numa Numa” To find this original viral video you’d have to go back in time to the age before YouTube and Vine. To know the true view count of the “Numa Numa guy” video would be virtually impossible, because it was hosted on sites like Ebaum’s World that didn’t really bother to keep track. But a re-upload of the video still stands strong at 21 million. This bizarre solo lip-sync to a catchy Romanian song spawned countless parodies and prompted thousands of email forwards; but it’s hard to argue that this went viral for any other reason beyond the fact that the song is so darn addictive.
7. “Rich Astley – ‘Never Gonna Give You Up'” The best viral videos become viral videos for strange reasons. Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” may have otherwise fallen into pop music obscurity if it wasn’t for the longstanding internet trend of “Rick Rolling,” which involves people tricking their friends into clicking hidden links that take them to this music video. The impact of this prank has been staggering, and it continues to enrage people, especially now that the joke is so worn out.
6. “Sneezing Baby Panda” There’s not much to be said about this one. It falls into that simple “popular because it’s cute” category of viral videos. “Sneezing Baby Panda” continues to have a strong run as a viral video simply because of the shocking magnitude of the adorable panda’s sneeze.
5. “PSY – GANGNAM STYLE” The only reason a professionally produced music video made this list is because of the reaction that “Gangnam Style” evoked across the web. Whether it was song parodies, picture memes or simply people imitating the iconic, goofy dance, this South Korean smash hit will be remembered as one of the biggest viral videos, all thanks to a blend of self-aware humor, catchy melodies, and randomness.
4. “Chocolate Rain” Speaking of self-aware, you’ll never find a more down-to-earth and honest YouTuber than Tay Zonday. Which makes this unbelievably unusual viral video even stranger, because the musician who produced it is fully aware of why it went viral. As Tay will tell you, it’s the “voice/body mismatch.”
3. “David After Dentist.” This viral video blew up for all the right reasons. It’s cute, it’s hilarious, it’s harmless. It features a short bit of candid footage of a young boy post-dentist-operation who’s out of his mind on sedative drugs. While a select few naysayers called out this viral video for exploiting poor David, most people saw it for what it was: a hysterical glimpse into the mind of a confused and innocent child. The lines “Why is this happening!?” and “Is this real life?” will go down in internet history for their funny but disturbing reflection of human perception. Do we ever really know what’s happening? Is anything real?
2. “Evolution of Dance” A viral video that boasted the most views of any internet video for a short time (before the VEVO channels showed up). The “Evolution of Dance” guy struck it big on YouTube simply for coming up with an impressive comedy routine that involved memorizing popular dances and performing them to music. What’s remarkable about this viral video is how unimpressive this might be to modern YouTube users. Other content creators have made far more impressive one-take videos since the “Evolution of Dance” but enjoyed a fraction of the views. It just goes to show you that viral videos have to be in the right place at the right time.
1. “Charlie Bit My Finger” The champion of viral videos could easily be disputed, but “Charlie Bit My Finger” gets the title on this list due to a blend of ongoing social impact and a jaw-dropping view count of 800 million plus. This adorable clip depicts a “human journey,” as one British journalist described it, as a young boy is bitten by his brother, feels pain, anger, sadness, betrayal–but then: forgiveness! It’s the forgiveness that sells this viral video as a true accidental masterpiece. If Charlie’s brother had ended the video angry and upset, the average viewer would feel unfulfilled. But it ends with laughter and love, as every quarrel should. It could take centuries before anyone forgets the time when Charlie bit his finger.
[Image credit: Judson Laipply, Chris Crocker]