YouTube celebrates its 10 year anniversary this week, and who ever thought it would come so far. At first it seemed like just a place to upload funny cat videos, stolen music vids or clips from movies, but in the hands of a new generation of teens and tweens it swiftly became what it actually presumed to do: be a place that allows everyone to run their own TV show and express their creativity. Ten years later, there are literally millions of youtubers all over the world who are regularly uploading original stuff and finding an audience, including many who are making their living from doing so.
More than that, it changed culture. In the 20th century, the most important art-forms were cinema and pop music. Those were the mediums that had the most creative people and the people who became cultural heroes that changed the world. Today, the two most important art-forms are the Internet video and the video game, and YouTube is the center of pop culture.
So, happy birthday YouTube, and to celebrate, here is my list of the 25 greatest Internet videos ever.
25. Dramatic Chipmunk (June 2007)
May-June 2007 were a watershed moment for YouTube. The center of Internet culture back then was 4Chan, the site where all the memes came from, and the memes on 4Chan were mainly images and gifs. Videos were not seen as meme material. One of the popular memes on the site was what was known as “duckroll”: you tempted people into clicking a link you provided, making it seem like it was something they craved, but what they would find to their ire was just a silly image of a duck on wheels. In May 2007, however, the duckroll became “rickroll”: when you clicked the link, you got the lame video to Rick Astley’s 1988 hit ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. And from that moment, everything changed.
Suddenly, people started to comb YouTube for videos that could be used as memes, and the next couple of months produced several that are with us to this very day. There was ‘Keyboard Cat’, a video of a cat playing a organ, that was used to symbolize that something was getting boring (kinda like the Internet version of the gong). There was ‘Zombie Kid Likes Turtles’, a video that spawned an image used to provide opaque answers to silly questions. There was ‘Hitler Finds Out’, a video used to express anger at things, and there were a few more which we will mention later. But above all, there was ‘Dramatic Chipmunk’.
The video of the little rodent (it’s actually a prairie dog) doing his bit for the camera became one of the most prolific memes ever. Taken from some old TV show, the 5-second-clip was the perfect vehicle for users to elaborate on and hone down their video editing skills in the process. There are many versions, but the original one is still the best.
24. Crush on Obama (June 2007)
Yet another meme from June 2007. Barely Political was one of the first comedy teams to make YouTube their home and use it to produce sketches. Shortly after Senator Barack Obama announced his bid for the presidency, they made this video parodying the way he was idolized by some people. Super-hot model Amber Lee Ettinger plays a girl who obsesses over Obama as if he was a pop star, and sings a song for him. The world, however, didn’t get the joke. Most people thought that this was a straightforward song, and Ettinger became forever known as Obama Girl, Obama’s number one fan. The video is actually credited with enhancing the young Senator’s popularity and helping him on his successful campaign. Barely Political went on to a long and successful YouTube career, making comedy with a political flavor, and Ettinger made more videos with them as Obama Girl. Obama himself proved to be a candidate (and later a President) attuned to youth culture and understanding the power of YouTube, and was an inspiration for many other good videos. This video actually isn’t all that good, but its historic significance as the first YouTube vid to have a political impact is undeniable.
23. Go! Bwaaah! (June 2010)
The shortest viral video on YouTube. How short? Incredibly, it’s only 3 seconds long. How can a 3-second-video possibly have any sort of effect, you ask? Well…
22. Facebook Parenting: for the troubled teen (February 2012)
Besides being truly entertaining, for me this video signaled that the party is about to be over. Until recently, Internet culture belonged to the youth and they did practically whatever they wanted to do with it. Now, suddenly, kids have to deal with parents that are no less Internet-savvy than they are, and if you’re not careful you might end up like Hannah. This video also sparked a debate about the boundaries of good parenting. Whatever. It’s funny as hell.
21. This is Sparta!!! (August 2007)
One of the effects YouTube had on pop culture is to reverse the relationship between music and the music video. Whereas traditionally the latter would be seen as an accompaniment to the former, on YouTube it became the other way around. YouTube is about the art of the Internet video, and music is just one component of a good vid. ‘This is Sparta!!!’ was one of the earliest, and arguably the awesomest, vids that provided the blueprint for the YouTube musical video: a remix based on some soundbite that the Internet turned into a meme, set to rousing techno music and accompanied by a string of explosive images. The line “this is Sparta!” is out of the movie 300, which came out in early 2007, and it became a meme that spawned many great gifs based on King Leonidas’ badassery. As the attention of the Internet began to move from gifs to viral vids later in the year, people began to collect these gifs into one video and created the ‘This is Sparta!!!’ techno remix. This is the first ‘Sparta’ video, but others followed. When done well, ecstasy is guaranteed.
By 2010, the effect all this had on the music world became visible: established musical artists like Lady Gaga began investing more in elaborate, provocative and ravishing video clips, realizing many will consume them through YouTube. At the same time, electronic dance music became the new mainstream, replacing the hip-hop sound that dominated the previous decade. When you listen to music through your computer, techno and other EDM styles just make more sense.