It’s no secret that the way we relate to and consume music changes almost as frequently and dramatically as the trends and styles in music themselves. Consider the transition in the last forty years or so, and the level of revenue generated as people changed from owning physical vinyl records to more contemporary streaming trends. There’s an excellent visualization available here for those of you that are interested. But with all that considered, it’s important to note just how massive the numbers behind streaming are now. Although it might not relate directly to revenue in the same way physical sales do, there’s no doubt that it’s currently the most popular method for accessing music.
While that accounts for audio formats, for example, with 422 million people using Spotify, the largest audio streaming platform in the world by user number, what about good old music videos?
Popularized in the early 80s with the launch of MTV, the music video is a grand tradition that goes back to 1894 according to some sources, and a quick look at the hits on Youtube suggests that this particular medium is possibly healthier than ever. We’ve had a look at the most streamed artists on Spotify before, but now we’d like to take a trip through the ten most viewed music videos on Youtube.
#10 Crazy Frog – Axel F
Youtube Views: 3.64 Billion
A throwback to the murky adolescence of the internet, as it transitioned from a game-changing commercial and business tool to something for bored kids to look at and listen to stupid things, none more so than this song by the ‘Crazy’ Frog.
Trivia: The song takes its name from Eddie Murphy’s character, Axel Foley, in Beverley Hills Cop, the movie for which it was originally written.
#9 OneRepublic – Counting Stars
Youtube Views – 3.69 Billion
Released back in 2013 as the second single to support OneRepublic’s third album, Native, it’s fair to say Counting Stars is pretty massive. The song charted well, reaching the top ten in over twenty countries, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, and reaching number one in Canada and the UK, among others. It’s the sort of chest-beating, bold, super sincere anthem that seemed to be absolutely everywhere at the time, but we have to say the sheer scale of the video’s popularity came as a slight surprise.
The video itself cuts between two setups. The first is footage of the band performing the song extremely earnestly in what looks to be an abandoned, and frankly dangerous-looking building, complete with leaks, dust and for some reason, an alligator. The second is a meeting of a congregation, wherein a very enthusiastic preacher in what looks like a low-budget municipal building performs all of the standard enthusiastic-preacher moves to an ecstatic, if small, delegation. As the video progresses, the state of the abandoned building becomes progressively worse until the band is eventually entirely covered in dust. Finally, in a twist ending, one of the congregation members falls through the floor into the basement housing the band. However, we shouldn’t worry too much, as even the band advised against reading into the video.
Trivia: Band frontman Ryan Tedder, an extremely successful songwriter away from the band, had the idea for the song while waiting for Beyonce to arrive for a session in the Hamptons.
#8 Katy Perry – ROAR
Youtube views – 3.70 Billion
Roar, the lead single from Katy Perry’s fourth studio album, Prism, was released in August 2013. It’s anthemic, in the truest sense, a big beat wide-screen battle cry from the perspective of a woman discovering her power, squaring her shoulders and announcing herself to the world. It’s not unique in that sense, but the song does keep good company, and by the time you listen through it, with Perry’s multi-track crystal clean vocal and that big kick drum, it’s hard not to get swept along. The song was huge on release, topping the charts in twelve countries and selling over half a million copies in its first week, and judging by those Youtube numbers, the song’s popularity has held up in the near decade since.
The video is kitschy and glossy, like a lot of Perry’s output. It features Katy and a man, presumably her boyfriend, surviving a crash landing in a lush jungle before a tiger makes short work of the guy and pays him back for spending more time taking selfies than helping Katy by biting his head off. The video closely follows the song’s lyrical themes, as Perry thrives, survives, and takes over the jungle.
Trivia: This was the first time Katy Perry released a lead single that wasn’t a novelty song. She marked this more mature direction by releasing a teaser video setting fire to her distinctive blue wig before the release of the single.
#7 Maroon 5 – Sugar
Youtube Views – 3.79 Billion
This is perhaps the first incidence of a trend we’ll see throughout this list, a song that has undeniably been more influential and popular as a video than as a song. Sugar was the third single from Maroon 5’s fifth album called, you may have guessed it, V. It charted well if not spectacularly, debuting at eight and peaking at two on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 2015. The song itself is, frankly, pretty forgettable, a highly diluted blend of funk, soul and pop that sounds like some sort of half-hearted tribute to Mark Ronson.
The video, apparently inspired by the Vince Vaughan, Owen Wilson comedy Wedding Crashers, is another matter altogether. Introduced simply at the start by singer Adam Levine, whose mission is simple, to hit as many LA weddings as they can in one day. The scene then repeats, a small production team sets up a screen in the middle of a wedding without being interrupted by any guests or site staff, the band set up behind it, the screen drops to reveal them launch into their latest single, chaos ensues on the dance floor. While we could raise questions about how much of the video is genuine and how much of it may have been staged or scripted, we can’t deny it’s good fun.
Trivia: The video was so popular that it spawned its own reality tv show named Sugar, which screened on Youtube premium, in which musical acts surprise community-minded fans.
#6 El Chombo – Dame Tu Cosita
Youtube Views – 4.16 Billion
This one, this one raises some questions. The first one is what did we just watch!? This is a perfect example of the intersection between viral culture and music, and the influence that one can have on the other’s popularity. Dame Tu Cosita was originally recorded in 1997 by Panamanian artist El Chombo. After being remixed, an extended version featuring Jamaican dancehall artist Cutty Ranks was officially released as a single over twenty years later in April 2018.
The song is essentially a looped dancehall beat with the words dame to cosita, meaning give me your little thingy, repeated roughly fourteen thousand times. While the insistent, repeated hook and dancehall beat would probably be enough for the song to blow up, it’s the accompanying video that really blew up. It features a poorly rendered late 90’s bipedal alien frog person swinging their little thingy all over the place in some sort of barren off-world desert. Honestly, just typing that feels like we’ve taken too many sleep meds, but the video kickstarted a viral craze of people copying the alien’s moves, and a piece of internet history was made.
Trivia: Yet another remix of the song, featuring Pitbull and Karol G, was released later the same year.
#5 PSY – GANGNAM STYLE
Youtube Views: 4.62 Billion
You knew we weren’t going to get through this whole list without mentioning this, didn’t you? Cast your mind back all the way to August 2012, and you may well remember just how massive the impact of this song was. Coming out of South Korea as the lead single from K-pop star and rapper PSY’s sixth album, this bizarre glitching stomp of a song fairly well took over the world, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching the top of the charts in thirty other countries by the end of the year.
When it comes to the video, we won’t even attempt to describe it other than to say its essentially a visual assault that features PSY’s distinctive cross-arm gallop dance in various situations, including in a parking lot dance-off against a man cosplaying as the Bride from Kill Bill. GANGNAM STYLE was potentially the first indication of a level-up in the sheer impact a viral clip could have. It was the first video on Youtube to reach 1 billion views and remained the most viewed video on the site for five years, at one point being viewed over 76 times per second.
Put simply, an absolute game changer.
Trivia: One of the reasons for the success of the song, and its accompanying video, is an intentional lack of international copyright, which allowed for people to record reactions, remixes and parodies, all of which fed into the popularity of the original.
#4 Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars
Youtube Views: 4.77 Billion
Mark Ronson is a British producer, audiophile, songwriter and unashamed nerd when it comes to incorporating classic funk and soul sounds into both his solo records and his production for other artists, notably Adele, Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. Ronson’s bona-fides as a writer and producer are not in doubt, but it’s fair to say that, commercially, at least, he may well never top this. Of course, the pomp and cool of Ronson’s trademark style, featuring James Brown style brass breaks and a killer bassline, met its perfect match in the vocal heroics and Americana cool of Bruno Mars. There may be songs on this list whose popularity is slightly surprising, this isn’t one of them.
The video is simple, and a perfect accompaniment to the song, Ronson, Mars, and the band jiving on a technicolor street corner, looking like a Hollywood postcard come to life. This is the kind of music, and the kind of video, that is impossible not to get caught up in. Mainstream music doesn’t come much cooler than this.
Trivia: The lyrics contain references to Brian De Palma’s 1983 crime epic Scarface, mentioning white gold, we’ll let you guess the metaphor there, and Michelle Pfeiffer in the first few lines.
#3 Wiz Khalifa – See You Again ft. Charlie Puth
Youtube Views: 5.72 Billion
The only thing the songs on this list have in common is their colossal popularity. Whether it comes from a viral moment on the internet, a clever marketing ploy, or simply the overwhelming popularity of the artist, there seems to be no one clear recipe for impact on this sort of scale. In this case, however, the meaning behind the song, and the subsequent popularity it has enjoyed, could not be clearer.
See You Again was recorded as part of the soundtrack for Furious 7, the seventh installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, a franchise first introduced in 2001. Six months after the release of the sixth film in the franchise, the series co-star, Paul Walker, died as a result of a car crash. The song, and the accompanying video, are a poignant examination of friendship and loss, clearly reflecting the tragic events of Walker’s untimely passing and featuring plenty of footage of the actor from throughout the film franchise. When the subject matter is so emotional, it hardly seems that the figures are important, although because that’s what we’re here to look at, it’s worth noting that this was, for a short time, the most watched video on Youtube.
Trivia: See You Again holds the record for the longest stretch at number one on the Billboard chart for a rap song, along with Lose Yourself by Eminem, another highly personal, emotive soundtrack single.
#2 Ed Sheeran – Shape of You
Youtube Views: 5.86 Billion
We gave up a long time ago trying to work out what makes Ed Sheeran such a massive commercial force. At this point, he seems to have transcended logic to be a universal truth in his own right. Water is wet, sand is annoying, Ed Sheeran is massive. This song, one side of a double lead single for his third album, released alongside Castle on the Hill in 2017, is sort of dancehall, sort of rap, and absolutely huge, charting at number one in an eye-watering 34 countries.
The video seems to be an attempt to push towards the limit of objective believability, as it casts everyone’s favorite scruffy redhead acoustic-guitar-wielding lovable schlub as a suave boxing enthusiast/ladies’ man. Those limits are swiftly reached, amongst lots of shots of a heavily tattooed Sheeran doing sit-ups before he attempts to defeat a sumo wrestler. As we said, it’s hard to work out exactly what works about Ed Sheeran, we just know that it does.
Trivia: Because of similarities to TLC’s No Scrubs, the 90’s R’n’B classic’s writers are all listed with credits on this song following a court case.
#1 Luis Fonsi – Despacito ft. Daddy Yankee
Youtube Views: 8.03 Billion
Just take a look at that number. According to recent statistics, there are around five billion internet users worldwide. This means, if we have our maths correct, that on average, every single person in the world with an internet connection has watched this video more than one and half times. It goes without saying that this is one of the biggest songs of modern times, credited with reviving the popularity of Spanish language music within the mainstream and reaching the top of the charts in an astonishing 47 countries.
We’re not going to describe the video to you because, as we have conclusively proved, if you’re reading this, you’ve already seen it. No, but really, considering its record toppling popularity (it was the first video to hit the milestone of three, four, five, six and seven billion views), it’s pretty straightforward with lots of people having a great time. That is, by all accounts, how they do it down in Puerto Rico.
Trivia: Despacito was the first primarily Spanish-language song to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 since Macarena in 1996.
#11 Justin Bieber – Sorry (PURPOSE: The Movement)
Youtube Views – 3.61 Billion
Released back in 2015 to accompany the second single from the Canadian pop monster’s fourth album, PURPOSE. The album marked a decided change of direction in Bieber’s sound towards electronic and dance influences, highlighted by the fact that this song was co-written and produced by Skrillex. It’s fair to say that PURPOSE gave the world a fresh dose of Bieber fever, selling a reported 14 million copies and converting people outside his traditional teenage girl demographic into Beliebers.
The video itself contains a distinct lack of the man himself, instead featuring two New Zealand dance crews, ReQuest and The Royal Family, as they run through a hip-hop routine heavily influenced by the dancehall flavor of the single. Shot in a stark white studio and cut simply, this video does very little to take away from the performers themselves, and the refreshingly stripped-back production only makes the video more effective. The video forms part of a more extensive, thirty-minute, dance film, PURPOSE: The Movement, which was released in sections to promote the album and screened in its entirety during a show at the Staple Centre.
Trivia: PURPOSE: The Movement was choreographed by one of the performers in this video, Parris Goebel, who has also worked with Jennifer Lopez and Cirque du Soleil.
#12 Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud
Youtube Views: 3.53 Billion
That man again! The world’s luckiest busker features again, this time with a syrupy ballad destined to dominate wedding parties and high school dances right through to the heat death of the universe.
Trivia: Unusually for such a popular song, Thinking Out Loud never reached the top spot on the Billboard charts, being kept in second place for eight consecutive weeks by Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk.
#13 Katy Perry – Dark Horse
Youtube Views: 3.41 Billion
If you ever wanted to see Katy Perry cosplay as Cleopatra and eat hot Cheetos from a ceremonial platter, then boy-howdy, do we have just the music video for you!
Trivia: Although it has fallen off compared to the monsters on this list, this was the most popular music clip on Youtube in 2014, with 715 million hits.
- Alan Walker – Faded (Views: 3.38 Billion)
- Shakira – Waka Waka (Views: 3.36 Billion)
- Maroon 5 – Girls Like You ft. Cardi B (Views: 3.35 Billion)
- Passenger – Let Her Go (Views 3.35 Billion)
- Ed Sheeran – Perfect (Views: 3.32 Billion)
- Enrique Iglesias – Bailando ft. Descemer Bueno, Gente De Zona (Views: 3.30 Billion)
- Major Lazer & DJ Snake – Lean on (feat. MØ) (Views: 3.30 Billion)
So, if anyone ever asks you what the most popular song on Youtube is, you’ll be able to give them a solid answer at the very least. From middling radio rock to novelty oddities, the only thing each of these songs has in common is their massive impact online. One exciting aspect of this is how this list compares to the most streamed songs on Spotify and the fact that none of these artists appear on our rundown of the ten richest musicians in the world. When it comes to commercial success, it seems Youtube is a law unto itself.
Most Streamed Music Videos on Youtube (2023 Update)
|Despacito ft. Daddy Yankee
|Shape of You
|See You Again ft. Charlie Puth
|Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars
|Dame Tu Cosita