Although it sounds cliche at this point, it is true that the era of YouTube viral videos has created a new model for entertainment. Now it is commonplace for weird amateur videos to find a major audience. In my day, about your only hope was to get your song on the Doctor Demento show. In some cases, new songs become so widely popular that they almost become mainstream. Double Rainbow Song was born out of internet culture and got as high as 74 on the iTunes singles chart. In the last several weeks I have heard so many people spontaneously quoting the Double Rainbow Song, it has made me wonder... what other songs have I missed on YouTube? So I decided to do a little research project:
Mission: Listen to all the original viral songs on YouTube with a view count over 1,000,000 and find the best SONGS. Parodies were discarded. (Viewcounts are as of early September 2010.)
Method: I simply did a search for "song" in YouTube and sorted by viewcount. I ignored any results from celebrities or enterprises that presumably had commercial backing. Although that sounds a bit arbitrary, in most cases it was pretty obvious. The lighting in the videos was often an indicator. Sadly, this removed some of the best songs from professional comedians. Those are listed under Honorable Mention.
Results: You probably won't be surprised to learn that, by and large, the songwriting in internet viral videos is atrociously bad. Most of it is comedy of the lowest brow, and even when the joke is funny, the music is terrible, and obnoxiously repetitive. I have saved you time by omitting the worst offenders, and now you can pick your own favorites from this list. There are some real gems! Inspired by the Double Rainbow Song, I was searching for well written original songs that gained wider popularity on YouTube. Here are the results. My picks are sorted into three groups: Good, Passing Grade, and Honorable Mention.
Double Rainbow Song
The Gregory Brothers - 9,842,688 views
The guys from Auto Tune the News took the popular Double Rainbow video and Auto-Tuned it into a song. What amazes me, though, is how singable the song is, how strong the melody is. The song is so sweet and joyful (owing to YosemiteBear's unusual personality, no doubt) and, for me at least, works as a song in itself, not just as a reference to a funny internet video. Learn it on guitar! It's fun to sing, even without auto-tune.
Flight of the Conchords - 19,992,555 views
Although Flight of the Conchords is well known now and has had a TV show, back when this was viral on the internet they were not well known yet in the US and this song was the best of several that spread like wildfire and helped set these guys up in their career.
Bed Intruder Song
The Gregory Brothers - 19,294,713 views
Piggybacking on the success of the Double Rainbow Song, Auto Tune the News came right back with another gem. Super catchy, great genre parody. I don't like the schmaltzy piano version at the end, I ignore it. There's also something about white people thinking Ebonics are funny going on here, which makes me a little uncomfortable, and is probably part of its widespread appeal. Also the rape joke probably amuses 12 yr old boys. Yet nevertheless it is a great tune. The source of the lyrics (Antoine, the guy from the original news interview) is undeniably an interesting, fascinating guy, and his phrasing and attitude are remarkable. The song has a great R Kelly style R&B beat, and the melody is fun to sing, catchy, and the bridge works too, giving the whole song a great structure. Learn the lyrics and try singing along. It's good.
Jonathan Coulton - 4,892,119 views
Coulton quit his job as a programmer and started posting a song a day on his website. (Gah! I can't imagine, I can hardly keep up with one a month.) His solo acoustic version is even more charming. This song is smart and hooky, love how it uses language. This song, and his cover of Baby Got Back, helped launch his career. Now he tours, but back then it was a viral thing, and according to him, he didn't even work that hard to promote it. It was mostly word of mouth.
If My Nose Was Running Money
Aaron Wilburn - 5,764,493 views
An old video of a wholesome music comedian doing low humor but flirting just above the line of stupid or crude with good lyric writing.
Andy McKee - 32,656,718 views
Instrumental acoustic guitar song, very nice, featuring McKee's unusual percussive technique. I love that the internet could help popularize music like this.
A Song About Acne
Charlie McDonnell - 1,622,942 views
Ukelele song about acne. Nice, not full of awful corny cliches, just a cute little song about having acne.
A Song About Love
Charlie McDonnell - 1,512,070 views
Another cute tune from McDonnell. A little anthem recorded with things around the house about not being in a hurry to date, and making a song instead.
Passing grade is for all the people who did a good job of entertaining us on the internet, yet didn't write something I would really need to hear more than once.
Everyday Normal Guy
John LaJoie - 17,825,165 views
LaJoie's tendency to go for unsophisicated, low humor over and over again may cause giggles for the 12 year old boy set, but usually leaves me rolling my eyes. On this rap however, his rapping and comedy has improved since some of his earlier tunes, and there are some funny lines, like "I get nervous in social situations, muthafukka!" Since I tour the country with MC Frontalot and get to watch countless opening acts make fun of how NOT gangsta they are, such a schtick bores me to tears, but LaJoie pulls this one off well.
What What (In the Butt) - Samuel - 31,515,695 views
A classic. I'm sure it makes teenage boys quite terrified while laughing their asses off. Even though his delivery is so clunky, the song has something to it. The lyrics and rhymes are awful, but the whole "what what" thing is pretty delightfully weird. And it is pretty ballsy, in a way, to be so over the top about anal sex, and yet campy and with a sense of humor at the same time. In fact, it might not work as well if it were better written and better rapped. See "On Camp" by Susan Sontag for a more articulate version of that insight.
Derrick Comedy - 4,766,708 views
Although dated now, this was very apropos when we were oversaturated with Emo. The song is just a repeated verse, but I like how the song is trying to address (ridicule) how people get specific personal connections to sad songs.
Fast Food Folk Song at Taco Bell
RhettandLink - 3,550,284 views
Cute. Although really, they get upstaged by the employee's ability to write down their order. This may be a viral advertising campaign, but somebody had to write the song, and my instinct is that the song was not written by professionals.
That's the World of Warcraft That You Play
I. Beckman - 13,690,781 views
Inside jokes for gamers. It is clever, in a sense, but the songwriting phrasing is pretty clumsy, and the backing music is awful: cheesy general midi sounds. Still, it has the charm of an amateur enterprise, and if you play WoW you will love the snide comments about the character classes.
The Duck Song
Bryant Oden - 13,282,906 views
Some of the rhymes are pretty amusing, but the song has no development and it's kind of long. It's just a kind of fun, dumb joke.
2 Girls 1 Cup Song
John LaJoie - 8,737,332 views
Not very clever, but he sure knows how to pander to internet phenomena. A song that needed to be written, I suppose. And who better to write it?
Mario Kart Love Song
blinktwice4y - 5,750,106 views
Not super memorable, but cute and referential. Earnest instead of full of jokes. Sweet.
Twilight Sucks! Emo Vampire Song
Key of Awesome - 4,618,296 views
Not super funny, but probably funnier if you like Twilight, I guess. Ok.
Husband To Be
Mia Rose - 4,770,804 views.
This is one of the top ranked earnest original indie songs by a young person, so good job! Not a great song, but I like that you can get lots of views just posting a cute little earnest ditty, rather than a filthy reference-heavy joke song.
Paul Gilbert (Racer X) - 4,616,617 views
Instrumental shredding on guitar, but it has nice compositional qualities and would be super fun to play if it were on Rock Band or Guitar Hero.
Slovak Lesbians and Gays Song
Horkyze Slize - 1,547,486 views
A simple little anthem. It doesn't seem to be hateful nor particularly gay rightsy, which is a little confusing. On the surface, it seems to be a song about trying to pick up someone and they apologize for being gay, but the singer doesn't seem particularly upset or embarrassed about it. Curious... am I way off? What do you think?
RhettandLink - 1,297,818 views
Not as good as the best Auto-Tune the News songs, but a cute idea to turn Shamwow into a song. These guys are working on their craft, I'm keeping an eye on these guys.
Numa Numa (Dragostea Din Tei)
O-Zone - 38,716,436 views
Well, I'm not a fan of this type of Euro disco kind of music, but that chorus is awfully catchy, so I grudgingly give credit. The popularity of the song is obviously largely due to the antics of the guy in the video. I figured either this or Barbie Girl deserved mention.
United Breaks Guitars
Dave Carroll - 9,116,891 views
I'm a little disappointed this song isn't more clever. It's well structured but has a pretty cliche melody. It needed to be written, though, and so many of us guitar players can relate to the topic that I'm glad it exists.
These songs don't qualify as indie viral videos for any of a variety of reasons. Since trying to classify how "indie" or "amateur" indie rock groups are is awfully difficult and leads to arguments, I also listed those kinds of songs here.
New Arcade Fire Song
Innovative use of web browser technology gets this on the list.
Dick in a Box, I Jizz in my Pants, Boombox
Lonely Island - All of these songs are perfect musical comedy and are widely shared on the web. Didn't qualify as indie or amateur because the videos are now well shot with high production quality and supported by SNL so it wouldn't really fit my theme to include in the above list.
The Dinosaur Song
6,030,153 views. Kind of a Tom Waits / Brian Setzer style. Good songwriting and rhymes.
Glen Hansard - 9,523,136 views. Fox Searchlight hit one out of the park with the movie Once, and many different versions of songs from that film are still thriving.
Get off the Stage
Jack Black and Will Ferrell - 5,736,547 views.
Weird Al - 5,639,125 views. All palindromes! I gotta give credit to that.
Gitchi Gitchi Goo
Phoneas and Ferb (Disney) - 5,033,522 views.
I love it! Retreading the ground of the Jetsons song "Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah" which itself was a ripoff of "Beep! Beep!" by Louis Prima, nevertheless, this song is fun.
Honest Graduation Song
College Humor - 1,153,962 views
Strangely earnest for a comedy site. Just a song about losing touch with high school friends.
Matt and Kim
Here It Comes Again -
This Too Shall Pass
- End Love
All the OK GO videos were fantastic viral hits, but some say the videos are better than the songs themselves. There is some truth to that. The songs are ok, but the videos are amazing. Still, it is hard to compete with musical comedy and internet meme references when you are just writing understated indie-rock music. Once these videos have become part of your world, you will enjoy the nostalgia of listening to the songs too.
Internet is for PORN (Avenue Q)
The WoW video version - 6,761,688 views. This is a really well written song by one of the top songwriters in the Broadway Musical industry, which is why the filthy comedy of it hits so hard.
4 Chord Song
Axis of Awesome. 7,419,544 views. A comedic medley of all the different famous songs that use the same chord progression.
Jonathan Coulton - 7,169,451 views
Another great melody by Jonathan Coulton. This song was in the final credits to the video game Portal, so I'm not sure if it counts as viral to YouTube.
Barak Obama Reggae Song
Cocoa Tea - 372,943 views
Had to give honorable mention to this song. I first heard this song in a bar on reggae night and loved the melody. It makes the syllables of the president's name just seem like delightful little sounds.
Jake Shimabukuro - - 6,067,546 views
An instrumental cover of the Beatles song. Takes the ukelele to new levels.
Sep 27, 2010
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