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10 Years of YouTube: Most Watched Music Videos, from Taylor Swift to Justin Bieber

by Ryan Book   May 29, 2015 13:09 PM EDT

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It's the tenth birthday of YouTube and no media site should be more excited than Music Times. After all, of all the viral material that gets put on the world's busiest video site every day, so much of the service's biggest hitters are music videos. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the site, we've gathered the most popular music video from every year of its existence, starting with Taylor Swift in 2015 and counting down to...who knows? Something throwback for sure.

One bonus fact before we get started: Every music video except for one in the YouTube all-time Top 100 was posted no earlier than 2009. The exception? Guns N' Roses' "November Rain."

2015: "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift

As we pointed out recently, "Blank Space" from 1989 has been the hardest-hitting video from her 1989 album, thanks to the concept of the pop star as a psychopathic ex-girlfriend on the warpath. The video has already totaled more than 878 million views, making it the no. 6 all-time video in YouTube history. Still, don't be surprised if it's been passed by another Swift entry before the end of the year: "Bad Blood" just broke the 24-hour record for VEVO and it could surpass "Blank Space" by 2016.

2014: "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry

"Dark Horse" was one of the singles released later from Prism. What this video had that the other lacked was a dose of good ol' fashioned controversy...even if the details aren't that salacious. The first complaint came from those who accused Perry of appropriating Egyptian culture for the video—as in, ancient Egyptian culture. The one that worshipped Osiris and that no one really worships anymore. The second, more serious complaint revolved around one of the many suitors who Perry vaporizes: He was wearing a medallion featuring the Arabic word for "Allah," which also gets disintegrated. That medallion was edited out digitally and everyone was happy. It's now the no. 3 most-watched video in YouTube history.

 

2013: "Roar" by Katy Perry

The first music video from Perry's Prism album also made quite a stir on YouTube. The video follows the travails of Perry after her plane crashes into a jungle of geographically confused descent (both tigers and leopards make appearances, so it could be Africa or Asia. Don't come to Katy Perry music videos for geographic accuracy). Despite being the most-watched music video of 2013, it wasn't Perry's best all time—as we just saw—nor was it even the most successful video off of her Prism album. That said, Prism was probably the most successful album in history in terms of videos.

 

2012: "Gangam Style" by Psy

Look closely at "Gangam Style," for even as early in the digital video era as we are, it's unlikely that anything will ever become as viral as this. Then again, don't look too closely...the shenanigans within might lead you to go blind. Psy's breakout hit in the United States stands as the most-watched video in history...and the competition isn't even close. It became the first video to ever break 2 billion hits last year, breaking YouTube's automatic counter in the process (programmers admitted they never predicted numbers would ever get that high). It was also the first video to break a billion hits...and only one other video has even done that. "Gangam Style" nearly doubles the total of the no. 2 all-time video (which we'll see later).

2011: "Party Rock Anthem" by LMFAO

We don't appreciate LMFAO all that much but we do, as does the group apparently, appreciate zombie narratives. The duo provides a satire of sorts for the film 28 Days Later, where members Red Foo and Sky Blu infect the world with an epidemic of zombie-dancing. It sounds a bit like "Thriller," and it is, which is good for a views but the video managed to start a trend, which got YouTubers to keep coming back for more. One prominent part of the video featured an Australian dance known as the Melbourne Shuffle, which became popular in the United States as a result of the clip. The video is now no. 4 all-time, with 822 million views.

2010: "Baby" by Justin Bieber

Here's the aforementioned only-other-video to break 1 billion views. It even held the title of most-watched for a while before Psy came along. So what did this video have that the rest didn't? Mainly Bieber. This was during the peak of Bieber Fever in the United States and Beliebers flocked to the video in droves that even he has yet to replicate. We're sure some people checked it out just because of its comparisons to Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" but seriously...most of this was driven by just one boy's face. Think about the numbers here: More than one billion people have watched this video. Now compare that to "Gangnam Style," which has nearly double the views of the no. 2 video of all time. If anyone can truly claim to have broken the internet, it's Psy.

2009: "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga

In the modern era of music videos, only OK Go really rivals Lady Gaga for the most influential among performers. When Gaga got to work on "Paparazzi," it's as if a generation suddenly remembered "Thriller" and that short songs could become epic videos. The only Gaga entry on this list is her "Bad Romance" clip however, which doesn't crack the Top 10 all time. As "far back" as 2009, much fewer people used YouTube (believe it or not), taking away steam from viral videos of the day. Had "Bad Romance" been released today, you could expect it to climb the ranks much quicker. As of now, it has 625 million views.

2008: "You Belong With Me" by Taylor Swift

Swift joins Katy Perry as the only other performer with multiple videos on this list but, unlike Perry, Swift spread out her year-topping clips by nearly seven years. "You Belong With Me" was far from the spectacular that Swift's videos have become, but fans still latched on to the concept that starred the musician as both hero and villain in the competition for a high school sweetheart. Although "You Belong With Me" topped the list for 2008, it's still only no. 3 all-time for Swift, whose "Shake It Off" was huge last year...just not huge enough to unseat "Dark Horse."

2007: "Girlfriend" by Avril Lavigne

This is where we really start to see how far YouTube has come since its first few years. First thing, if you're like us, you had totally forgotten about this song. Second thing, note how lower the viewership for this video is, despite it being the no. 1 music video for 2007. "Girlfriend" has only managed to snag 277 million views in its eight years of existence...roughly a third of what "Blank Space" has done in eight months. Still, Lavigne was living large on the servers of YouTube in those days.

2006: "Lazy Sunday" by The Lonely Island

It's almost too perfect that one of the first music videos to go viral was done by a group that's sole nature revolves around its viral nature. Although they weren't even called "The Lonely Island" yet, the Saturday Night Live trio of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaeffer and Jorma Taccone, the faux-hip-hop trio broke it big when its tale of going to see The Chronicles of Narnia blew up online. It was also one of the first clips to get taken down from YouTube, as NBC and Saturday Night Live didn't quite grasp the promotional bonuses that Samberg and crew were receiving at that moment.

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