Viral Video Breakdown

February 5, 2018

When you work in "Internet Content" like I do, you spend a lot of time lamenting your relative obscurity. "Making this cool stuff for the Internet is hard work," I think to myself, "Why can't I just go viral like all the YouTube celebrities?" 


I don't really think these things. I've just tricked you into reading this class assignment about viral videos.




This video of renowned actor Shia Labeouf giving a repetitive motivational speech has 31 million views on YouTube right now. Obviously, Shia's star power helped this clip become a meme a couple years back, but take note of the other elements. The script and execution of the video walk a fine line between genuine emotional pull and baffling absurdity - perfect for Internet humor. The green screen in the background allows for easy remixing of the video. (Remember the one where they put Shia on someone's patio?) Overall, a well done viral video from the modern age. But we can go further back.





Yikes. That's one attention-grabbing thumbnail for sure. The Gregory Brothers had just recently struck virality with their Auto-Tuned "Double Rainbow Guy" remix, but this song further catapulted them into YouTube fame. This is a great example of Internet remix art: taking an already successful viral video (Antione Dodson's original interview has 67 million views) and turning it into a virulently catchy song. The Gregory Brothers started a trend with this video of using pitch-correction software to make musicals out of existing video. I guess 139 million views got you that kind of cultural sway in 2010.





Now this is a classic. Vintage like a fine wine, and aged just as well. This dancing man earned over 300 million views since 2006 without any celebrity or pre-established meme to get the video trending. All your essentials are here: recognizable songs, simple premise with surprisingly competent execution, and just the right everyman protagonist to make everyone watching think they can do it themselves. You wouldn't believe how many school talent shows had "Evolution of Dance" ripoffs in the years following the success of this video.





I feel like I'll be returning to this idea many times in this class, but the real classic viral content is different on a fundamental level from trending videos and memes from 2010 onward. You'll notice that the earliest viral videos are simple, repeatable, and seem like they won a random lottery for success. By comparison, newer memes need literal movie stars and production crews to achieve a fraction of the views. I mean I try not to be too much of a pessimist, but come on. I don't think it's worth it to aim for viral success anymore. Just make your art and try to find your audience.


Oh, and sorry for deceiving you earlier.

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@2018 by Quinn Wolf. Maybe, I dunno how copyright works.

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