Last week, YouTube released its annual (I assume) list of the ten most viewed videos of the year. Each of the videos therein received tens—if not hundreds—of millions of plays in 2014, which makes the almost total banality of the videos kind of interesting.
The only video on the list containing any real semblance of import is “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” a sociological experiment and street harassment exposé that occupies the tenth spot with a relatively meager 38 million hits. Its hidden-camera footage, shot for a feminist organization, shows a casually attired woman walking silently down city streets, minding her own business as men catcall her from every direction, thus allowing male viewers at home to experience everyday harassment—comprised of many small, supposedly harmless (if a bit intrusive and demanding) acts of “friendliness,” some as brief as a hello—as its hostile, leering sum total. The video attracted unintended controversy when critics noted that the final cut featured almost exclusively men of color as its villains, questioning whether its real message wasn’t one of racial fear-mongering: the peril of being a white woman in the urban jungle.
The silliness of the ninth video on the list—“Goku vs. Superman. Epic Rap Battles of History Season 3,” an especially non-historical entry in an energetic and colorful (if not exactly funny) YouTube series that reimagines famous figures as dueling rappers—stands in contrast to the solemnity of the one beneath it. This was slightly outperformed by an equally silly viral marketing clip for an otherwise forgotten Fox horror film from January (“The Devil’s Due,” which grossed fewer box-office dollars than its sneaky advertisement did views), featuring an Animatronic demon-baby prankishly frightening passersby.
The shortest clip on the list, number seven, is Budweiser’s one-minute Super Bowl commercial, “Puppy Love,” the story of a small, adorable, convincingly sad-faced dog that, removed from its birthplace (a scenic farm) by a new owner, strives to reunite with its best friend, a majestic Budweiser Clydesdale; it also functions subtly as a love story between the owner of the puppy (an elegant blond woman) and the owner of the horse (a ruggedly handsome farmer), who, without instruction, we also assume are meant to be together, like their pets, as we cozily conflate man-woman relations with the nonsexual love between a puppy and a horse. As in Budweiser’s acclaimed 9/11-exploitation ad from Super Bowl XXXVI, no mention whatsoever is made, amid the equine iconography, of the terrible beer the company sells.
One slot above the beer ad is a clip of the prepubescent rap duo Bars & Melody from “Britain’s Got Talent,” in which a pair of eerily well-groomed English tweens mimic the fussy mannerisms of late-‘90s American hip-hoppers as they perform an anti-bullying novelty ballad: they’re better than Aaron Carter but somewhat less good than Kriss Kross—Simon Cowell sees commercial potential.
YouTube’s top five begins with a tech-gadget-review video, notable as the first to prove conclusively that the iPhone 6 Plus is weirdly bendable, and then there’s another TV talent competition clip—this one from the Italian version of “The Voice,” in which a young nun, clad in the requisite habit, sings “No One” by Alicia Keys. The performance is identical to any other successful singing-show performance except that the singer is a nun; the nun is identical to any other nun except that she is youthful and pleasant-looking and can sing. Her appeal on stage is not just her voice but the palpable passion with which she sings; she performs with an apparent religious fervor, suggesting perhaps that the ecstasy we experience through disposable R&B is not so different from the ecstasy of Christian faith—secular and religious joys are equally uplifting and sublime.
The third most popular video of the year is “First Kiss,” another viral marketing clip (for a Los Angeles fashion brand), in which 20 strangers are paired up to meet and be filmed kissing each other in artsy B&W—forming ten initially awkward yet ultimately “beautiful” (or something) encounters in which we see how simple it really is, if we’re open to it, to connect with the intrinsic humanity of any person, as long as he or she is good-looking (the video’s cast is all models and actors), and to share the love we have within us. The point is not to depersonalize the act of kissing but to suggest how easy it is to commit to a personal act with a stranger if we force ourselves to see that stranger as a person. That said, the video is pretty gross.
The second most popular video of the year is a high-energy Nike commercial (functioning openly as a commercial), notable for including virtually every soccer star from the World Cup, as well as an incongruous appearance by the Incredible Hulk. I think most of its views were non-U.S.
Finally, the most popular video of the year is “Mutant Giant Spider Dog,” an astoundingly unentertaining horror parody in which a small dog in a spider costume stalks and “murders” human prey. Like the Budweiser ad, it trades upon the cuteness of puppies, yet it’s hard really even to see the puppy here in the shabby student-film lighting. I have no idea why this mini-movie is popular, but it’s worth noting that, in the whole top ten, this is the only truly non-professional, purely “artistic” video.
It was not made by a corporation or a non-profit organization or a “real filmmaker” with an actual career. It didn’t appear on TV. It does not promote (or deprecate) a commercial product. It was created by “a person.”
It’s just a silly video with a dog, made by a random Polish guy who makes terrible YouTube videos that generally occupy some strange, unprofitable realm between “Blair Witch Project” knockoffs and hidden-camera comedy shows. It’s totally amateur.
This is the most popular video of 2014.