YouTube is closing in on its decade and a half birthday and what better way to celebrate the streaming site’s awkward teenage years than by taking a look back at the most viewed YouTube videos of all time?
The landscape of super-popular videos is very different from what it once was, though. While classic viral videos like Charlie Bit My Finger or Chocolate Rain characterized the first half-decade of YouTube’s most viewed content, today the list is almost exclusively dominated by music videos. While traditional avenues for such media may be all but dead, in 2019, YouTube music videos are some of the most popular videos ever viewed in the history of the medium.
Millennials and new generations of web users consider YouTube the most trusted media platform in the world, and if these view counts are anything to go by, the best place to watch music videos too.
10. Taylor Swift – Shake it Off (2.74 billion)
Recently pushed down to the number 10 spot, Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off is the singer’s most popular song to date, inside and outside of its YouTube success. With almost 2.75 billion views, it is one of four videos Swift has released which have more than a billion views each and one of two that have more than two billion.
As of early 2019, it is the second most popular YouTube video released in 2014, with only Uptown Funk eclipsing it.
9. Katy Perry – Roar (2.75 billion)
Showing there’s always competition in the world of YouTube view counts, Katy Perry’s Roar has only recently taken hold of the number nine spot. It moved beyond our number 10 video in February 2019 and continues to accelerate away.
Originally making its appearance on the site on September 5, 2013, Roar was teased multiple times on YouTube, marking one of the few top-10 videos in this list to use the platform for pre-release promotion. A lyric video released on the same day as the main video has itself garnered nearly 90 million views.
As the oldest music video on our list other than Gangnam Style, Roar appears to have real staying power and should continue to be one of the world’s most viewed YouTube videos for some time to come.
8. Maroon 5 – Sugar (2.89 billion)
You wouldn’t expect a music video loosely based on the plot of a mid-2000s comedy like Wedding Crashers, to be a mega hit, but that’s exactly what happened with Maroon 5’s Sugar. Perhaps it’s because both film and music video had the same director, or because Maroon 5 itself has been a household name in pop music for close to 25 years. Whatever the reason, Sugar slips into our number eight spot with just shy of 2.9 billion views at the time of writing.
It premiered on Maroon 5’s Vevo channel on YouTube on January 14, 2015 and would be the biggest hit from that year if it weren’t also joined by Sorry and See You Again.
7. Justin Bieber – Sorry (3.08 billion)
Although Justin Bieber would be the second musical artist to ever achieve a one billion-view video on YouTube, Sorry wasn’t it (that was Baby). Although it has proved to be his most popular YouTube video by far, with more than three billion views to date, Sorry was only the 22nd video to reach the billion view mark.
It’s the most recent addition to the three-billion-views club though and it was the fourth fastest video ever to reach two billion, so it is growing faster than some of its competition.
It was originally intended to be just a lyric video, so it was perhaps fortunate that it ended up as the main video for the song, considering its massive popularity.
6. PSY – Gangnam Style (3.29 billion)
A true icon in monster YouTube video history, Psy’s Gangnam Style was the very first YouTube video to be viewed more than a billion times. Even more amazing at the time, was that it did it in less than six months after its release (from July to December 2012). It would go on to become the first video to reach two billion views in May 2014, and it wasn’t until 2015 that it would even have a close competitor.
Although today more than 100 videos on YouTube have been watched more than a billion times each, Gangnam Style still remains one of the most watched videos of all time, beating off much younger competition to retain its top ten spot almost seven years after its release.
5. Masha and the Bear – Recipe for disaster (3.45 billion)
The only video on this list that isn’t a music video and only one of three that isn’t entirely in English, Masha and the Bear is a particular episode of a Russian children’s cartoon by the same name (or Маша и Медведь in Russian). The show is hugely popular outside of its home country, though, and many of its episodes have garnered huge view counts on YouTube. It’s also broadcast on Netflix and NBCUniversal in a collective episode format.
The Recipe for Disaster episode, though, is of particular interest for its astronomical view count. At 3.45 billion it is in a hallowed club of just seven videos that have eclipsed three billion views and it’s the most popular non-music video of all time on the site, perhaps anywhere.
The thing is, the episode isn’t on the official Masha and the Bear channel. Get Movies, the channel that uploaded this particular episode, has done very well for itself from just this one children’s show episode.
4. Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars (3.46 billion)
Despite being older than the top three videos on this list, Uptown Funk continues to draw in lots of new viewers and remains a threat to their medal placings. It made its YouTube debut in November 2014 and swiftly became one of the most popular and well-liked videos ever.
Arguably just as impressive as its overall view count is that it beat off such stiff competition from its contemporaries. Big music videos from other major artists, like our number two spot holder, Ed Sheeran, as well as Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry, have all seen their big 2014 hits achieve multiple billions of views. Uptown Funk still manages to eclipse them all and edges ever closer to becoming the fourth video to achieve four billion views.
3. Wiz Khalifa – See You Again ft. Charlie Puth (4.01 billion)
The first video on this list to have a movie tie-in to aid its promotion, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s See You Again has been viewed more than four billion times since its April 2015 debut. Released to aid promotion of the film, Furious 7 (of The Fast and the Furious franchise), it also served as a form of tribute to deceased star of the series, Paul Walker, who the film itself also acted as a tribute to.
The music video for the song was temporarily the most viewed video on YouTube between July 10, 2017 and August 4 that same year, dethroning Gangnam Style. It was eclipsed in turn, by our number one video, Despacito. It was also the most liked video on the streaming site between August 26, 2016 and July 25, 2017. It was the second video to ever pass the two billion view mark and is one of only three videos to be viewed more than four billion times.
2. Ed Sheeran – Shape of You (4.07 billion)
You could arguably tack an extra 800 million views to Ed Sheeran’s most popular YouTube hit, as the lyric video released alongside is a hugely popular video in its own right. Whether you do, or not though, there’s no denying that Shape of You is one of the most watched videos of all time. It holds records as the third fastest video to reach a billion views, and is the second fastest to reach two billion, and three billion views as well.
Although it is nearly matched in views by See You Again, Shape of You is much more modern. It achieved all of its view count accolades in just two years, having debuted in January 2017. It seems poised to only cement itself further as the second most popular video of all time.
1: Luis Fonsi – Despacito ft Daddy Yankee (5.97 billion)
For a site run by an American company and dominated by English-speaking content, it’s perhaps a surprise to see that the most popular YouTube video of all time (and one that shows no sign of being eclipsed anytime soon), is sung almost entirely in Spanish. Featuring Puerto Rico artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, Despacito hit YouTube in January 2017 and racked up more than a billion views in just 97 days — the second fastest run ever. It would go on to become the fastest to garner two billion views and the first ever video to eclipse three, four, and five billion views.
At the time of writing it stands poised to pass the six billion mark in the very near future. In fact, its view count is growing so fast that by the time you read this it will probably have already passed that threshold.