I’m a bit surprised that nobody so far had managed to produce a timeline – even an approximate one – of the most watched videos on YouTube. (Or nobody that I could find, anyway.)
I mean, there’s plenty of data for “most viewed videos as of 20xx” (at least, in the last few years – it’s less common earlier on), but nothing about what the progression of records was. (There are a few links on “most viewed videos uploaded in 20xx”, but they’re not exactly the right thing here either.) So now the most watched video is Gangnam Style (okay, everyone knows that), and it usurped the record from what, exactly?
I’ve tried to assemble what little I could find (there are sadly many gaps in the data) to figure out the chronology. The specific dates, in particular, may be a day or two off (though not for numbers 1-4, whose dates are attestation limits, straight from the Wayback Machine).
1. JoeB, Cross Bar (feat. Ronaldinho)
This video is a Nike commercial, and is highly suspected to have been staged; it’s unclear whether the original uploader – back in October 2005 – realized this, though! It also happens to be the first video to reach 1000000 (that’s a million) views on YouTube.
It probably was the most viewed video on YouTube when the site was launched officially. Earlier data is unlikely to be available, so let’s just start that way.
(Note: there is some confusion with another video, Touch of Gold, with the same commercial. But it was Cross Bar that was the first to a million, as this Wayback Machine link proves.)
Date when most viewed: as of December 10-20, 2005
2. mugenized, “Jay Leno Phony Photo Booth”
No idea what this video could have been. It’s not available today.
Date when most viewed: as of February 14, 2006 (by which point Cross Bar was #14)
3. eggtea, “Myspace – THE MOVIE!”
Not available today either.
Date when most viewed: as of March 3, 2006
4. smosh, “Pokemon Theme Music Video”
Also unavailable (at least this time I know why – for copyright reasons). First to 10 million.
Date when most viewed: as of April 9 – May 2, 2006
5. Judson Laipply, Evolution of Dance (feat. Judson Laipply)
This used to be the classic “most viewed” YouTube video, having held this position for years. Now it’s ancient history.
The numbering of this one (and further) is completely useless. There are reasons to suspect that many other videos, not listed here, have held the top spot between #1 and this, but aside from those listed here, I was unable to find any stated definitely.
Date when most viewed: May 2006 – October 31, 2009 (but see below)
6. RCARecords, Girlfriend (feat. Avril Lavigne)
I could not figure out when, exactly, this was the most viewed. It definitely was at some point; the period listed is my best guess, and might not have been continuous.
I really only have the Know Your Meme page (for Dance Evolution, that is) to thank for including this video in this list in the first place, actually.
Also a music video (for comparison, today’s YouTube top 10 is all music videos).
Link is not to the original video (the original had since been taken down).
Might or might not have only had the top spot due to view manipulation. (If so, the reason I’m not including the brief top video from March 2008 – which definitely was due to manipulation – is because it had a NSFW title. Search for it yourself.)
Date when most viewed: August 2008 – April 2009
7. HDCYT, Charlie bit my finger (feat. Harry Davies-Carr)
Exactly what it says on the tin – a video of a baby boy named Charlie biting his (slightly) older brother’s finger. (Harry Davies-Carr is the name of said older brother.)
Was the most viewed non-music video for a good deal longer. Still the third (perhaps second, depending on what you count) most viewed in that category today (though only #34 overall… the other 31 are all music videos).
I’m surprised that it actually got that far.
Date when most viewed: October 31, 2009 – April 14, 2010
8. Lady Gaga, Bad Romance (feat. Lady Gaga)
Another example on a video I only stumbled on when already writing up this list. It is often said that the next one (you’ll see) took the top spot directly from the previous one (Charlie); this was not the case apparently.
And another music video, naturally. (Not much of a spoiler, but all the following top positions also are music videos.)
Date when most viewed: April 14 – July 15, 2010
9. Justin Bieber, Baby (feat. Ludacris?)
The second to get to a billion views, this video was still second most viewed until less than five months ago (it’s sixth as I write this, on March 10, 2016, and might well be seventh by March 11th).
It also, for a long time, held the YouTube record for “most hated video” (either most negative score, or most downvotes; not sure exactly, and might well have been both).
Which makes sense, I suppose, because, after all, it’s Justin Bieber.
Date when most viewed: July 15, 2010 – November 24, 2012
10. Psy, Gangnam Style (feat. Psy)
Technically a music video, this isn’t exactly in the typical music video tradition, which is probably to the better.
First YouTube video to reach a billion views (compare Cross Bar’s million); still the only to reach two billion. Recently reached two and a half billion. Might well be the first to reach three billion too – time will tell eventually.
Date when most viewed: November 24, 2012 – present (and still going)
Um, that’s it? I’m sure I didn’t make it a top 10 on purpose. My original list had 7, anyway (I only added the three 2006 videos at the last moment).
Comments and especially additions welcome. Though I doubt there will be any additions unless someone manages to discover an early 2006 article about the most viewed videos (all of those I found are about viral hits, and don’t necessarily call them most viewed).