After nearly 15 years of hosting videos, and with approximately 300 hours of video uploaded to the service every minute, YouTube reinvents itself on a daily basis. And while the YouTube algorithm works in mysterious (and potentially dangerous) ways, view counts ensure that the videos that come out on top are easily recognized.
In the early days of YouTube, the most-watched videos tended to be viral moments such as “Charlie Bit My Finger.” But as the platform evolved, big-name celebrities took over the charts with music videos, with random children’s entertainment squeezing into the cracks. The biggest surprise is that no legacy hit is safe; every video in the top 10 most-viewed videos of all time comes from the past seven years.
With that, here’s a look at the top 10 most-watched YouTube videos (as of publish — like everything on YouTube, the numbers could skyrocket at the drop of a new hat).
10. “ROAR” (2013) – 2.84 BILLION
Katy Perry and Taylor Swift may have ended their feud in Swift’s new video for “You Need to Calm Down,” but Perry is the victor in the the battle for a spot on the most-viewed YouTube video list. Beating out Swift’s “Shake It Off” by more than 50 million views, Perry’s empowerment anthem “Roar” secures the No. 10 spot on this list.
9. “BABY SHARK DANCE” (2016) – 2.94 BILLION
Baby Shark, the viral meme phenomenon from Korean children’s educational brand Pinkfong, beat out Taylor Swift and Katy Perry for the No. 9 spot on May 28, 2019. The catchy kids song rose to virality and meme status sometime in August 2018, but its legacy lives on in every licensed iteration imaginable. The original Baby Shark lands on the list with 2.86 billion views, but Baby Shark videos as a whole have also amassed over five billion views.
8. “SUGAR” (2015) – 2.98 BILLION
Maroon 5 has many bangers, but “Sugar” proved more viral than “Misery,” “This Love,” and “She Will Be Loved.” “Sugar,” helmed by Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin, is essentially the movie in music video form. The band crashed as many actual weddings as they could in one day. Dobkin contacted wedding planners, looking for weddings happening on the day of filming, and informed the grooms that a “popular band” would show up to play. Then Maroon 5 completely surprises the brides and the other guests.
7. “SORRY” (2015) – 3.15 BILLION
The video for Justin Bieber’s Vine-promoted electro-pop tune “Sorry” is full of neon-clad dancers. Many speculated that it may be about more than a relationship, and perhaps hinted at the singer’s more controversial moments, but Bieber confirmed that the song is specifically about ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez. Remember Jelena? The pairing is immortalized in this YouTube-dominating song.
6. “GANGNAM STYLE” (2012) – 3.37 BILLION
“Gangnam Style” might never have made it to America if rapper T-Pain hadn’t tweeted about it in 2012. “The YouTube video never targeted foreign countries. It was for local fans,” Korean rapper Psy told Reuters in an interview after the video went viral.
While K-pop had garnered much popularity outside of Korea before “Gangnam Style,” the genre had yet to spark fervor in the United States. Journalist Mark James Russell theorized in 2012 that “this [K-pop’s popularity in the West] could soon change because of ‘Gangnam Style.’” One could postulate that the current K-pop frenzy in the United States — BTS making headlining appearances on various talk shows and sweeping the nation with sold out tours; girl group Loona sparking a viral meme that continues to befuddle those unfamiliar with K-pop canon — can be traced back to this K-pop video that could.
5. “UPTOWN FUNK” (2014) – 3.59 BILLION
The incredibly catchy Bruno Mars song tied for the second longest-reigning No. 1 on the Billboard 100 in 2014, and broke the record for most streamed track in the United States, United Kingdom, and worldwide in one week. The success of the song translates to success of its music video, which was nominated for various awards and made a few “Top Music Videos of 2014” lists. Just thinking about the funky bop might get it stuck in your head.
4. MASHA AND THE BEAR – “RECIPE FOR DISASTER” (2012) – 3.73 BILLION
Not only is Masha and the Bear – “Recipe for Disaster” the only video on this list that is not a music video (and the only non-music video on the full top 20 list), it’s also the oldest video on the list, predating “Gangnam Style” by seven months. One might speculate that the video’s age is what slowly garnered it this many views, but it was also the most viewed video of 2012. Unlike Baby Shark — another video geared toward kids — there’s no viral meme moment to explain the triumph of Masha and the Bear.
The video, entirely in Russian, is also the longest on this list, clocking in at just over six minutes. It is the 17th episode of Russian children’s series Masha and the Bear. Other Masha and the Bear episodes do quite well, getting millions of views probably due to children clicking repeat and repeat, with two others cracking 1 billion views.
3. “SEE YOU AGAIN” (2015) – 4.14 BILLION
The Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth collab is a tribute to Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker, who died in a car accident before his final franchise appearance in Furious 7. After the film’s release, “See You Again” became the longest-running rap No. 1 single in the United States. The music video surpassed “Gangnam Style” as the most liked YouTube video of all time in 2017.
2. “SHAPE OF YOU” (2017) – 4.25 BILLION
Ed Sheeran’s crooning pop hit became the most streamed song on Spotify in 2018. Sheeran originally wrote the song with Rihanna in mind, but ended up performing it himself. The song received positive acclaim, though Jeremy Gordon of Spin noted “you can’t really picture Sheeran ever saying ‘put that body on me’ to a real human woman.” The music video manages to paint Sheeran as a sort of rugged boxer, making the lyrical choice seem a bit more plausible. At the end … he battles a sumo wrestler.
1. “DESPACITO” (2017) – 6.26 BILLION
The gap between “Despacito” and the runner-up is bigger than the gap between any of the other videos. One might think that the fact that the song is a punchline to a meme might contribute, but the song amassed 1 billion views in just 97 days and eventually broke the record for most viewed YouTube video in August 2017 — all before the first instance of the “That’s so sad, Alexa play Despacito” meme on Tumblr in June 2018. Billboard notes that the song renewed interest in Latin music from U.S. record labels. In addition to being the most viewed video on YouTube, “Despacito” is also the most liked, stealing the title from “See You Again.” And with an infectious, danceable melody, what’s not to like about “Despacito”?