Today, viral videos are commonplace. Every time the Internet gets its hands on a hilarious, interesting, or even tragic piece of content, the video gets shared millions of times, which is known as “going viral.” People have gotten legit famous by creating or starring in viral videos. The concept of being an “Internet personality” started with viral videos.
Back in the old days, like 2007, viral videos were just starting to become a thing. No one can quite agree on what the first real viral video was. Some cite a video posted in 2005 called “Lazy Sunday.” Others point to viral classics like “Numa Numa” and “Shoes” as the firsts in this category. Regardless of which viral video actually came first, there’s no argument that the mid to late 2000’s was the Golden Age of viral content.
There are some good viral videos out there today, but the best of the best originated in the middle to late years of the first decade of the 2000s. Those of us who were in middle school or high school during that time have fond memories of these iconic videos. We watched them with our friends after school. We watched them on our very first iPhones. We watched them over and over until we had them memorized and could spout out their catchy one liners in any situation.
Some of these videos have become so embedded in pop culture that they’re referenced in TV shows, movies, and even other viral videos. Get ready for some serious nostalgic feels and check out all these classics.
15 Chocolate Rain
In 2007, Tay Zonday uploaded his original masterpiece “Chocolate Rain” to YouTube. The video went viral pretty quickly after being uploaded. The focus of the Internet chatter was really on Tay Zonday’s unique voice. The subject matter of the song that he wrote himself was largely lost.
I remember watching clips and laughing at his deep voice crooning the words “Chocolate rain,” but when I watched the video again today, I realized that the song is actually an insightful commentary on race relations in the United States. Listen to it again. You’ll be surprised. Too bad the video didn’t get as much attention for its content as it did for its sound.
Tay Zonday became an instant Internet celebrity. Who’s the man behind the persona? Adam Nyerere Bahner describes himself as a nerd who wrote and performed music as a hobby. He never expected that one of his original creations would catapult him to fame, especially because he never dedicated himself solely to music. Today, he still performs and does voice over work.
14 Charlie the Unicorn
I don’t have the evidence to back this up, but I strongly believe that Charlie the Unicorn started the Millennial obsession with unicorns. Like any truly fantastic viral video, Charlie the Unicorn leaves you wondering “WTF did I just watch?”
The video tells the story of three unicorns who are looking for the mythical “Candy Mountain.” Two of the unicorns are the typically happy, bubbly, optimistic creatures you’d assume unicorns are. Charlie is a surly, pessimistic, non-believer (shun the non-believer!).
They journey to Candy Mountain, harassing Charlie with their happiness all the way there. It turns out Candy Mountain does exist, and when they convince Charlie to go inside the cave, he’s locked in and knocked out. The video ends with Charlie discovering that his kidney was stolen. This kind of epic weirdness was the heart of viral videos of the 2000s.
The video sparked some of the best one liners of the decade and anyone who named Charlie had to endure all their friends saying “Chaaaaaarllllieeee” in the nasal tones of the happy unicorns.
The video was the brain child of FilmCow who was also responsible for such classics as Llamas with Hats and Bearnicorn.
13 Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny
The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny had literally everything that an Internet user could want to see in a viral video. As the chorus proclaims it had, “Good guys, bad guys, and explosions as far as the eye can see,” it featured pop culture characters murdering each other, and the song was unbelievably catchy. What more could we want?
The animated video imagines a battle of epic proportions to discover the toughest guy in the world. Every pop culture character from your childhood is featured in the video and they’re all battling each other to the death, for reasons that are never actually explained. The video also brilliantly capitalized on the emerging art form of the meme by including references to newly popular Internet phenomena like Chuck Norris facts.
The video is essentially a meta meme that became extremely popular by capitalizing on the Internet’s love of pop culture and fictionalized violence.
12 Star Wars Kid
The Star Wars kid is a personal hero of mine. The video is an extremely low-quality video, clearly a home video, of a teenage’ish guy in his basement practicing some killer Jedi moves. The guy is everything you’d picture if I said the word “geek.” He’s a bit chubby, he’s got wire rimmed glasses, and he’s clearly so in love with Star Wars that he thought it’d be a great idea to post a video of himself using a metal cylinder (maybe a pipe?) as a lightsaber and jumping all around pretending to kill Sith.
The video went viral and when the trolls got their hands on it they eviscerated this kid in forums and on social media. They brutally made fun of this “nerd” who thought his Jedi moves were so cool. The reaction was unfortunate, but not unexpected from the people who live on the Internet.
But if we’re honest, haven’t we all been the Star Wars kid at some point in our lives? Haven’t we all pretended to be our heroes while no one was watching, in the privacy of our own homes? Star Wars kid was just braver than all of us because he posted his killer moves on YouTube.
Keep doing you, Star Wars kid.
11 Don’t Tase me Bro
“Don’t tase me bro” became a common catchphrase in the 2000s, more of a joke than anything else. The distilling of the video to this catchphrase is a great example of what can happen to important content when the Internet gets its hands on it. The video in its entirety is actually an incident of police brutality.
A student at a John Kerry rally at the University of Florida is asking questions that are making the crowd and Kerry uncomfortable. He sounds like a crazy conspiracy theorist, but he isn’t actually doing anything wrong. His mic is cut and he is dragged off by police. The student questions why he’s being arrested, but still does nothing wrong. He isn’t aggressive toward police, in fact, he’s yelling for help through most of the video.
Toward the end of the video the police threaten to tase him in order to subdue him, even though he doesn’t appear to be resisting arrest. This threat prompted the famous “don’t tase me bro.” They do end up tasing him and the student is heard screaming in pain.
Instead of remembering the video as a demonstration of police brutality, most remember it simply as a funny one liner. This video is proof that the Internet has the power to devalue the real message of content once it’s handed over to the people.
10 Numa Numa
The Numa Numa video is another example of a pure soul being eviscerated by trolls for sharing their true self with the Internet. In 2006, a man uploaded a video of himself lip syncing to a song by a Romanian pop band. He lip syncs perfectly to the song and during the super upbeat chorus he chair dances like a pro. The pure joy in his performance is evident in every second of the video.
When the video first went viral there were a lot of people making fun of the Numa Numa guy. At one point, the Twitterverse started a rumor that he had committed suicide because of the cyberbullying from the video. Thankfully, the Numa Numa guy or Gary Brolsma, is not dead and was unfazed by his Internet notoriety.
He’s said that the video was totally spur of the moment. He was bored and he decided to make funny videos to send to his friends. He never imagined that the video would become one of the first memes and make him an Internet celebrity. Today he’s a successful tech entrepreneur on top of his Internet fame.
9 Leave Britney Alone
2007 was a really hard year for Britney Spears. There was a death in her family. She found out her husband was cheating on her and her marriage fell apart. She shaved her head. Britney had a very public nervous breakdown and the media was more than happy to ridicule her for it, especially bloggers like Perez Hilton.
Enter Chris Crocker, Britney’s Internet defender. Chris posted a video on YouTube responding to the way Britney was being treated. He got super emotional during the video and eventually started crying and yelling “Leave Britney alone.” He even said he would kill himself if anything ever happened to Britney.
The Internet responded to the video in the callous way for which it’s so famous. They made fun of Chris Crocker ruthlessly. He became the subject of multiple memes and he became the laughingstock of the Internet. People couldn’t stop commenting on the hilarity of his emotional video.
Like so many viral videos before it, the message of “Leave Britney alone” was lost in the culture of cyberbullying that was becoming so prevalent. Crocker actually had a super relevant message for us about the pressures of fame and the dangers of celebrity Internet culture. But we missed it because we were laughing at him.
8 Badger Badger Badger
The Internet is home to all sorts of weird things, and sometimes those things go viral just because they’re particularly weird. Badger Badger Badger is one of those things. The video is completely pointless. There’s no storyline, the animation isn’t particularly good, there’s pretty much no reason to watch it other than to wonder why you just watched something so weird.
The video basically consists of a person saying the word Badger over and over while animated badgers dance on the screen. Then randomly the person says mushroom and there’s a picture of a dancing mushroom. At completely random points during this chanting of badger and mushroom, the video switches to an animation of a dancing snake and the voice sings the word “snake” in an almost despairing tone. That’s literally the entire video.
For some inexplicable reason, the Internet went crazy for this ridiculous video when it was posted. It even spawned parodies like the Harry Potter version of the song. The Bader song is proof that the Internet doesn’t need quality or even coherent content in order to become obsessed. Often the weirdness alone is enough.
7 Peanut Butter Jelly Time
Peanut Butter Jelly Time is an incredibly catchy song with lyrics that make absolutely no sense. To make the video even stranger, the only animation is an 8bit banana with arms and legs dancing to the song. Though the video is essentially pointless, much like the Badger song, the catchiness of the song and the hilarity of a dancing banana made this video viral material. The video almost immediately became an icon of pop culture and it has been parodied on multiple shows, including “Family Guy.”
Interestingly enough, the creator of this iconic video, a user called AlbinoBlackSheep was no stranger to viral content. In fact, only days before the Peanut Butter Jelly Time video was uploaded in 2008, AlbinoBlackSheep uploaded another one of the videos from this list: The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.
Within a few days, this brilliant content creator gifted the world two of the best viral videos in existence. We bow to you AlbinoBlackSheep.
6 Double Rainbow
The Double Rainbow guy became the darling of the Internet when he uploaded a video of himself fully appreciating the beauty of nature in 2010. The Double Rainbow Guy, or Paul "Bear" Vasquez, is the epitome of a hippie. He lives in a broken down mobile home just outside of Yosemite and prefers nature and solitude to people. His life has always been an adventure. He was a firefighter, security officer, and an EMT before he ventured in to the wilderness.
In the video, Bear, as he likes to be called, is never seen, only heard. The only image in the video is a stunning double rainbow that spans the whole sky. Bear was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the phenomenon that he broke down crying, which can be heard in the video and began asking “What does it all mean?”
Bear is constantly asked if he was high during the filming of the video, but he insists he wasn’t. He says he was having a spiritual experience. After the experience was over, it became clear to him that God wanted him to bring people together, which he thinks he’s accomplished via his Internet fame. It’s true, we can all join together in our love of Double Rainbow Guy and his amazing video.
5 Let’s Get Some Shoes
The actor/comedian/director Liam Kyle Sullivan introduced us to his now famous character Kelly in the “Shoes” video in 2007. The video begins with Kelly receiving a bad birthday gift from her parents who just don’t understand her at all, and fighting with her twin brother who couldn’t be more of her opposite. Sullivan’s monotone voice saying “Betch” was the absolute embodiment of teen angst.
The video goes on to chronicle Kelly’s obsession with finding new shoes via a hilarious song written and composed by Sullivan. The video shows a crazed Kelly searching for shoes, judging which ones suck, and berating “stupid boys” who tell her she has too many shoes. The video also features some hot rocker girls who are randomly playing guitar, dancing, and toward the end of the video, hula hooping with hula hoops that are literally on fire in bikinis. The video is the exact right amount of hilarious, strange, angsty, and awesome.
Liam Kyle Sullivan went on to become one of the first true YouTube sensations. He put out multiple videos starring Kelly and her family, of which he plays most of the members, including her mother who likes to bake muffins and her grandma who is constantly drunk on whiskey.
4 All Your Base Are Belong To Us
In 1991, Sega released a video game called Zero Wing, which came over to the US from Japan. Since it was originally a Japanese title, the dialogue between the characters in the video game had to be translated in to English for the US release. This led to some of the most hilariously bad English translations ever. The words in the dialogue were out of order in some cases and there were frequently extra verbs or nouns in the sentences.
These hilarious mistranslations led to the phrase that has now become part of Internet history: “All your base are belong to us.” Someone thought this phrase was particularly hilarious, so they created a song which is basically just the phrase repeated over and over while some sick techno plays in the background. The video cycles through photographs where some text in the image has been replaced by the words “All your base are belong to us.” The video was uploaded in 2001 and became one of the very first viral videos.
3 Lee-Rooooy Jenkins!
World of Warcraft, or WoW, is a massive multiplayer online roleplaying game, or MMORPG. It was wildly popular in the 2000’s and widely considered the best MMORPG available. People playing the game got together in groups called guilds and worked together to beat scenarios called raids.
In the old days of WoW, the highest level raids were nearly a complicated as real battles. You needed 25 people working together at the same time to even attempt the raid and even then, success rates were low. A large amount of strategy was involved in planning and executing a raid.
The beginning of the video hints at all the planning this group has done to attempt this raid. Bored with all the conversation, one player, whose character is named Leeroy Jenkins, yells his own name as a battle cry over the group voice chat and rushes in with no regard for the plan. The true hilarity of the video is seeing the chaos that ensues with the rest of the group. They’re legit freaking out.
So, maybe this video is only hilarious if you understand World of Warcraft and the mechanics of a raid. But maybe not. Millions of people loved this video and I’m going to bet not all of them played WoW.
Powerthirst is one of the best parody videos out there. The video is a fake commercial for a fake energy drink. A super manly voice is yelling at you about how Powerthirst will give you “gratuitous amounts of energy.” The manly yelling voice goes on to outline all the insane benefits of drinking Powerthirst, which is “an energy drink for men” that will give you “menergy.”
The video is hilarious on multiple levels. First, it has some of the greatest one liners of its time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve yelled quotes from the Powerthirst video at friends, especially while we’re enjoying energy drinks. Second, the video achieves its mission of being an effective parody. Energy drink commercials promise powerful results from consumption of their product and all the Powerthirst video did was extrapolate this concept to its most hilarious level.
The video was created by a comedy troupe called Picnicface, and it became so popular that they worked with the site CollegeHumor on a sequel.
1 Never Going to Give You Up
The music video for Rick Astley’s song “Never Going to Give You Up” is probably the most famous viral video on the Internet. How did such an obscure thing become so popular? Through an Internet phenomenon called Rick Rolling. This Internet prank started where many Internet phenomena start: on the message boards of 4chan. Originally, the prank was called duckrolling. Users posted links to what they said were awesome sites, images, or videos, but instead the link went to a photo of a duck on wheels.
One user adapted the prank and instead sent users to the music video for “Never Going to Give You Up,” and Rick Rolling was born. The practice of Rick Rolling pervades the Internet. Friends do it to each other all the time. Major companies started joining in on the prank, especially around April Fools. In one of the most epic Rick Rolls of all time, YouTube once changed all the links on their homepage to go to the video. Under the Obama administration, the White House Twitter feed was known to Rick Roll followers every once in a while.
Sources: YouTube, Movie Pilot, Filmcow.com, Billboard Magazine, Business Insider, CNN, Vice, IMDB, National Post, The FW