The 10 Most Influential Videos of YouTube’s First 10 Years

These 10 videos showed us what YouTube can do.

cool-brands-youtubeICYMI: Valentine’s Day was a big day for all of us in another way. One decade ago on the day of love, YouTube was born. Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, three former employees of PayPal, registered a new company devised as a place for kids, adults, and random dudes to watch stuff on the Internet.

User-generated media has been the bane of journalism’s existence for most of those ten years because now — thanks to GoPro, Microsoft, and Apple — everyone is a reporter. Ten years ago no one used the word “influencer,” but today they interview the President of the United States.

That said, here’s our list of the Top 10 Most Influential (not “most viewed,” because that would be a bunch of pop music) YouTube videos of all time.

1. Me at the Zoo.

YouTube was a “Blank Space” for about two months until Karim uploaded this video of … wait for it … [him] at the zoo. 17.5 million views later, YouTube history has been written — and viewed — ever since. This started it all. That’s influence.

2. Gangnam Style.

We know. We throw up in a little in our collective PRNewser mouths thinking about it too, but the first video to reach 1 billion views (and now, past 2.2 billion) makes PSY YouTube’s biggest winner to date.

3. Justin Bieber: The Early Years. 

Why is Captain Douchenozzle himself so “influential”? Because journalists writing pieces on the new kid who made all the 12-year-olds swoon (almost certainly) created the phrase “Check out his work on YouTube!”

4. Charlie Bit My Finger — Again.

Today, the Interweb is full of adorable animals, colorful sunsets, and I Can Has Cheezburgers. This was the first: back in 2007, some British father/early adopter decided to share his child-rearing exploits with the world.

The fact that we are all still watching 800 million views later demonstrates the power of “social” media to turn such run-of-the-mill moments into cultural touchstones.

5. Leave Britney Alone! 

For some reason, we’d all like to believe that we are starring in our own movie and that everyone else in the world cares what we think and say.

One troubled soul decided that he was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take any more. In the process, he convinced millions around the world that they could earn attention, celebrity status, and even money by sharing things that others might call best left alone…like Britney herself.

6. Don’t Tase Me, Bro! 

In 1992, one man’s shaky-hand cell phone footage of Rodney King changed the world.

In 2007, University of Florida student Andrew Meyer changed the world in a different way as he “predicted” the wave of embarrassing/controversial police footage that now populates so much of our Internet.

In many cases, that footage led to serious conversations…but this time we all just laughed.

7. LonelyGirl15.

YouTube “stars” take note: LonelyGirl15 was nothing more than a vlog series featuring a 16-year-old girl finding her way through life. Of course, the problem was that “Bree” was actually a struggling actress “auditioning” for a gig.

Jessica Rose never became a huge star, but she did provide a template for others and inspire a 2006 episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

8. KONY 2012.

This is the video that established “slacktivism.”

YouTube can be an agent of change, but it took a while for people to figure that out, and KONY 2012 allowed armchair activists to unite under one banner for the first time.

Turns out that signing a petition and watching a video won’t stop a vicious Ugandan overlord…but at least this campaign got us moving in a positive direction.

9. I’m Coming Out.

At times, YouTube provides glimpses into the corners of humanity that make us all stop, look, listen…and share.

In one of those cases, high school senior Kayla Kearney decided the MLK Assembly at Mario Carillo High School was the best time to share a very personal truth.

MEMO to PR: this is a great reminder that virality isn’t made; it’s earned.

10. Maru.

So, where did all of these animal videos come from anyway? YouTube can actually tell you: they came from Maru.

In 2008, someone in Japan thought that the cuddly goings-on of someone’s cat would attract an audience.

A billion-plus animal videos later, we can thank Maru and her hollow cardboard toy.

Now who did we miss?