Imagine the YouTube video to end all YouTube videos—a relentlessly goofy, kitchen-sink montage that stuffs in layer upon layer of pop-culture references, inside jokes and quirky Internet stars.
For 2012's "Rewind," a look back at the year's biggest YouTube hits, YouTube made just that video. The clip includes more visual remixing and geeky-cool allusions than we could mention here (and surely, we're missing plenty). Suffice it to say, you might find—at the moment when Psy's "Gangnam Style" reprises at the clip's end in a mashup with Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe"—that your head might want to explode in the most shamefully delighted way conceivable.
Psy's horse-dancing smash hit serves as the thread that runs throughout, anchoring the more obscure references. Those include a cavalcade of niche YouTube sensations, appropriating broader cultural themes in the manner symbolic of the medium. Comedians KassemG and DailyGrace, respectively, spoof Olympian Ryan Lochte and Hunger Games character Katniss Everdeen. Mark and Anastasia Douglas of BarelyPolitical make cameos as pop duo Karmin. Annoying Orange plays Felix Baumgartner of the Red Bull Stratos jump, and so on and so forth. Also appearing: Mars Curiosity, AlphaCat, Freddie Wong and Rhett & Link's "Dope Zebra."
For good measure, you can scroll your mouse over the screen during playback to find hidden links to another 21 Easter egg videos—especially, for example, if you want to watch over and over again Psy wrecking the guitar of band Walk Off the Earth, stopping them from doing to his hit what they did, with such great success, to Gotye's.
In short, the clip is specially tailored to play to the archetype of the modern entertainment junkie. If Google's "Zeitgeist 2012" video from last week was a not-particularly-nutritious dinner, then YouTube's "Rewind" is a ridiculously rich dessert, if one that's appropriate for a zeitgeist that celebrates an odd mix of raw talent and over-the-top presentation. It's also, notably, an original production—rather than just a montage of already-existing footage—which plays up the company's hard drive this year into bankrolling professionally produced content and the launch of its own production studio.
The message that "Rewind" forces into relief with a fair amount of success: YouTube is at the center of all things pop culture, it gets the new audience and their humor, it's friends with the popular kids on the playground, it's having a great time, and it's going for gangbusters.
Whether it's mistaking excess for success is a different question altogether.