Let’s cut to the chase and see if your favorite videos and artists made it to the top 22. (Last updated: November 28, 2019)
1. Despacito. 6.6 billion views.
When Luis Fonsi wrote this hit with Panamanian Erika Ender, he thought it was going to be a cumbia, a softer kind of music. But then, he teamed up with singer Daddy Yankee and with Colombian music producers Mauricio Rengifo and Andres Torres. And the group transformed Despacito (Slowly) into a mix of pop, urban, and Latin.
The video was filmed in Puerto Rico, Luis and Yankee’s home. And it is an homage to the island. The lead female, Zuleyka Rivera, is also a Puerto Rican, who was Miss Universe in 2006.
A few months after releasing Despacito, the singers did a remix of the song. It featured Canadian singer Justin Bieber. Despite the success of the remix, it is the first version that has the most views on YouTube. It still gets some 2 million views every day. (Here are the lyrics of Despacito translated into English).
Video published on: January 12, 2017
2. Shape Of You. 4.5 billion views.
Ed Sheeran’s album was already finished. But he kept writing songs for other artists with Johnny McDaid and British producer Steve Mac. One of the tunes that the trio came up with was Shape of you. The wording “shape of you” was Johhny’s idea. Apparently, the phrase is slang in his native Ireland.
As the song started to come together, Ed thought he could perhaps give it to Rihanna. But when the British singer played it for his record company. They liked it and asked: “Why do you want to give it away?” Ed included it in his album.
Video published on: January 30, 2017
3. See You Again. 4.3 billion views.
Twenty-three-year-old Charlie Puth had just moved to Los Angeles. He heard that the producers of the Fast and the Furious franchise wanted a song for their newest movie. The song was to honor Paul Walker, one of their actors, who had died in a car crash.
The newbie songwriter wanted to give the song a shot. So his recording company set him with producer Justin Frank. Turns out, both Charlie and Justin had lost friends in motorcycle accidents. So even though they had just met, the Americans came up with the chorus of See you again in just 10 minutes. Then they recorded a demo with Charlie’s vocals and piano and sent it to their bosses.
Everyone involved loved the song. The bosses asked American rapper Wiz Khalifa to write and sing the verses for the rest of the track. Coincidentally, Wiz, too, had lost several friends.
Then the song went through a lengthy producing process and was released.
Video published on: April 6, 2015
4. Recipe For Disaster. 4.2 billion views.
Recipe for disaster is the only video on this list that is not a song. It is a cute episode of the children’s series Masha and the Bear.
In this episode, Bear is trying to learn to play chess while Masha keeps interrupting him. He finally leaves for the forest with his chessboard, leaving Masha alone in the house. Masha decides to cook some porridge for herself… and disaster ensues.
Masha and the Bear is produced by Russian company Animaccord Animation Studio. The TV series is broadcast in more than 100 countries. There are other Masha and the Bear episodes that have, too, broken the 1-billion-views barrier, like Bon Appetit.
Video published on: January 31, 2012
5. Baby Shark Dance. 4 billion views.
The fifth most viewed video in YouTube’s history is a children’s song about a shark family. It teaches kids new words and family relationships through repetition: baby shark, mommy shark, daddy shark. The video is full of colorful animations. And there is a simple shark choreography created by Pinkfong, the South Korean company behind this video.
Pinkfong is in the education/entertainment business, and they publish this type of songs all the time. Their channel has more than 4,000 children’s songs. All of them do well (with millions of views each), but Baby Shark Dance has outdone them all by surpassing the 3 billion views.
Video published on: June 17, 2016
6. Uptown Funk. 3.7 billion views.
British Mark Ronson, Hawaiian Bruno Mars, and Kansas-born Jeff Bashker were jamming one day at Bruno’s studio in Los Angeles. Bruno was at the drums, Jeff on the keyboard, and Mark at the guitar. And they came up with what would become Uptown Funk.
Mark has said it was quite exciting that day, that they thought the song had a lot of promise. But then it fizzled. And the trio almost gave up on it several times during the next months because the song just would not come together.
Finally, after six months of work, Uptown Funk was ready. And soon, it would start winning Grammys.
Video published on: November 19, 2014
7. Gangnam Style. 3.5 billion views.
For Gangnam Style, Korean pop singer Psy used the same elements he always uses in his songs: funny lyrics, funny dances, funny videos. But this particular time, the formula made him an international star.
Gangnam is the name of the poshest district in Seoul. In the humorous song, Psy is trying to pick up a girl. He tries to convince her that he is as cool as she is, and that he is like the people from Gangnam: wealthy and laid back. (If you want to take a closer look at the lyrics, here is a good translation.)
It took Psy and his choreographer a month to invent the -purposefully- silly dance. They first tried to dance like a snake and a kangaroo before settling on the horse dance featured in the video.
Gangnam Style was the first video ever to reach 1 billion views on YouTube. And it has staying power, for the video is still watched about 640,000 times per day.
Video published on: July 15, 2012
8. Sorry. 3.2 billion views.
Justin Bieber recruited collaborators for his album Purpose. Justin Tranter and Julia Michael wrote some of the lyrics with producer BloodPop. After a day’s work in the studio, the trio had come up with Sorry. They sent it to Justin.
The singer loved it, so he tweaked it and recorded it with producers Skrillex and BloodPop. Three weeks later, the North American team –Justin is Canadian, while the rest of the creators are from the U.S.- released the song. It became an instant hit.
For the video, Justin asked New Zealander choreographer Parris Goebel to make it. Parris filmed the video you see above with the dancers of her company, ReQuest. Parris is the one in black that holds the sign at the end of the video. They sent it to Justin, who posted it online.
Video published on: October 22. 2015
9. Sugar. 3.1 billion views.
Mike Posner wrote Sugar for his own album. But then, he gave the song to Adam Levine, from U.S. band Maroon 5. Maroon 5 recorded it with producers Joshua Coleman (U.S.) and Henry Walter (Canada). They even threw in and some back-up vocals by Posner (U.S.) himself.
For the music video, Adam recruited film director David Dobkin (U.S.) who is a family friend. After considering some concepts, they chose to do a version of Wedding Crashers, a film directed by David. Maroon 5 was to crash weddings to perform their new song. They chose which Los Angeles’ weddings to crash. Then, realized, they had to let at least the groom know about the crashing.
One week before the shooting, Adam started getting cold-feet. What if they ruined the weddings? What if the bride was furious? Maroon 5 decided that after the new song, they would perform, in each wedding, an acoustic version of She will be loved, a hit of theirs.
Then a few days before the shooting, the grooms started getting cold feet about the video. David calmed them down.
Adam has stated that about 65% of the scenes in the video are real. The others were staged because they needed more footage.
Video published on: January 14, 2015
10. Roar. 3 billion views.
After her divorce, Katy Perry thought her next album would be dark and depressive. Instead, she produced empowering, catchy songs.
To make the record, she recruited her usual collaborators, producers Max Martin and Dr. Luke. Plus, her friend and co-writer Bonnie McKee. Katy took them to her favorite hotel in Santa Barbara, her hometown, to write the songs and produce them.
The upbeat Roar includes references to boxer Muhammad Ali (Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee) and the movie Rocky (The eye of the tiger). Co-writer Bonnie says penning the song was cathartic for her, as she describes herself as a people-pleaser. It was also cathartic for recently divorced Katy.
Video published on: September 5, 2013
11. Counting Stars. 2.9 billion views
Ryan Tedder is the frontman of the U.S. band OneRepublic. In the summer of 2012, he was writing music for Beyonce. She had invited him to stay with her and her husband in a house they were renting in the Hamptons (New York).
The second day there, Ryan stumbled on a folksy song on the internet. While he did not like the lyrics, he loved the feel of it. He tried to contact the artist to collaborate, but the artist was not interested. So Ryan wrote his own song inspired by it. He started it at the Hamptons and finished it in Santorini, Greece.
Counting stars was produced by Ryan and Noel Zancanella (U.S.) and recorded by OneRepublic. Englishman James Lees directed the video.
Video published on: May 31, 2013
12. Thinking Out Loud. 2.9 billion views.
Another hit for Englishman Ed Sheeran, who has two songs among the 20 most viewed music videos on YouTube.
The ballad Thinking out loud was co-written with his English friend Amy Wadge in Ed’s home. They were talking about Ed’s grandmom, who had recently lost her husband, and how Amy’s mother-in-law had lost her will to live after losing her own husband. So they wrote a song about lifelong partnerships. They also had Ed’s then-girlfriend in mind (he is now married to someone else).
Fellow Englishman Emil Nava directed the video. In it, Ed ballroom dances with Brittany Cherry, a professional dancer from the U.S.
Video published on: October 7, 2014
13. Shake It Off. 2.9 billion views.
The catchy tune was co-written by Taylor Swift (U.S.) and Swedes Max Martin and Shellback. The latter were also the producers.
For the video, Taylor called Mark Romanek. He had previously directed other beautifully shot videos such as Michael and Janet Jackson’s Scream. Mark has said that he is usually the one that comes up with the concept for his videos, but that this time it was Taylor who did. The look of the video, on the other hand, was Mark’s idea.
They cast the best dancers they could find and shot the video in Los Angeles in three days.
Video published on: August 18, 2014
14. Bailando. 2.8 billion views.
Enrique Iglesias co-wrote Bailando with his friend and collaborator Descemer Bueno. They recorded a demo but then shelved it. A year later, Descemer tweaked it with a fellow Cuban group, Gente de Zona, and released it.
Then, they asked their countryman, Cuban director Alejandro Perez, to make the video. It was shot in the Dominican Republic with the dancers of Havana’s Ballet Litz Alfonso. It aired in 2013.
Fast-forward a few months, and a friend of Enrique Iglesias tells him that he just came from Cuba and heard this incredibly catchy song on the radio. The Spaniard checks it out on YouTube and realizes it is indeed fantastic. It is the song he co-wrote with Descemer (here are the lyrics translated into English). So he calls up Descemer, and they decide to record Bailando (Dancing) again. This time with Enrique as one of the singers.
Then they reshot the video, which is a higher budget version of the first one. They hired the same director to film it and used the same concept and dancers. That second video has been viewed more than 2.7 billion times.
Video published on: April 11, 2014
15. Lean On. 2.7 billion views.
This multicultural track comes courtesy of singer MO (Danish), DJ Snake (French-Algerian), and group Major Lazer (American-Jamaican-Trinidadian).
Diplo, from Major Lazer, wrote the song with MO. In the beginning, it had more of a reggae sound to it, so Diplo asked DJ Snake to add some heavy bass. Then, they rewrote the song.
Diplo was really proud of his track now and offered it to Rihanna. Who rejected it. So he offered it to Nicki Minaj. Who rejected it. Therefore, he made it less reggae-ish and asked MO to sing it. She accepted.
Major Lazer had toured India before and wanted to include the country’s good vibes in their song. So the video was shot in India and Sweden by Swede director Tim Erem.
Video published on: March 22, 2015
16. Dark Horse. 2.7 billion views.
Another hit by American Katy Perry. This song, like Roar, comes from her post-divorce album Prism. The same team that made Roar was involved, except for the co-writer who this time was Sarah Hudson. Inspiration for the lyrics came from the witchy movie The Craft. Katy invited Juicy J to write and sing the rap verses.
Californian Matthew Cullen directed the video. Matthew has said that Katy wanted something Egyptian. Part of the reasoning behind it was that Juicy is from Memphis in the U.S., and Egypt has a city called Memphis. So Matthew went into research mode to understand some of the symbolism and history of Ancient Egypt.
Video published on: February 20, 2014
17. Hello. 2.6 billion views.
British Adele had been on a three-year pause before releasing this single. She has said creating the new album was difficult because the ideas were not flowing.
She co-wrote Hello with American Greg Kurstin. But after penning the first half of the song in London, they stopped. Greg thought she had definitely dropped it, but six months later, she called him to finish it.
Then Adele asked Canadian director Xavier Dolan to shoot the video. After they brainstormed the concept, Adele gave Xavier creative license. The video was shot on a farm in Quebec with U.S. actor Tristan Wilds.
Hello broke all sorts of records upon its release, including the video to have the most views in 24 hours.
Video published on: October 22, 2015
18. Faded. 2.6 billion views.
In 2014, Norwegian-British Alan Walker posted on YouTube a new song. It was an instrumental electro-house track called Fade. It got Sonny Music’s attention, and they signed the 16-year-old music producer.
Almost two years later, Alan released a remix of the song. This time it included the vocals of Norwegian singer Iselin Solheim. It was called Faded.
The video was shot in Estonia by directors Rikkard and Tobbias Haggborn. The actor is Shahab Salehi. Nowadays, Faded’s video has an average of 1.1 million views per day on YouTube.
Video published on: December 3, 2015
19. Mi Gente. 2.6 billion views.
French artist Willy William released Voodoo Song in 2017. Then, a mutual friend showed the song to Colombian singer J. Balvin. Balvin loved it, so he got in touch with Willy to make a remix of Voodoo.
Willy says that from the beginning, Balvin had a very clear idea of what he wanted for the new song. They kept Willy’s instrumental track and opted for similar lyrics. They co-wrote them in Spanish and French (here are the lyrics translated into English). As for the video, they completely changed it. It went from Willy’s lonely and voodoo-inspired concept to a party-vibe with an explosion of colors and fun.
Also the singers, being of different cultures, wanted their song to exude inclusiveness so it could be enjoyed by people all over the world. Mi Gente (My People) is a mix of reggaeton, African, electronic, and Caribbean rhythms.
The video was directed by Colombian 36 grados and features Italian millionaire Gianluca Vacchi among the dancers.
Video published on: June 20, 2017
20. Let Her Go. 2.6 billion views.
Passenger (real name Michael Rosenberg) was in Australia opening for another band. But the audience was indifferent towards his performance. So Passenger went backstage feeling a bit defeated. And he started to write about his recent break-up. The Englishman has said the words just poured out of him, and the song was finished in under an hour.
Passenger had been in the music scene for about a decade as an independent artist. He used to play at pubs all over Europe, thinking a folk act like his would never be commercially successful. But. His song Let her go -which he co-produced with Chris Vallejo and features several Australian musicians- did make it into the European radios. It reached #1 in 19 countries. And the video directed by Australian Dave Jensen now has 2.5 billion views.
Video published on: July 25, 2012
21. Blank Space. 2.5 billion views
Blank Space is Taylor Swift’s second video on this list. She co-wrote the song with Swedes Max Martin and Shellback. The Swedes have been named in several of the above videos. And they not only co-wrote but also produced Blank Space.
The lyrics, which are meant to be satirical and funny, are about a man-eating villain. Although she did ask Korean Joseph Kahn to turn her into a funny villain for the video.
They shot the video in two locations in Long Island (New York): Ohek Castle, where most of Taylor’s scenes were filmed, and Woolworth Mansion. Director Joseph found inspiration in Stanley Kubrick’s cool aesthetics for the shots. The male model? Is Sean O’Pry from the U.S., who Taylor asked to be cast.
Video published on: November 10. 2014
22. Chantaje. 2.5 billion views.
Shakira needed songs for her album. Sony Music Latin’s chief, Afo Verde, suggested she wrote with a new artist, Maluma. Shakira later told Rolling Stone Magazine that it “turned out to be one of the most brilliant ideas Afo Verde has had -and mind you, he has had several.”
Maluma flew to Barcelona to meet her. The fellow Colombians clicked, ideas flowed, and they wrote and produced two songs. One of them, Chantaje (Blackmail), was co-written with Joel Lopez, Bryan Lezcano, and Kevin Jimenez.
Chantaje is about the dynamics between two lovers. The woman wants a casual relationship while the man wants more commitment (the translated lyrics are here).
The video was filmed in Barcelona by Spaniard Jaume de Laiguana.
Maluma and Shakira have remained friends. The secret to their friendship? Shakira says that maybe it is because Maluma always calls her “Queen.”
Video published on: November 18, 2016