Since the dawn of time (or late 2005, which is essentially the same thing), the world of visual content has been dominated by one name only – YouTube. As much as young guns such as Periscope, Instagram and Snapchat have made many a noble challenge for the title over the years, the power of YouTube is more potent than ever in 2016. In fact, the video streaming service is so influential, that it can almost be used as a barometer of the social climate. That is to say, whichever the most watched video on YouTube is at any given moment can be considered as a fairly reliable sign of the times.
Having said that, a cursory glance over the top ten most watched YouTube clips of all time reveals very little change year on year, unless we dig a little deeper. With nine of the ten being music videos, all we can be sure of is man’s unshakable love of the visual music form. That is, until we see that the number 1 spot is held by South Korean man-child Psy, in the form of his video for ‘Gangnam Style’. As much as this is technically also a music video, watching to even the 21st second will reveal that the key element of Psy’s finest work is less musical credibility and more novelty dance moves. And that tells us all we need to know of 2012’s public mood.
Amongst the token appearances from Taylor Swift, Adele and Justin Beiber, such beloved classics as ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ and ‘The Evolution of Dance’ also feature in YouTube’s most watched list. However in 2015, something subtle, but nonetheless very salient changed. A former British sit-com star and fledgling comedian relocated to LA, climbed into his pristine Range Rover, and was joined by the queen of 90’s warbling, Mariah Carey.
Ever since that auspicious day, James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke has changed the shape of YouTube views the world over. 25 episodes of the show have aired thus far, and to date each of them has managed to rack up tens of millions of views individually. The Late Late Show (Corden’s main television output, of which CK is a segment) itself has had 1.5 billion YouTube views since its new host took over, only 18 months ago. This places it 15th in the league table, nestled snuggly between Justin Beiber’s ‘Baby’ and Meghan Trainor’s ‘All About the Bass’.
Although 15th place is not overtly prestigious, this achievement of Carpool Karaoke is notable for one reason – it is a series. Every other top ranking YouTube clip is undeniably a standalone piece, having largely disappeared from public consciousness after its moment in the sun. CK’s episode quantity has only cultivated a growing appetite for more, with #CarpoolKaraoke now a frequently trending hashtag.
What it is about the fairly simple concept of CK that has captured the cold, fickle, digital hearts of so many is not all that hard to say. Despite his gratuitously ostentatious car, James is hopelessly loveable and genuinely talented at putting heart-wrenchingly famous people at ease. And few other celebrity interviews are as earnest and free from pretence as those conducted within his 4×4. Either way, what started as an experimental spin-off has since managed to single-handedly alter the trajectory of YouTube. And that’s not a bad 18 months’ work by any standards.