1. Justin Bieber
Twenty billion shrieking tweens can’t be wrong…right? Before this Canada-bred pop sensation stormed the Top 40 billboards, he was known to net-savvy viewers simply as YouTube user kidrauhl — a far cry from the bubble-gum wunderkind plastered across every pre-teen’s bedroom walls from here to Tiananmen Square. In fact, the moppy-haired heartthrob still ranks as YouTube’s premier viral heavy-hitter, with his debut single, “Baby,” sitting atop a staggering 789 million views. And counting.
Argument #5,382 for the impending Mayan Apocalypse: a pudgy, bow-tied pop punchline conquered the international charts where a literal army of long-legged divas couldn’t. Sure, the cross-country K-pop invasion has slowly been infiltrating social media sites for years now, but all it took from 34-year-old artist Psy was a single video — and one very goofy dance — before an entire nation knew his name. While it’s true that Psy had a small, if unremarkable career on South Korean shores before his breakout success across the pond, it was the wonderfully weird YouTube video for “Gangnam Style” that sealed his place as a bona fide pop phenomenon, racking up close to 470 million views. Countdown until your parents learn the Gangnam dance: 5…4…3…
3. Lana Del Rey
Long before she pioneered the fields of dancing on things and staring poutily, Lana “Lizzy Grant” Del Rey was just another another aspiring indie songstress, uploading ditties to her YouTube account and trolling for social media shares. But there was something about “Video Games,” her soulful, sonorous single about ignored affection, that struck a chord with the YouTube community — no strangers to shrugging off responsibility for a quick game of StarCraft. It’s since earned close to 50 million hits and landed the self-titled “sadcore” singer a lucrative record deal, international acclaim, and, perhaps most importantly, undisputed Tumblr fame.
Despite dropping their debut EP to little fanfare, netizens took notice when collaborative couple Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan released a string of impeccable pop covers on their joint YouTube channel. While early efforts did well enough, the duo skyrocketed to mainstream notoriety with their clever take on club staple “Look At Me Now,” launching the twosome from their YouTube roots to headlining as musical guests on Saturday Night Live and Ellen. Now they’ve got two #1 singles, a Rolling Stone cover, and have been officially noted as “the only good thing to ever come from a Chris Brown song.” Or maybe just those first two things.
If every viral video sensation followed Filipina superstar Charice’s career path, we’d be seeing a whole lot more corgis, pugs, and dwarf kittens mangling pop hits on Glee. As odd as it may seem, this singing sensation’s success was kind of an incidental result of one super-fan’s infatuation: YouTube user FalseVoice, who uploaded a string of Charice’s performances to his channel over the course of 2007. YouTubers and record execs dropped their collective jaws at the pint-sized singer’s stellar soprano pipes, and Oprah even descended from the heavens above to tote her as “the most talented girl in the world.” Now she’s collabing with the likes of Bruno Mars and assorted Jonas bros, co-starring in feature films with Kevin James, and belting lead vocals for one of the most popular video game series of all time.