Q: With the VMAs this weekend: Is there a way to determine the biggest music video ever?
A: Objectively? Really? Wish me luck with this. We who are about to die salute you.
First we’ll have to define a music video.
Do we count Disney’s "Silly Symphonies" shorts from the first half of the 20th century in our survey? What about the musical segments in "The Monkees" TV show from the late 1960s? John Lennon filmed a documentary "video" for "Imagine," co-starring Yoko Ono, in 1972. David Bowie was pioneering videos before MTV even launched. What do we do with those?
Next, we have to lasso all the different types of media that have brought us music videos since whenever we’ve decided they were born. Some videos have never been shown outside of TV; others were born on YouTube and live mostly there.
And then there were the banned or censored videos. Robbie Williams's "Rock DJ," Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" and Rihanna’s "S&M" all have been blacked out in some way or another, but is total number of TV views necessarily the best way to measure greatness? What about cultural importance? (A film featuring Rihanna whipping reporters may be extremely important to some observers. Like, say, Rihanna.)
If you think I'm giving up, consider: The mandarins at MTV, which spearheaded the true music video boom starting in 1981, tell me they don’t track those numbers in any way — not in terms of requests, plays, awards given, or even budgets.
Heck, the experts over at thePaley Center for Media — folks so versed in TV history that their heads are allperfectly cube-shaped — just told me they can’t speak to this.
All that said, I did find one solid source for you: the IMVDb. The database doesn't track video views or requests throughout history, but it does offer one helpful stat: What it calls "top videos of all time," based on number of views on the Web across all platforms.
Of course the list is skewed toward videos released since the Web became a Thing, but it's something. And here’s what it says: Psy's "Gangnam Style" is No. 1, with roughly 174 billion views.
"It's the most popular music video by around 800 million views, and the speed and intensity of how popular it became is pretty remarkable," says Doug Klinger of the IMVDb. "It may be the perfect viral video.
"It has a lot of novelty factor being a K Pop song and totally unknown to most people in the US market; it was a video that was very easily parodied; and probably most importantly, it had the signature 'horse dance' move which Psy will probably be performing for the rest of his life and will be a staple at weddings for years to come."
The No. 2 spot belongs to Justin Bieber's "Baby," with around 882 million views. And Jennifer Lopez claims the No. 3 spot with "On the Floor," which has had more than 685 million views.
"When 'On the Floor' premiered, it was on 'American Idol,' where Jennifer Lopez was also a judge," Klinger tells me. "She was pretty much everywhere, from 'American Idol' to L'Oréal commercials. I think a lot of people just enjoyed watching Jennifer Lopez back in the spotlight, and the video is a great showcase for her and her clothes and hair styles.
"Add Pitbull to the mix, who was also everywhere at the time, and I think J.Lo happened to find the right combination of the right song, at the right time, with the right promotion."
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