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The top 10 must-watch YouTube videos of 2013

It was a year when viral videos made us ask what was real, and real life seemed impossible.


Audra Schroeder


Posted on Dec 19, 2013   Updated on May 31, 2021, 11:27 pm CDT

This year, YouTube’s influence was found not so much in specific personalities, but in pop-culture virality and suspension of disbelief.

The parody video was unstoppable, namely the countless takes on Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball,” which nearly erased the original context of her song. Parodies of other inescapable pop songs—“Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky,” “The Fox,” “Harlem Shake”—further added to the copy-of-a-copy phenomenon.

It was a year when viral videos made us ask what was real, and real life seemed impossible—a year when tragedy and comedy often happened in the same virtual breath. Here are some of the influential videos that blurred the lines.

10) The real-time terror of nature

Tornado videos capture the terror of Mother Nature’s randomness, but often from afar, or when victims are sifting through rubble. One video in particular of a rare late-November tornado that hit Washington, Ill. cut deeper than the rest. Marc Wells filmed as the EF-4 tornado approached, and we collectively gasp as the twister rips through his home while he and his daughter are inside. In less than four minutes, we see the devastation along with him, and the screams of his daughter amplify every goosebump.

9) The real-time WTF of dash cams

Russian dash cams have allowed us to witness a meteor stream across the sky,  a truck full of cows tip over, and some severe road rage. Dash cams aren’t new, but in 2013, the footage they captured could have filled a feature-length action movie. In Taiwan earlier this year, a dash cam captured a boulder nearly missing a car, another reminder of the randomness of nature.

8) YouTube tries the awards show format, chaos reigns

The first annual YouTube Music Awards seemed promising. After alll, more and more musicians are using the channel to find fanbases and market themselves. But as with any first-time venture, there are going to be banana peels. And there were a lot during the Spike Jonze-directed show, which demolished the fourth wall and let hosts Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts mingle with the crowd, the camera operators, and the stars. Macklemore was handed a live baby, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler pulled a “I’mma let you finish.” There was a general sense of being unmoored. Lady Gaga’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” moment might have been the highlight, which is saying a lot.

7) The feel-good video in pop culture

Deborah Cohan’s pre-surgery dance video was just one of many videos this year that got at our need for uplifting content. And not just the desire to view it , but also share it and pay it forward in a way. Cohan’s celebration of life in the face of illness hit on all the feel-good pulse points. Add in a Beyoncé and you’ve got gold.

6) Charles Ramsey and the hero meme

Charles Ramsey is the Cleveland man who heard Amanda Berry’s cries for help within the house of Ariel Castro and essentially ended a decade of unimaginable torture and abuse for her, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. Ramsey’s 911 call alone was epic, but the interview he gave afterwards fell into the Internet’s remix machine: It was Auto-Tuned and turned into a video game. His heroic story became entertainment for us to reshape, much like the story of Kai, the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker back in February. But does that take away from the good deed?

5) Batdad and the rise of vines as entertainment

Georgia father Blake Wilson stumbled upon a unique way to teach his kids manners: Address them in the deep, declarative tones of Batman. The impression, and his kids’ reaction to it, racked up the hits: Wilson now has more than 125,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. 2013 was also a year in which Vine became a medium not just for playing out ill-advised six-second stunts or pranks but for shaping personalities and concepts. Even the government harnessed the medium.

4) When Sarah Slamen was called to testify in Texas

June’s Wendy Davis-led filibuster put the Fort Worth senator and current gubernatorial hopeful on the radar, but it might have been Sarah Slamen’s special session testimony after the filibuster that summarized many Texans’ frustrations. Much like the uplifting clip, we want to share righteous moments as well. One line in particular would come to represent much of 2013’s governmental arrogance and ignorance:

“Everyone on the Internet can see what you’re doing right now. This is a farce.”

3) The “I Quit” heard around the world

Marina Shifrin’s documentation of her resignation—to a Kanye West song, no less—came so soon after the “twerk fail” video that many wondered if Jimmy Kimmel was behind this video was well. Shifrin tapped into our collective empathy in an era of hyper-self-documentation and low workplace morale, and she inspired parody videos in the process. Her “I quit” had another effect: It landed Kanye’s eight-year-old song “Gone” on the Billboard charts, showing how influential YouTube videos can be in the right hands.

2) The “Twerk Fail” video and the new age of the hoax

If a video seems too good to be true, is it? And do we really want to know the truth? In this brave new hoax economy, Caitlin Heller’s “worst twerk fail EVER” video was almost too perfectly composed, and appeared at the height of twerk mania, shortly after Miley’s VMA performance. It was shared more than 10 million times. Later, Heller was revealed to be stuntwoman Daphne Avalon, and Jimmy Kimmel admitted he was behind the whole thing, but not before the entire country discussed the pros and cons of twerking in front of lit candles. Point, Kimmel.

1) Miley’s “Wrecking Ball” demolished pop culture

Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” was released in September, but the parodies that came in its wake almost overshadowed the original video, which now has more than 400 million views. YouTuber Steve Kardynal performed it on Chatroulette while students at Grand Valley State University caused a sculpture to be removed from school grounds after riding it like Miley. The song crossed cultural boundaries, and we subjected our poor, innocent pets to it. Each parody was the parody to end all parodies, but not even the Nic Cage-ization of the song could shut down the cycle of cultural collage. “We Can’t Stop” might as well have applied to the entire Internet this year.

Photo by Jonathan McIntosh (remix by Jason Reed)

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*First Published: Dec 19, 2013, 12:00 pm CST