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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now we turn to the YouTube top 10. That is the 10 most often viewed videos of the last year, from the website featuring millions of them. YouTube is the address where every so often a video goes viral. It captures viewers by the hundreds and then hundreds of thousands, then maybe the millions, maybe it hits a new cycle for a few days too before fading away to allow another video to take its place in the email inboxes of so many of us.

YouTube recently announced its 10 most viewed videos of the year. To talk about some of them, we've called on, once again, pop culture columnist Jeff Yang. He writes for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. JEFF YANG (Journalist, San Francisco Chronicle): Always great to be here.

MARTIN: We should point out that there were no professionally produced music videos included on this list. But I want to start with, I don't know if this is one of your favorites. I can just, I will simply say, without sharing too many details, but this is very popular around here...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...the Old Spice Man, first seen in last year's Super Bowl. It was eventually became a huge social media campaign. I will just walk down memory lane and play a short clip for the ladies.

(Soundbite of Old Spice commercial)

Mr. ISAIAH MUSTAFA (Actor): (as Old Spice Guy) Hello, ladies, look at your man, now back to me, now back at your man, now back to me. Sadly, he isnt me, but if he stopped using ladies scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like hes me.

(Soundbite of storm)

Look down, back up, where are you? Youre on a boat with the man your man could smell like.

MARTIN: This video got 26 million hits.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I won't tell you how many of those were mine. Why do you think it was so successful?

Mr. YANG: I think that this commercial was exceptional in so many ways. One was that it was not afraid to subvert explications. It was something that really kind of came out, literally, in people's faces. It took a person who happened to be African American and put that into the spotlight of, you know, this is what you'd like your man to be. And I think that there is, you know, sort of an edge controversy around that perhaps. I mean there's, you know, an entire history of questionable stereotypical representations of African-American men in relationship to sex and sexuality. But this somehow was fun, was fun-loving. It was able to both laugh at itself and also, I think, lift up this notion of people of color, men of color, being beautiful. And there was a sense in which I did feel, just a little bit, like I wish I smelled like him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, you know, it's one of the funny things that sometimes an ad can be really be successful as an ad but it doesnt actually move people to buy the product. And one of the interesting things about this one is that it actually does seem to have done something for the Old Spice brand, which is what ultimately this is what this is, it's selling Old Spice.

Interesting though, another video on the top 10, the next one I wanted to talk about, was not created by a professional ad agency. It's just some home video taken by somebody named Paul Vasquez. He's an outdoor enthusiast. He sees two rainbows and he gets really excited. Let's hear.

(Soundbite of rainbow video)

Mr. PAUL VASQUEZ: Whoa, that's a full rainbow, all the way. Double rainbow. Oh, my god, it's a double rainbow all the way. Whoa, ho, ho. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now the comments are hilarious. My favorite was one, says I'm turning the volume down so my parents don't think I'm watching porn in my room.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But, what do you say? It looks like you can't stop looking at that. Why is that?

Mr. YANG: Wow. Well, you know, this was one of the things I have been thinking a lot about, regarding YouTube. Because, you know, when you think of what YouTube means, even in its brands it's called you tube. Its about personalizing the idea of television, putting these tools of broadcasting in the hands of the masses.

And in this clip, I mean, I think what you have is something not in some ways dissimilar from the reason why the Old Spice commercials kind of caught fire. We've been in a very grim reality. Our environment is full of things which are, you know, not very uplifting. And whether you're talking about something that kind of breaks the mold with absurdity and ironic humor, or something like this, where he really does sound like he's having a near sexual or religious experience, maybe both, over this phenomenon.

MARTIN: I don't know. I dont know. I don't want to speculate about what's going on there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're talking about the 10 most watched YouTube videos this year with pop culture columnist Jeff Yang. He writes "Asian Pop" for the San Francisco Chronicle. We're not talking about all 10, obviously. We don't have time.

I do want to move to the number one most watched YouTube video this year. We've talked about this on the program. This is a young man named Antoine Dodson, a young man in Alabama. He was interviewed on a local news program because somebody - it's a terrible story, actually climbed through the window of his apartment that he shares with his sister and her child, and tried to attack her and he fought the man off. And maybe you can explain it. It became a song. Explain that. Can you - well, you could explain it better than I can.

Mr. YANG: The funny thing is, I actually think this is one of the things that binds together a lot of what we're talking about, thematically, here. So this enterprising set of brothers, actually they are, you know, Brooklyn-based musicians, have created this phenomenon called Auto-Tune the News, right, the Gregory Brothers. And what theyve done is theyve taken Auto-Tune software, you know, as popularized by Lil' Wayne and others, and used it to take ordinary footage, you know, people speaking about random things, and turned it into music. And what they did was they took Antoine Dodson's almost accidentally hilarious riff and set it to music in a way that was incredibly catchy.

(Soundbite of song, "Bed Intruder Song")

Mr. ANTOINE DODSON: (Singing) He's climbing in your window. Hes snatching your people up. Trying to rape 'em. So yall need to hide your kids, hide your wife. Hide your kids, hide your wife. Hide your kids, hide your wife, and hide your husband 'cause they raping everybody out here.

Mr. YANG: They did the same thing with double rainbow as well.

(Soundbite of YouTube video "Double Rainbow")

THE GREGORY BROTHERS: (Singing) Double rainbow all the way across the sky. Yeah, yeah. Go and catch double rainbow all the way across the sky, wow, wow, oh my god. It's a rainbow. Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That's festive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YANG: You know, this is what I would put it down to, I think that the promise of YouTube that it can make anybody a star. What Auto-Tune does is it takes that promise and turns it into a reality. We can all, you know, be essentially pop stars, pop idols and its, you know, "American Idol," its "Glee," you know, and it's in a time when we all want that kind of feeling of uplift. And somehow or other, those two things connected together. And, you know, it's become a phenomenon that's run away with itself, you know "Bed Intruder" was a number one ranked download on iTunes. Antoine Dodson is now, himself, kind of a celebrity. They even had a holiday clip, I believe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: All right. Hold on a second. Well, I do want to say that there was a bit of a controversy around that Antoine Dodson story, because there were those who felt just apart from just the terribleness of the original circumstances, there was those who wondered whether he was being exploited or made fun of. We actually had the opportunity to speak with him about this, earlier this year, and I will just play a short clip of what he had to say about this.

Mr. DODSON: This could be an opportunity for our family to get out of the hood, you know what I'm saying? So, I took it and I was running with it and I'm still running with it.

MARTIN: That to me, is part of the most fascinating thing about this whole thing. He actually did achieve some benefit from it.

Mr. YANG: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: They did actually make enough money from the song, the "Bed Intruder" song, to move. How did that happen?

Mr. YANG: The way that YouTube works is, of course, it spreads something that's free, right? I mean, these clips by definition are something that people, you know, open up their inboxes and see, and they don't think of them as something to paid for. But by turning that thing, that sort of found art into real art, of a sort, into a musical number, into something that actually can be purchased and downloaded, it commoditize it in a way that, potentially... I mean, I'm not saying it's the answer to everything, but I think it is really kind of quite interesting that of the 10 most watched viral videos of 2010, three of them are people of color and, you know, of those, two of them are people of color who could not have imagined that they would have the kind of celebrity/notoriety before these things occurred. And it was accidental, but they managed to turn those things into something in some ways positive and powerful and empowering for themselves, and certainly profitable.

MARTIN: Jeff Yang covers pop culture. He's a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Column is called "Asian Pop" and he joined us from there.

Jeff, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. YANG: Thanks, Michel.

(Soundbite of song, "Chimney Song")

Mr. DODSON: (Singing) So yall need to hide your kids, hide your trees, hide your kids, hide your trees, hide your kids, hide your trees, and hide your egg nogg 'cause he's taking everything up in here.

MARTIN: To see the videos that we've been talking about, you can visit our website. Go to npr.org, go to the Programs tab and click on TELL ME MORE.

(Soundbite of song, "Chimney Song")

Mr. DODSON: (Singing) I got a switchblade, a switchblade. You don't have to send your list because he's watching you. He's watching you. So you can run and tell that, run and tell that, run and tell that, run and tell that, fat, fat, fat-boy.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin and youve listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Lets talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of song, "Chimney Song")

Mr. DODSON: (Singing) Get them crazy dogs off my roof, My lease says no pets.

People believe a man with a sack will come in their house at night and leave behind gifts.

I was attacked by some fat guy with a fur collar. If I see a fat red guy running around, he better have some Kool-Aid for me.

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