2014: A YouTube Year in Review

December 29, 2014

This year we watched nuns turn into pop stars, soccer players become legends, dogs transform into arachnids, and millions of people around the world march in the name of social justice and political freedom.

Here’s a look back at some of the moments on YouTube that defined 2014.


It was a month of beginnings, as a baby polar bear took his first steps in a Toronto zoo, and an inspiring 10-year-old known as Kid President welcomed newborns into the world with a refreshing, poignant speech. Anthem of the year “Let It Go,” from Disney’s movie “Frozen,” went global, ushering in a multilingual version featuring languages from across continents - from Mandarin to Polish to Danish. And viewers around the world got their first viral fright of the year, when a possessed baby hit the NYC streets, growling and crashing into innocent passersby, as part of a clever horror film campaign.


February ushered in the Super Bowl in the cutest of ways, when a puppy and a Clydesdale horse formed an unusual bond in a Budweiser ad (enjoy responsibly). Jimmy Fallon debuted the seventh incarnation of the legendary The Tonight Show, earning his first big video hit when he and Will Smith donned overalls to honor the evolution of hip-hop moves. Most movingly, two celebrities - Ellen Page and Seth Rogen - took to the podium to speak candidly to the media, while a Ukrainian student spoke out on camera against the injustices of her home country.


Breakout stars and memes ignited the month of March. Iggy Azalea resurrected Clueless in her hit music video “Fancy,” and a talented nun hit the stage of The Voice: Italy, stunning judges with her rendition of Alicia Keys’ “No One.” In celebration of the hit song “Happy” and the International Day of Happiness on March 20, skiers hit the Slovakian slopes to jubilantly dance along, and millions of others followed suit in their home cities. President Obama added to the fun by appearing on Zach Galifinakis’ comedy video series “Between Two Ferns,” deftly handling the show’s hysterical absurdity.


This April Fools’ Day, viewers were treated to an inside look at YouTube’s “viral factory,” while dozens of companies joined in on the 24-hour jest with their own prank videos. Halfway through the month, millions thought they were being pranked again when a young Canadian man attempting a selfie vid near an oncoming train was drive-by kicked in the head by a conductor - until the footage was confirmed as real. The laughter continued when a video of a tiny hamster eating a tiny (homemade) burrito was uploaded, launching the first episode of the first “Tiny Hamster” series. Unfortunately, the month was also marked by one of the biggest tragic accidents of the year: the sinking of a ferry carrying nearly 500 passengers near South Korea, sparking controversy that still looms today.


When drag queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest, her victory sparked so much interest that she became the 7th most popular search nationally on Google this year, and her triumphant performance was crowned the #1 televised live event of 2014 on YouTube. But not far behind were two fellow breakout stars: Ariana Grande, who serenaded the world with “Problem,” and a high schooler in New Jersey who brought back Michael Jackson’s moves at a talent show. The breakout excitement was momentarily paused by poignancy when, in honor of Mother’s Day, a card company staged job interviews over video chat for the “world’s toughest job”: being a mom.


Sports, comebacks, and choreography epitomized the month of June: halfway-through, the FIFA World Cup commenced in Brazil, drawing millions of clicks to an unusual Nike spot: a short with all the sprightly animation of a Pixar film, while YouTube celebrated beloved LGBT athletes with the #ProudtoPlay campaign. In the music world, PSY followed up his “Gangnam” hit by collaborating with Snoop Dogg on “Hangover,” and breakout artist Meghan Trainor scored her most popular video yet: “All About That Bass.” Choreographer Yanis Marshall also achieved his biggest hit, with an all-encompassing Beyoncé dance medley (stilettos included).


July kicked off with a big win for environmental group Greenpeace: “Everything is NOT awesome” played on the theme song from The Lego Movie to spread a serious message about the effect of oil dependency on the environment - and eventually pushed the toy company to break its longtime ties with Shell (via Greenpeace.org). On the lighter side, YouTube user Benji Jenna Cowart became one of the world’s most famous overprotective dads with his cover of MAGIC!’s “Rude,” and Rhett & Link brought the LOLs with their lyrical meditation on the realities of summer vacation. But the top story of the month was the crash of the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane downed in Ukraine. The footage of the aftermath became one of the most viewed videos of the month.


The first week of August saw the rise of the Internet’s favorite county fair goer, a chatty Wayne County resident who was apparently born for morning news TVThe Ice Bucket Challenge was also in full swing, with everyone from Bill Gates to Charlie Sheen to Homer Simpson getting dunked for a good cause. But the month was largely clouded with sobering global and local events, including the spread of the radical group ISIS in the Middle East, covered in a comprehensive 42-minute documentary by Vice. And John Oliver hit some of his highest ratings of the year as host of the breakout series "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" with his critical look at the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MI.


Halloween came early this year with a giant spider dog spooking out passersby in Poland - a prank video that tickled so many people’s fancies that it became the #1 top trending video of 2014. Meanwhile, the organizers behind Tomorrowland released their annual wrap-up video, showcasing highlights from one of the biggest bacchanalias of the year (and whose livestream received the most YouTube comments of any video in 2014). But it was the shocking elevator cam footage of football player Ray Rice's assault on his fiancé that became one of the most controversial stories of the year. TMZ's posting of the video early in the month resulted in the running back's termination from the Baltimore Ravens and the sparking of a nationwide conversation about domestic violence and the NFL. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, students and other civilians in Hong Kong gathered by the tens of thousands to protest new electoral reforms mandated by China.


October opened on a somber note: Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill woman fighting for the right to end her own life, reached millions of people around the world with her video message advocating the broader legalization of dying with dignity. A NYC woman also used YouTube to shine a light on the pervasiveness of street harassment - inspiring hundreds of women around the world to do the same through their own videos. Meanwhile, on the Isle of Skye, acclaimed Scottish cyclist Danny Macaskill showed millions of fans what it’s like to take on the harrowing Cuillin Ridgeline with nothing more than a mountain bike, and VitalyzdTv scared the bejesus out of some unwitting strangers with “Chainsaw Massacre,” the tireless pranksters’ most popular video of the year.


After months of speculation and anticipation, the day millions of “Star Wars” fans had been waiting for finally came with the release of the trailer for “Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” Beyoncé fans were also blessed with a special treat: an intentionally low production, low concept music video for her single “7/11,” shot almost entirely in and around her hotel suite and balcony. November also saw some of the world’s biggest stars coming together to raise money to help stop the spread of Ebola, and a touching, heartbreaking serenade of a father to his newborn son.


The end of a memorable year fittingly brought a range of emotions. British retailer John Lewis made millions of hearts swell as a boy’s penguin found its true partner, while YouTube celeb Connor Franta bravely embraced his true self, coming out to the world and encouraging others to not be afraid of who they are. A collective frustration following the news about Michael Brown and Eric Garner turned to action as protesters took to the streets of NYC in the Millions March. And it wouldn’t be the end of the year without a celebratory look back courtesy of YouTube Rewind, the biggest one yet.

- Bonnie Gleicher, Christine Huang, and Marc Hertz