Anatomy of a YouTube video with 20 million views

Photograph of a child watching the famous Nyan Cat video.

Child watches famous Nyan Cat video. Image credit: Tom Page / Flickr / CC.

A little YouTube fame can be yours through a simple remix like “Nyan Cat [original]“. With over 20 million views, this little gem has made the most of an animated GIF created by prguitarman and a song by daniwell-P/Momone Momo UTAU since it was posted on April 5, 2011.

The Nyan Cat video meme began to really take off when Mike Pomranz, writer for the tosh.0 blog, declared a Nyan Cat Party on April 15, 2011. Mike later followed up with Let’s Have Another Nyan Cat Party! and The End of Nyan Cat.

The astute commenting community at YouTube acknowledged the impressive greatness of the original video with comments from fans like HoppelGaloppel who said, “I like the part where he she or it says nyan.” The community also observed the similarity of the animated GIF to a cat with a pop tart body and quickly generated an appropriate spin off titled “Real Life Pop tart cat (Nyan cat)“.

It would appear that the Nyan Cat social media economy is booming. An extended version that runs for three and a half hours was created and has netted nearly 2.5 million views. Kingaby created a Nyan Cat Speedpainting which has more than a quarter million views.

The obvious progressions, improvisations also sprung up with treats like “Kids React to Nyan Cat.” Where kids offered insights like “why would you love this, I want to know,” “why would someone load a six hour version of this song,” and “I would name this cat Mr. Irritating Pants.”

Overall, I think the success of the Nyan Cat video can be attributed to a few essential characteristics: it’s simple, innocent, has a catchy tune, and surprises the viewer — making them laugh and talk about their feelings related to the video: “I love this,” or “This is so stupid”. The emotional reaction triggered is what good art, or at the very least good memes do.

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