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9 of the biggest viral hits in 2018

By Luke Morgan Britton, 8 November 2018

To mark the launch of BBC Sounds last week, Dotty hosted the 1Xtra Breakfast Show live from the London Eye and was joined by not one but two viral sensations.

As it was a very special show, it called for two extra special guests and Dotty was joined in the pod-turned-studio by Loz of I Shaku On The Beat As Well fame and Osh, the man behind the recent My Ye Is Different To Your Ye viral hit. Listen back here.

There are many ways for songs to go viral: whether due to a parodying meme in the case of Drake’s Hotline Bling, a dance craze like the Harlem Shake, or viral video in the case of Gangnam Style. And while Loz and Osh are behind two of the most shared clips this year, their earworms actually came from riffing on other viral hits: Loz's I Shaku... used the beat from Kodak Black's Zeze to spawn a brand new track, while Osh's My Ye... jumped on Ye by Nigerian Afrofusion star Burna Boy.

MistaJam got into the spirit of things by dedicating a whole mix to tracks that caught the public’s imagination: from Soulja Boy to Big Shaq. Listen to MistaJam’s Viral Hit Mix on BBC Sounds (from the 40:30 mark).

Celebrating all things viral, here are the nine biggest tracks from 2018 that were always destined to take off. Of course, it features Drake and Kanye...

1. Drake - In My Feelings

Could we start with anyone else? After all, Drake is no stranger to inspiring online buzz: his dad-dancing in the Hotline Bling clip became 2016's biggest meme and was parodied by everyone from Justin Bieber to Donald Trump, while the success of God’s Plan earlier in 2018 was helped along by its tear-jerking video and very captionable lyric, "I only love my bed and my mama, I’m sorry", which proved to be a favourite with one Bradley Walsh.

While In My Feelings may not have been Drake's biggest hit outright all year (God's Plan currently tops the overall 2018 chart), it was his most viral hit: a song that blew up specifically because of an online craze it inspired. When Drake’s double album Scorpion dropped in late June, In My Feelings wasn’t one of many the tracks from it to initially chart (Michael Jackson collab Don't Matter To Me, Nonstop and Emotionless reached the Top 5 instead), and it wasn’t until early July, with the viral success of the Kiki Challenge that the track really took off and pretty much sealed what would arguably be the song of the summer.

What made it go viral?

The origins of the Kiki Challenge lead back to a single video posted by Instagram celeb Shiggy at the end of June. Originally labelled #DoTheShiggy, the clip saw the pink-tracksuited comedian stepping out of his car and start busting moves to Drizzy’s track.

Soon, the Kiki Challenge was born, inspiring those at home to get out of the cars and dance along to the quietly infectious tune. As the trend started to grow, celebs predictably got involved too, with everyone from Kevin Hart and Ciara to the cast of Stranger Things offering up their own Kiki Challenges. It also led to Will Smith climbing to the top of a bridge in Budapest for his entry.

Even the crowd at 1Xtra in Ibiza got involved:

How big was it?

The Kiki Challenge made In My Feelings massive: the track spent nine weeks in the UK Top 10 and broke streaming records in the process. The viral craze even led to police issuing warnings against the more dangerous side of the antics it inspired, while online sleuths tried to work out who the real life Kiki is.

2. Childish Gambino - This Is America

It’s no secret that Childish Gambino (aka modern-day Renaissance Man Donald Glover) knows how to get down, previously showcasing his slick dance moves in the video for his 2015 track Sober, which saw him letting loose in a late-night diner. Gambino's clip for This Is America, though, took things to a whole new level. The viral and instantly-iconic video also catapulted Glover to a higher echelon of stardom.

What made it go viral?

Bold, brash and bewildering in equal measure - the This Is America video perhaps went viral because it perfectly captured the cultural zeitgeist. Choreographed by Rwandan-born, British-raised dancer Sherrie Silver, it took influence from African-originated dance crazes, setting them against the backdrop of political and social unrest.

Parody is often the benchmark of when a work truly reaches the iconic level and This Is America soon became a source of satire itself, leading to many different versions, including a Canadian remake and a controversial 'Women’s Edit'.

How big was it?

This Is America's viral clip helped the song reach No.1 in the US, while it also topped the Trending Chart in the UK, showing its popularity online. But the way it penetrated the wider public consciousness was demonstrated by Lenny Henry spoofing the clip in the guise of "Wildish Bambino" as promo for his BBC special.

Its appeal has continued since too - it's been called a "satirical masterpiece" and people are still debating the cryptic meanings behind some of the video’s content. As for Gambino himself, he’s not giving any clues away. "I think it’s something that should be out there for the people. I don’t want to give it any context," Glover said in May.

3. Ella Mai - Boo'd Up

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Ella Mai's Boo'd Up is proof that viral stardom doesn’t have to come along instantly. Despite originally being released in February 2017, the song really started to blow up this summer, some 18 months later.

What made it go viral?

The success of Boo'd Up was bolstered by both word-of-mouth support and celebrity endorsements online. It became one of those songs that you hear - either in a club or in the background of an Instagram story - and just needed to find out what it was.

In August, 1Xtra’s Ace told The Guardian of the track’s club appeal: "People request it all he time. I was recently in Ibiza, and that was the number one record that women wanted to hear in the club."

Meanwhile, both Rihanna and Migos were seen vibing to the track and Nicki Minaj was such a fan that she decided to remix it.

How big was it?

Boo'd Up cemented Ella Mai's status as one of the most promising voices in British music, as well as RnB worldwide. It saw the Londoner become the first British artist to top the US RnB chart in 26 years - since Lisa Stansfield in 1992.

Her follow-up single Trip currently graces the Radio 1 playlist while Mai’s self-titled debut reached the UK Top 20, selling 500,000 copies in the US. Then, in September, Mai performed the song at 1Xtra Live and it was one of the highlights of the night:

4. Afro B - Drogba (Joanna)

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Afrobeats is well suited to viral dance crazes, with critics noting how the genre is "particularly centred around dancing, and its fanbase are massively engaged on social media". Afro B's Drogba (Joanna) - partially named after the former Chelsea footballer - proved this point perfectly, providing us with both an underground summer hit and a dance challenge in its own right.

How did it go viral?

Most dance crazes rely upon not being much of a challenge at all, allowing even those with two left feet to give them a go. Even Ed Balls gave Gangnam Style a go, and pretty much anything was fair game when it came to the Harlem Shake. The #DrogbaChallenge, though, was all about challenging yourself and showing off your dance chops.

Afro B has said how he was inspired by fans sharing dance videos online to start a craze of his own. Soon, people from London and the US to France and Nigeria were filming themselves doing the Drogba dance.

How big was it?

Well, one particular video has been viewed a whopping 27 million times, and it was only a matter of time till it caught the attention of Didier Drogba himself, who was filmed in the dressing room dancing along to the hit that he gave his name to:

Since then, Afro B has followed up with Shaku Shaku, an equally addictive tune that was premiered by MistaJam on 1Xtra and that of course comes with another dance video.

5. Kanye West and Lil Pump - I Love It

Pretty much everything Kanye West does (or indeed says) dominates the internet but teaming up with Lil Pump (responsible for last year’s big viral breakthrough in the form of Gucci Gang) for I Love It, he was guaranteed to get people talking.

What made it go viral?

The lyrics for I Love It alone were absurd enough for the track to become a meme (thankfully, the song also came along with a more radio-friendly Freaky Girl Edit), but it was the video that spawned countless parodies. Produced by filmmaker Spike Jonze, the clip featured both Kanye and Pump rocking some cartoonishly oversized outfits.

It reminded people of everything from old-school video games and classic cartoons to when you layer up for the cold weather. Their outlandish attire soon inspired Halloween costumes, with West’s son and nephew even rocking some I Love It-inspired outfits to go trick-and-treating. Kanye’s daughter also got into the spirit of things by donning the water bottle costumes that Ye and Pump wore to perform the song on US TV.

How big was it?

I Love It has become Kanye's biggest chart hit since FourFiveSeconds, the one which boasted the star power of both Rihanna and Paul McCartney, in 2015. The video also broke the record for the most plays from a hip hop video on YouTube, amassing more than 73 million views in a week.

6. Dave - Funky Friday (ft. Fredo)

Dave and Fredo getting to No.1 with Funky Friday in October was as much of a surprise to many as it was a cause for huge celebration. As 1Xtra’s Kenny Allstar reasoned: "The track doesn’t have a hook or repetitive chorus, they just came with bars." So, how did they do it…?

What made it go viral?

With a viral hit you can usually pinpoint its popularity to a specific factor, but as Kenny explained to us at the time, there were "a lot of pieces to the puzzle" as to why Funky Friday went so viral.

Firstly, there was the song itself. "It showed that they could do their music on their own terms, without watering it down or making it more poppy," said Kenny. Then the video, a beautiful kaleidoscope of surrealism and luxury that featured everything from pet monkeys to country mansions. Or maybe it was just perfect timing, with UK hip hop being bigger than ever right now.

Mostly though, it was a case of both artists and fans taking matters into their own hands. Dave and Fredo launched their own campaign to get their track up the charts, while fans were busy spreading the word on social. It paid off and by the end of the week, even Sam Smith was wanting Funky Friday to knock his Calvin Harris collab Promises from top spot:

How big was it?

Funky Friday didn't just knock two mega-stars like Calvin Harris and Sam Smith from the No.1 spot, but was also only the third song all year to get to top spot in its first week. It was the first song without a chorus to top the charts in almost five years too. Kenny Allstar thinks it’ll give UK hip hop a huge boost as well, calling it "a turning point in the culture" in our interview last month.

7. BlocBoy JB and Drake - Look Alive

Drake has something of a Midas touch when it comes to viral hits, mastering the knack of taking songs that have been bubbling under the surface and catapulting them to fame. He’s jumped on remixes of Migos' Versace, ILoveMakonnen's Tuesday and Dave's Wanna Know, helping already-great tunes reach a much wider audience.

With Look Alive though, Drake didn’t just deliver a guest verse but offered up a proper collab with one of the most exciting names in underground US rap: BlocBoy JB. But it was actually BlocBoy who made Look Alive take off.

What made it go viral?

Drake’s ever-entertaining jigs are always enough to give any track a boost, but his moves in the Look Alive video were actually inspired by a craze kick started by BlocBoy JB.

BlocBoy’s previous single Shoot saw the Memphis rapper shuffling and thrusting backwards, inspiring a minor dance craze in his hometown.

BlocBoy has explained that he originally came up with the moves while dancing at home to his own music, telling Fader: "When I play my own music I just do anything. I was in the mirror looking at myself." He repeated the moves in the Look Alive clip, which also saw Drake giving the Shoot dance a go.

How big was it?

Everyone from Lil Uzi Vert to Usain Bolt have taken on the Shoot dance and it’s even made its way onto Fortnite, which is basically like reaching the Hall Of Fame of dance crazes. Capitalising on the viral success of Look Alive, BlocBoy JB has gone on to work with the likes of A$AP Rocky, G-Eazy and 21 Savage. Thanks to his Simi project, he also recently picked up Best Mixtape at the BET Awards.

8. Kodak Black - Zeze (ft. Offset and Travis Scott)

Most artists would be happy if their song inspired one viral challenge, but Kodak Black’s Zeze, a collaboration with Offset and Travis Scott, has kickstarted a couple of them over the past couple of months.

What made it go viral?

Before dropping the track, Kodak made himself a meme by simply teasing it - previewing the song with a short clip of himself dancing along to its summery steel drums in the studio. It sparked the #WaitingChallenge, with fans getting creative and subtitling Kodak’s gentle sway with other instances of playing the waiting game.

And when the full track was finally released in October, the #ZezeChallenge was born. The challenge saw a number of aspiring MCs spit their best freestyles over Kodak’s beat.

Even 1Xtra’s own Reece Parkinson gave it a go:

The most notable entry, though, came from Wolverhampton’s Loz Smith and her viral freestyle, I Shaku On The Beat As Well.

How big was it?

Zeze proved a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic, it peaked at No. 7 in the UK - Kodak’s first Top 40 single - and became the most-streamed song in the US in the week of its release.

Meanwhile, Loz performed I Shaku… on the 1Xtra Breakfast Show last week, describing how "everything has gone mad" since she uploaded her freestyle. Despite there being "no seriousness in it when I posted the video", Loz says she's since had record labels getting in touch with her. "I'm just seeing what’s on the table... I’m just going with the flow," she told Dotty.

9. Burna Boy - Ye

Burna Boy performs Ye live in the studio and reflects on his journey

The Afro-fusion artist on his come up and drops a live dubplate for DJ Edu.

Burna Boy's Ye featured on the Lagos native’s latest album Outside, released back in February, but the past week has seen the track reach new heights of popularity thanks to a freestyle from viral star Osh.

What made it go viral?

Ye was already a banger, but it's been the hilarity and brilliance of Osh's viral clip that had made people revisit the track.

Osh regularly uploads impromptu clips to social media and took the instrumental from Burna Boy’s track and delivered some memorable lines like: "My Ye is different to your Ye / Dripping in sauce, the drip-dripping so saucy". What do those words mean exactly? Well, Dotty translates them as roughly: "We may be in the same lane but we are not on the same level."

Within hours of Osh’s video being uploaded, the clip was shared widely and his brilliantly ridiculous lyrics became an instant meme, with fans coming up with different scenarios that would perfectly fit the phrase, everything from flexing while writing a school essay to Jesus turning 5,000 people with just five loaves and two fish.

How big has it been?

Osh’s clip has racked up almost 400,000 views in little over a week. He explained to Dotty: “Sunday night, we posted it and I went to bed. I had work the next morning so I was trying to get an early night. Then I got a call from one of the guys in my team going, ‘Osh, this is going viral.’ I hung up quick and went to look… and it’s gone from there.”

It’s not just Osh benefiting from it either, Burna Boy’s track has experienced a boost too. Video views for Burna Boy’s YouTube account increased by 52% in the 24 hours after My Ye Is Different To Your Ye went viral, with the official video for Ye gaining 464K views in the past week alone.

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