One weekafter it premiered, YouTube Rewind 2018 became the most disliked video of all time. As I write this article 13 days after its premiere, the video has currently earned 142 million views, 2.3 million likes, and an overwhelming 13 million dislikes. In one week, the video dethroned Justin Bieber’s “Baby” music video for the title of the most disliked music video. And, mind you, Bieber’s video was published in 2010 and was only dethroned for one other brief moment in 2011.
And that’s not an opinion, by the way, that the video wasn’t good. Literally, YTR 2018 has the highest dislike-to-like ratio at, as of writing, 85 percent. The next most disliked YTR video was 2017’s YTR, which stands at a dislike rate of 34 percent.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t watch the video. I was disappointed with last year’s YTR, but with so much memes, notable events, and the assurance there would be no Logan Paul after his stunt in Japan this year, I was hopeful this one would be much better than the last. I watched YTR 2018, titled “Everyone Controls Rewind,” hours after it came out. And even then, it was hard to get past the first half of the video when they shoehorned that bit about social awareness. It was cringey, to say the least, and I paused to check the ratings to see if everyone else was feeling the same thing. Back then, the ratings were still at 50-50, but the comments were eloquently (and some, rather crudely) saying the things I felt: it was a total cringe fest, I had no idea who most of these people were, and as someone who didn’t join in on the Fortnite hype, I just felt like this video wasn’t for me.
I expected it wouldn’t be a very memorable video, but I didn’t expect how much flak it would eventually get: becoming the most disliked video of YouTube. It’s ironic when you think about it, a video created by YouTube supposedly controlled by the viewers is the most hated video by the viewers on YouTube.
I could turn this article into a rant on how bad it was or how PewDiePie’s commentary and the fan-made YTRs were more entertaining to watch than the original videos (with more meaningful references any millennial or Gen Z on the internet will understand), but I feel like enough people have already explained why it wasn’t as good as the other YTRs.
However, one thing people fail to mention when trying to explain why the video was so bad is that the video was completely devoid of the reason YTRs started in the first place and became so popular: its purpose. From a video highlighting what had happened throughout 2018 – highlighting the humorous references, the popular memes, and the YouTubers who really shined throughout the year – it became a family-friendly video for advertisers looking for controversy-free but slightly less popular YouTubers to stick their ads on their videos. Couple that with vague references and questionable appearances of celebrities who aren’t even on YouTube, and you just have a video that’s basically a commercial.
YouTube Rewind in a Nutshell
Every year, YouTube and Portal A Interactive release a video towards the end of the year highlighting the viral videos, memes, events, trends, and music of the year. The music is usually a mash-up of hit songs of that year, and the video stars some of the notable YouTubers from various niches.
So, naturally, you’d expect three main things from any YTR: look out for your favorite YouTubers, references to pop culture events, and a summary of what YouTube looked like throughout the year.
The Purpose of a YTR: Recall and Celebrate the Year
For this example, let’s look at my favorite YTR video, “Now Watch Me 2015.” I love the gaming community, so to have one whole segment feature the popular gamers and Five Nights at Freddy’s is understandable. FNAF went viral in the gaming community, so it’s only expected to see Freddy and Chica mascots interacting with Markiplier (the king of FNAF), MattPat and Stephanie from Game Theory, and the cast of Smosh Games. But while it went viral, it wasn’t a “shove-this-reference-down-the-audience’s-throats” sort of reference where the gaming community is limited to that. 2015 was the year of indie horror games on YouTube, so showing them in a dark hallway is understandable.
Apart from that, the references across 2015 was spread out perfectly and understandable. That’s not to say I didn’t get all the references and recognized all the people in the video, but there was something for everyone, so even if I didn’t know the people, I enjoyed the various segments. From the x-ray skeletons, to the timeline fashion, to the parody of Shia LaBeouf’s Just Do It video, even to that time the internet fought over the black and blue/white and gold dress, the references were funny and understandable.
The thing about pop culture is that it literally pops. When the black and blue/white and gold dress went viral, everyone on the internet was fighting. Like everyone else, I shared my sentiments – I saw black and blue – and was suddenly talking to strangers who were also searching the topic and saw my Tweets and Facebook statuses. And even though news outlets and websites like Buzzfeed and Vice were talking about it, suddenly we just stopped and it became another dead meme we don’t talk about two weeks later.
So, to see another reference to the dress (they don’t explicitly talk about the dress, but check out the video and go to the cage match at 3:17) is a reminder that this happened. It was fun before, and while we’re leaving it behind in the year, at least we get some joy knowing we had fun while it lasted.
What YouTube Tried to Change
What’s great about YTR (or at least, before the 2018 video) is that it captures the best parts of internet culture perfectly. We get most of the references because we’ve lived through it. And it makes us happy that we get the reference. So, for YouTube to suddenly change the format, they’re changing the purpose that we’ve come to enjoy.
A while ago, I said that we look for YouTubers we recognize, and pop culture references we get in every YTR video. We saw barely any of that in exchange for a family-friendly video reminding advertisers that YouTube is not all PewDiePies and Paul Brothers who cause controversies and are bad for their ads.
There were more non-YouTube celebrities involved in the video this year. Instead of seeing them for a few seconds, Will Smith got a lot of screen time and plenty of lines, despite not being a part of the community. Meanwhile, Shane Dawson, who created viral documentaries throughout the year, was noticeably absent. Throughout the year, PewDiePie became viral in his quest to prevent T-Series from surpassing him as the most subscribed channel, yet none of this was ever mentioned in the video.
And when we look at references, literally only a segment of the YouTube community will understand the heavy-handed Fortnite references. Instead of multiple references spread evenly, I haven’t the slightest idea who those Fortnite characters were and was put off by how many references there were.
So, instead of the video that makes us looks behind 2018, we have a video that takes slightly obscure references throughout the year, ignoring the vast number of memes and notable events that have happened throughout the year, and turns it into something that doesn’t really represent the YouTube community. It’s not looking back, it’s looking forward: looking forward to the ads that will come flowing to these ad-safe YouTubers and the kind of YouTube culture that YouTube wants to be, not the YouTube it is.
It’s safe to say that I was fairly disappointed by this year’s YouTube Rewind. What could have been a great way to end the community’s year by looking back at all the fun we’ve had turned into an obscure, forced, and overly cringy fiasco that, as response, all YouTube’s representatives could do was shrug and say they could do better next time. Even though the video was marketed towards the viewers and claimed that the viewers’ comments had control, it was out of touch with YouTube culture. And that video took eight minutes of my life I can never rewind and take back.