While this isn’t the first decade where artists have gained recognition through the Internet (hello Justin Bieber!), it does feel like the first decade where viral stardom has started to become increasingly normal, especially with newer social platforms like TikTok and Instagram in addition to YouTube.
As we wave goodbye to the 2010s, we’re taking a look at some of the most popular artists who rose to fame via the web.
Rebecca Black (2011)
Released back in September 2011, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is a particularly OG viral moment. The song, which is quite literally about waking up on a Friday and partying on the weekend, came with an accompanying video which people on the Internet had a lot to say about. Unfortunately for Black, it resulted in a lot of cyber-bullying, but looking back at it now, it’s clear that the 13-year-old girl was just trying to have fun. (She actually didn’t write the song -- it was written by producers Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson.)
Despite the initial negative reaction, the video has more than 137 million views today. It’s easily a web-tastic classic that will never be forgotten.
Karmin, the husband-and-wife pop duo made up of Amy Renee and Nick Noonan, began posting covers of artists like Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, and Jessie J on YouTube in 2011. Karmin quickly grew in popularity thanks to the fun twists they put on songs and mashups, as well as Renee’s unique rapping style.
The covers soon led to the release of their debut Hello EP in 2012 which included the original single, “Brokenhearted,” which peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, in 2017, the two decided to put Karmin on pause to focus on Renee’s new rap-leaning project, Qveen Herby. Still going strong, Renee has recently released a bunch of new singles under that new moniker, including “Vitamins” and “Cheap Talk.”
Much like “Friday,” this is another phenomenon that the world will never forget. In 2012, the South Korean singer/rapper/producer Psy (real name Park Jae-sang) released his video for “Gangnam Style,” the first-ever video to reach 1 billion views on YouTube, garnering nearly 3.5 billion views since. The song was wildly catchy and the video struck a chord with people due to its colorful sense of humor. It also came with a signature dance move that gained popularity in itself and he was soon deemed “King of YouTube” by the media.
After the release of “Gangnam Style,” Psy was signed to Schoolboy Records by Scooter Braun and made appearances on The Today Show and Saturday Night Live.
Baauer, also known as Harry Bauer Rodrigues, is a trap/bass producer who released “Harlem Shake” via Mad Decent/Jeffrees in 2012. The song went viral partially thanks to the artist Joji (George Miller), who used the song to create a viral craze on the Internet. He inspired fans to upload their own videos of their flash mobs, where they would wildly dance to the drop in unexpected locations. In addition to becoming an influential meme, it was also just a really good dance track that received a lot of critical acclaim, and won dance song of the year and EDM song of the year at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards.
Carly Rae Jepsen (2012)
Carly Rae Jepsen came in third place on Canadian Idol in 2007, but she didn’t strike viral fame until her hit single “Call Me Maybe” nearly broke the Internet in 2012. The song, which is from the pop singer’s sophomore album Kiss, hit No. 1 on the Top 40 chart and was covered by a ton of artists including Fun, Lil Wayne, and Cody Simpson. What made the track really blow up was the homemade lip sync video starring teenybopper icons Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber and Ashley Tisdale. The DIY clip featured the celebs and their friends wearing fake Ray Bans, dancing around kitchens, and even using prop telephones as they sang along. It’s currently up to 77 million views and still climbing.
Its simplistic, flirty lyrics and Jepsen’s bubbly performance is what made the catchy song so fun and infectious, even though it was initially meme-ified. Now, Jepsen’s video has over 1.2 billion views and she since then has gone on to release two critically acclaimed albums, 2015’s E•MO•TION and this year’s Dedicated. She might have been seen as a meme at first, but now she has grown into an established pop singer with love-obsessed hooks.
Shawn Mendes is one of today’s biggest stars, but let’s not forget that he started out back in 2013 as the third most-followed person on Vine. It was on that platform (as well as YouTube) that he would share clips of himself covering songs like Justin Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me.” About a year later, he caught the attention of Andrew Gertler, who is now his manager, and Ziggy Chareton, who signed him to Island Records.
He went on to release his self-titled debut EP in 2014 followed by his 2015 debut album Handwritten, 2016’s Illuminate and 2018’s self-titled album. All three LPs debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 and Mendes went on to break several chart records and win just as many awards. He also opened for Taylor Swift on her 1989 World Tour.
More recently, he scored his first Hot 100 No. 1 hit with the Camila Cabello duet "Señorita," as well as a solo No. 2 with “If I Can’t Have You,” and is now headlining a massive world tour. Sometimes the pop singer-songwriter’s major stardom makes it easy to forget that he was once a young kid who started out on Vine, but it just goes to show that the Internet truly is a powerful tool.
In September 2013, the video for “The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)” went viral on YouTube and currently clocks in at more than 892 million views. The video, starring the Norwegian comedy brother duo (Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker) explores all of the different sounds that animals make, except they can’t figure out the sound of a fox. The brothers are hosts of the TV show I kveld med Ylvis (Tonight with Ylvis), which is originally what the video was created for. Regardless, it’s hilarious, which is exactly what caused such a sweeping reaction across the Internet.
Loren Gray (2015)
When she was in sixth grade in 2015, Loren Gray began to gain popularity on Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, where she currently has over 36 million followers. The followers translated to Instagram and YouTube as well, where she also has millions of followers. She’s not just a social media personality though -- she is also a singer who released her debut single “My Story” in 2017 followed by her second single “Kick You Out” in 2018.
Gray released a handful of singles earlier this year, the latest, “Can’t Do It,” featuring Saweetie. She also recently starred in HRVY’s video for “Million Ways” and posts other popular content on YouTube, such as makeup tutorials.
Cardi B (2015)
Cardi is one of the most in-demand rappers today but before the release of her 2018 debut album Invasion of Privacy, she was making some serious waves elsewhere. In 2015, the Bronx native went viral on Vine and Instagram after posting several funny videos, and that same year, joined the cast of VH1’s reality TV show Love & Hip Hop: New York. After delivering a killer two seasons, she left the show to pursue music.
In addition to releasing her debut album to an incredibly loyal and ever-growing fanbase, a couple of her singles peaked at No. 1 in 2017 including the breakout rap anthem “Bodak Yellow,” making her the first female rapper to do so with a solo single since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998.
Danielle Bregoli, better known as Bhad Bhabie (or the “Cash Me Outside” girl), rose to fame after becoming a meme when she appeared as a TV guest on Dr. Phil in 2016. At one point in the episode, which was to discuss her ongoing behavioral issues (including car theft) with her mother, she said, “Catch me outside, how about that?” which soon became a viral catchphrase and eventually led to an Atlantic Records deal.
Bregoli embraced what the web made of her, going on to become a full-fledged Internet personality and releasing her first single, “These Heaux,” as Bhad Bhabie. At only 15, the Florida native became the youngest female rapper to ever crack the Billboard Hot 100 with the single and then broke into the chart again with her second single, “Hi Bich,” from her 2018 mixtape 15.
Ava Max (2016)
Ava Max, 25, had dreams of becoming a pop star since childhood but always ran into problems, whether it was getting flat-out rejected or shady business deals. It wasn’t until 2014 when she met the producer Cirkut at a party in L.A. that the two decided to record the song “Anyone But You.” Max uploaded it to SoundCloud and boom, seemingly out of nowhere, labels were blowing up her inbox and requesting to meet -- it was finally the bit of success she needed.
Max then signed with Atlantic Records and released her monster hit, “Sweet But Psycho,” gaining serious commercial success. Drawing comparisons to early Lady Gaga, the song made its way into the top 10 in the Hot 100 and its video has nearly 470 million views today.
Baby Ariel (2017)
Like many of the artists already mentioned, 18-year-old singer Baby Ariel (real name Ariel Martin) became an Internet star at a very young age after breaking through on the lip-syncing app Musical.ly (now TikTok) in 2015. That same year she launched an anti-bullying movement called the #ArielMovement and then went on to release her debut single “Aww” in 2017.
Ariel has since been deemed as one of the most influential people on the Internet and has even taken on a couple of acting endeavors, playing roles in Baby Doll Records, Bixler High Private Eye, and Zombies 2. Most recently she self-directed “Wildside,” a song and video about acceptance.
Mason Ramsey (2018)
If you think a young boy yodeling Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” at a local Walmart is ho hum, think again. Doing just that was enough to propel Mason Ramsey to viral stardom after a video of the moment hit the web and gained 25 million views over the course of a few days early last year. Soon after that, the young yodeler from Illinois, who was just 11 at the time, signed to Big Loud Records and released his debut single, “Famous.”
Ramsey also made an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and shared that his dream was to one day be on The Grande Ole Opry. So what did DeGeneres do? She surprised Ramsey, revealing that he was booked for the renowned country music concert stage in Tennessee that same month (he has now played it eight times). He has also performed at Coachella and Stagecoach and most recently, was featured on the third remix of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” featuring Billy Ray Cyrus along with Young Thug.
Speaking of “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X turned out to be quite the 'net-driven moment to close out the decade. The Georgia-based rapper achieved success ostensibly overnight after teaming up with Billy Ray Cyrus to release the country rap single phenomenon. “Old Town” went viral via TikTok earlier this year and was certified Diamond by the RIAA just this month. Most notably, it peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100 for nineteen weeks straight, breaking the all-time record of 16 weeks, previously set by both Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” and "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber.
What makes Nas X’s overwhelming success so compelling is his modesty, especially when making the track. He bought the beat, which samples Nine Inch Nails, online from a Dutch producer named YoungKio for 30 dollars. It took him less than an hour to record at a cheap studio and then once it was done, he began creating memes to promote the track. TikTok users caught on to the track, which enabled the song to reach a massive amount of listeners. Since then, Nas X went on to release his debut EP, 7, which features his second single “Panini.” He also earned several 2020 Grammy nominations -- including record of the year (for "Road"), album of the year (for debut EP 7), and best new artist -- a true triumph for the young Georgia rapper.