So how did the video, set to a clip from the Furious 7 soundtrack, became the all time most-viewed video on YouTube with nearly 3 billion views Monday, usurping the most-viewed throne from Psy‘s “Gangnam Style,” which had held the record for nearly five years?
At 5:30 p.m. ET July 10, the “See You Again” video hit 2,894,026,649 views over 826 days since it was released on April 10, 2015, and whereas “Gangnam Style” was a catchy and comical viral hit that exposed the world at large to K-Pop, “See You Again” is emotional hip-hop ballad used to pay tribute to the late The Fast and the Furious star Paul Walker (and his character), who died in a car crash in 2013.
One reason: YouTube has simply racked up a lot more users.
In 2015, YouTube published a report noting the increasing pace at which videos were reaching the billion-view mark, and between 2015 and 2016, YouTube’s music users grew 17 percent up to 1.2 billion, according to Mark Mulligan, music industry analyst at Midia Research. There was also a 25 percent increase in total YouTube music video streams and a 7 percent increase in average monthly music video streams over this time.
“It’s pretty crazy that it impacted so many people,” Wiz Khalifa tells Billboard.
Another factor helping “See You Again” average more than 3 million views per day in 2017: Vevo, the music-video ad-sales platform owned by Universal Music and Sony Music. Mulligan says Vevo has been driving more music views lately with its recommendation algorithms, while YouTube’s autoplay function is resulting in more music-video plays per viewer session. The advancement of messaging apps that account for 7 billion monthly users globally have also driven discovery and link sharing.
“So, in short, expect records to get broken more routinely,” says Mulligan, who estimates the video has generated about $2.9 million for the rights holders.
For an example of what’s to come, one need look no further than the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee‘s “Despacito” is making a strong case to be crowned this year’s song of the summer. The chart-topping hit’s video has more than 2.5 billion views racked up since it’s release in January and, now averaging more than 20 million views a month, looks on track to dethrone “See You Again” before long.
Ironically, when the “See You Again” video was first released, it wasn’t even on YouTube — it was on Facebook. The campaign was the first of its kind, partnering Khalifa, Puth, Diesel, Walker’s estate and Universal Studios to world premiere the video concurrently on the artist, actor and studio Facebook pages. The result was record breaking in itself, creating the biggest video premiere ever on Facebook, reaching 40 million views in just 12 hours.
A week later, the video was release on YouTube and was viewed 175 million times there in the first month, hitting the 1 billion-view benchmark in six months and going on to be the year’s most-viewed new music video, according to YouTube. Since, the video also saw viewership spikes around New Year’s Eve after Puth and Khalifa performed the song during Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2016, as well as the release of Furious 8 this past April, which grew daily views by nearly 50 percent up to present day.
“I wouldn’t ever underestimate the power and the loyalty of the Fast and the Furious fans,” says Mike Knobloch, president of film music and publishing at Universal Pictures.
Along the way, Kevin Weaver, president of film and TV and executive vice president of Atlantic Records, says “multiple billions” of pieces of user-generated content helped boost the song’s performance, along with incredible support from the Furious 7 cast and franchise, which included Diesel singing the song onstage at awards shows. Meanwhile, the track spent 12 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart and ruled radio airplay.
“It was a hit song the way hit songs used to be,” Puth tells Billboard of his breakout track. “It became such a monster overnight, I’m pretty sure hit songs don’t happen like that anymore. A week after it came out, everyone was already singing along.”
Through it all, the song began to take on its own life, separate from Furious 7 and Walker, becoming an anthem much like Puff Daddy‘s “I’ll Be Missing You” for anyone who’s had to say goodbye to a loved one. Only here, thanks to the massive reach of the film franchise, the international reach was huge — just 15 of the total views are from the United States with viewers, on average, watching about 75 percent of the video to completion, according to Atlantic.
“I think the reason it had such an impact and it continues to have such an impact is the personal connection that everyone who experiences the video has with it,” says Weaver. “It resonates with people in such a personal, profound capacity.”
“The song has taken on so many layers, layers that I never even fathomed when I wrote it,” adds Puth, to whom the most-viewed title holds particular meaning having begun his career posting videos on the platform.
The song “See You Again” closes the Furious 7 film in a touching scene where Walker’s character, Brian O’Connor, literally drives off into the sunset. Knobloch tells Billboard that although the song was released ahead of the film, its video was held until after its release so that the fans would have that association with it rather than something conjured from the music video.
“We wanted people to see the film first to experience Walker’s character’s sendoff,” Knobloch says. “Then the video was meant to be a souvenir piece to recapture that sentiment — strike the same chords but with the right context of hopefully the first experience of it being from the film.”
And while soundtrack songs are often trying to “level up” from the “basic standard template” of a music video cut with film footage, Knobloch says, with “See You Again” the feeling was that “people would probably want to have that retrospective film footage from shots of the movie.”
Weaver echoes this sentiment telling Billboard it was essential “that we conceptualized something that had an aesthetic, sense, feel that ties to the film.” To achieve this, he pointed to them even bringing in the same cars featured in Furious 7 and generally making sure it tied “into the fabric of the DNA of the film and the brand and what the moment at the end of movie was with Paul.”
While the sentimentality of tributing Walker has surely helped boost the video’s success, Knobloch is sure to state repeatedly that element came from an entirely earnest place and was not exploited as part of a greater marketing effort.
“We were very careful to not force feed this to people,” he says. “Vin [Diesel] and there other cast members, everyone’s well utilized in the marketing of the franchise and each new release of the film. This was not approached with that strategy play in mind.”
Puth expects he will “definitely” be dethroned soon. “But I’m just enjoying it right now,” he says.
Says Wiz Khalifa: “I think as an artist you hope, or at least I hope, that I can make music that people love for years to come.”