Pop Culture References in Viral YouTube Videos: A Closer Look

For over 15 years (and soon to be 20!) YouTube has shaped pop culture. What originally was a niche part of culture has quickly evolved to having viral videos referenced in mainstream media and beyond. Someone can get YouTube comment likes and grow to be the next prominent YouTuber, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

Let’s examine several iconic moments and explain why they were so popular.

Leave Britney Alone

This 2007 video reflects a simpler time for YouTube, when you could just turn on a 240p webcam, rant, and it would be huge. Chris Crocker’s emotional rant was when the media wouldn’t stop scrutinizing pop sensation Britney Spears, with him making the cry to leave her alone. It was referenced and parodied in many TV shows and movies. While initially mocked, his words rang truer than ever in the early 2020s with the #FreeBritney movement, where many gathered to see Spears free from a conservatorship her father had on her. While it was kind of a strange video at first, the implications of this have shown others that it’s possible to get out of toxic situations, and this vital video led to others escaping abusive situations too.

Hide Yo Kids, Hide Yo Wife

In 2010, a news report that interviewed Antoine Dodson, whose sister almost got sexually assaulted, became viral. It was a famous interview because of Dodson’s attitude toward the situation, where he famously said to hide your kids, wife, and husband because “they’re rapin’ everyone out here.”

While the news story’s subject is serious and usually a taboo of mocking, the way he delivered his cautionary words made it a meme for many years to come. There have been many remixes and transformations of this interview; even today, you can still find people quoting it and memes from this on the internet.


2012 was an interesting year. Some remember it for the belief that the world would end on December 21st of that year, but some remember it for the rise in Internet activism, with Jason Russel’s Kony 2012 video being a main example.

Kony 2012 was a call to action to bring down Joseph Kony, the founder of the terrorist group Lord’s Resistance Army, which often uses child soldiers in its fights. While many said it was a noble cause, others criticized it for promoting slacktivism, a term that describes a person who is an activist on their social media posts but doesn’t go beyond that. With the rise of Twitter and Facebook as hubs of activism, many worried that sharing posts and videos was starting to replace hands-on activism, a concern to this day.

Jason Russell, the creator of the video, infamously broke down because of the video’s fame, with him being filmed naked in the streets of San Diego. It was parodied on many shows, including South Park.

Some may say this was one of the original viral examples of internet slacktivism.  Possibly, but it’s still a video that lots of people remember.

Mukbang Videos

This trend became popular in the mid-2010s and is still a thing. It originated in South Korea, where a person will sit, talk, and eat food. Usually, it’s a bunch of food, such as 10,000 calories of noodles. These videos can be live or pre-recorded, allowing the audience to chat.

These videos are popular for several reasons, with some speculating that they’re a form of ASMR, short for autonomous sensory meridian response, where people receive a positive feeling from whispering or chewing sounds. Another reason is the increased loneliness of South Koreans (and the rest of the world), as it gives the viewer the illusion of dining with someone. Some people have taken these slightly far, but they are still relaxing videos. People do watch them, but it can make you a bit hungry, so keep that in mind.

Celebrities Singing Imagine

This video went viral for all the wrong reasons. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, most of the country went into quarantine. Gal Gadot and several other celebrities did a cover of John Lennon’s Imagine, with each one singing a verse from inside their home.

While it was meant to show solidarity in an uncertain time, many saw it as celebrities being out of touch with the rest of the world. It was parodied in pop culture, including in the Amazon show The Boys. It was a strange time, and a possible nod to the strange things that happened during the uncertain times of the coronavirus pandemic.

And Many More

This is a small sample of the many viral videos that have come across YouTube in the nearly two decades it has been online. YouTube videos can impact popular culture in many ways.