Viral internet sensations that turned into chart hits

Going viral is trickier than it looks, but get it right and you could have a smash on your hands.

The thing about going viral online is, usually, it just happens. There's no magic formula, or trick you can try, to guarantee a viral hit – the only thing they have in common is catching someone's imagination and spreading like wildfire. You can't plan it, there's no science.

As music consumption leans increasingly toward digital, it's becoming more common for viral video content to have an impact on the Official Chart. It doesn't matter if it's a mere minute of melody, if it finds an ear and gets a following, it's in with a chance.

We look at a selection of tracks that either started out as online favourites or got a boost from a viral craze, whether intentional or not.

Lil Nas X

One of our most recent viral smashes came thanks to rapper Lil Nas X, who first sprang to fame on Twitter for his Nicki Minaj fan account. His Number 1 hit Old Town Road got its viral wings thanks to – you've guessed it – a good old challenge. The #yeehaw challenge saw people filming themselves on TikTok  transforming into cowboys and cowgirls after drinking a bottle of 'yee juice'. A remix featuring country legend Billy Ray Cyrus, and some controversy about the song's genre on the US chart helped send things stratospheric, and Lil Nas X became TikTok's first breakthrough star.

Psy's Gangnam Style

Is Gangman Style the daddy of them all? There'd been internet-led chart smashes before, but K-pop sensation Psy blew everyone else out of the water in 2012 when his dance craze Gangnam Style went viral. Although he was new to many eyes and ears in the UK, Psy was actually on his sixth album in his homeland of South Korea when worldwide stardom came calling. Thanks to its hypnotic video and the fact then even Barack Obama was doing the dance, Gangnam Style shot to Number 1 in September 2012. The official video has over 3.2 billion views on YouTube. May as well watch it again, eh?

Drake

Back in summer 2018, Drake found himself at the centre of a new dance craze when the In My Feelings challenge was kicked off by Instagram comedian Shiggy who posted a video of himself dancing in the street - or 'doing the shiggy', as he called it – to the tune. Within two weeks, half a million clips of people copying the challenge were posted on Instagram, including celebrities such as Will Smith, Kevin Hart and Ciara, and the song went to Number 1, staying there for four weeks!

Harlem Shake

In 2013, New York DJ Baauer had a very unexpected hit on his hands when his song Harlem Shake became the theme tune to a hugely popular meme. There was no official video to this song, and no huge promotional push, it just kind of… happened. Soon, thousands of people worldwide were uploading short videos of themselves wigging out to a small section of the Harlem Shake track, which peaked at Number 3 in February 2013.

Rae Sremmurd

Remember that craze at the end of 2016 when all you had to do take part was stand still – so long as your game of musical statues was soundtracked by Rae Sremmurd's Black Beatles (and you left the music playing). The mannequin challenge went so mainstream, even a live episode of The X Factor stopped in its tracks to do one of its own. This was great news for Rae Sremmurd (Ear Drummers backwards), and featured artist Gucci Mane, who ended up with a Number 2 hit out of it!

Crazy Frog

Remember that annoying little animation who not only let it all hang out but also had a sideline in ringtones? Yes, Crazy Frog may well pre-date the YouTube boom but he was a veritable viral sensation thanks to his ringtone ads appearing what seemed like every three seconds on music television back in the noughties. Sadly, the "Hey girl, you better check your texts" message alert was never made into a Number 1 single but Crazy Frog's unforgettable scat/yodel hybrid was mixed with '80s synth track Axel F and topped the chart! The darned Crazy Frog had five Top 40 hits altogether! Seriously!

Baby Shark

There is no escape from this super-catchy song from Korean YouTube cartoon Pinkfong. As fans around the world tried out the Baby Shark dance craze – the moves were pretty simple, thankfully – the video amassed billions of views, becoming one of the most-viewed YouTube videos ever. In January 2019, the song peaked at Number 6; it spent 25 weeks in the Top 40.

The Chainsmokers

Before they were doyens of polished pop and having big Number 1 hits with the likes of Halsey, New York duo Drew and Alex had a very different beginning. They shot to fame with their viral hit #SELFIE, a zeitgeisty – then, at least – critical take on the trend for taking a pic of yourself. The novelty track led to their Soundcloud blowing up before "check out my Soundcloud" was even a thing under viral tweets, but it also kicked off nine Top 40 hits, including that 2016 chart-topper, Closer.