114 million views and counting: What Does The Fox Say is this year’s Gangnam Style

Sometimes, it’s hard to predict what viral videos will pop big and then fade out, and which will become 100 million juggernauts that show little sign of slowing down. But one clear constant has always been the combination of music and comedy.

Finding that out most recently is Ylvis, the Norwegian comedy/music duo who have, since blowing up last month, since racked up over 114 million views for their breakout video What Does The Fox Say?, which blends dance beats with silly animal noises.


While Ylvis is technically no one-hit wonder — the brothers Bård Ylvisåker and Vegard Ylvisåke have been popular in their native land for years — the song has launched them internationally, even landing them on the iTunes music charts (What Does The Fox Say? is currently the #5 top-selling single in the United States).

It’s hard to figure out just what makes a video go viral, but one of the people at YouTube (s GOOG) who tracks these things is Kevin Allocca, whose role as head of culture and trends keeps his attention on how these videos evolve to this stage.

And what’s changed from the early days of comedy/music hybrids, he says, is interactivity. “The popularity of the song comes through parodies more than sales,” he said in a phone interview.

Because key to What Does The Fox Say?‘s life cycle is the ancillary content that comes with being a part of the YouTube ecosystem. The video has been reacted to by teenagers and elders as part of the Fine Bros’ long-running Kids/Teens/Adults/Small Furry Animals React series:


Mashed up with other pop culture phenomena:


And has also been parodied by everyone from Annoying Orange to Taryn Southern to Wolverine. Search for “the fox ylvis parody” on YouTube currently, and you’ll pull up over 86,000 results.

Because of this, more people keep discovering it — even just last week, Ylvis made their late night American television debut, performing the song live on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The YouTube posting has racked up 2.7 million views in just three days.


Beyond that, though, what Allocca has observed — and what separates something like The Fox or The Harlem Shake from old-school viral hits like Obama Girl or Flight of the Conchords — is that the song itself encourages interaction.

Gangnam Style had this dance. The Harlem Shake — there was a thing you could do with that song. You can latch in and be a part of it. [With The Fox], it’s sort of an intangible thing — but people walk around making the sounds,” Allocca said.

The Fox, in short, can take claim to the title of 2013’s Gangnam Style (especially since it too has a huge dance component), one we’ll still be humming months from now. I was just recently at a house party where someone asked if we’d all seen “that video about the fox” — even weeks later, people are still discovering the tune.

“It definitely has legs,” Allocca said.

“Four of them,” YouTube’s Matt McLernon added.