YouTubology: Cansei de Ser Clueless

As I linkthinked yesterday, YouTube’s most viewed (all time) page is a hard to find but rather interesting thing. For one, nearly all the videos are musically-mediated in some way (aside from the laughing baby). Most of the videos are, disappointingly, commercial productions that you could as easily catch on MTVH1, though there are a few interesting exceptions.

I wrote last fall about the remarkable popularity of “The Evolution of Dance,” a campy but virtuosic stand-up bit in which a goofy white comedian offers a tour through 20th century dance memes. At the time it had been viewed an astounding 60 million times, and it now is close to 80 million.

In the last few months, though, something odd happened: Cansei de Ser Sexy’s “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex” vaunted ahead of “The Evolution of Dance,” racking up a cool 114 million views! I couldn’t believe it myself when I saw it yesterday, and I intended to write about it ASAP.

Oddly enough, when I clicked on it today, I’m told that the video has been removed by the user.

That’s unfortunate, for it also removes the ability to see the comments on the video, many of which expressed as much confusion as I, wondering how the video had attained such popularity so quickly even given its placement in an Apple commercial (for the iPod Touch). Several commenters seemed sure some sort of glitch was responsible for the video’s inexplicable rise to prominence. The list of incoming links to that instance of the video, which may have revealed a significant referring source, is also now, regrettably, kaput.

Perhaps more frustrating is that I can no longer see how many people favorited the video, which, at a glance yesterday, seemed like a slightly more reliable metric for these videos’ relative popularity (and argued for some sort of fluke in the process). Whereas “Evolution of Dance” has been favorited over 400,000 times for its 78M views, CSS’s video had, if I recall correctly, been favorited fewer than 50,000 times despite its 114M.

So I’m left dumbfounded, with nothing but a series of consternated questions: What explains the sudden sprint to first place of the CSS vid? How are people supposed to make sense of the cultural significance of such things when we’re quite in the dark about so much of the process or when they disappear without a trace? Must the comments, etc., also disappear when a video “has been removed by the user”? When does this sort of thing — the socially-produced metadata of Web 2.0 — become a public resource worthy of some sort of preservation? How can YouTube do a better job as a willynilly, adhoc archive? Will it? And how are ethnomusicologists and others interested in the movements and meanings of popular, digital culture supposed to study / write about this stuff when it’s so seemingly ephemeral (even if, sure, I can find dozens of versions of the video elsewhere)? How are we supposed to advance YouTubology under such appalling research conditions?

Time to get my screenshot game up, I guess. Like so —

[postscript! small world — i just noticed, over at the musicologymatters post i linked to last week, that others have been asking why the numbers don’t add up for the CSS vid; i’m glad to see that other people are analyzing this kind of thing; it now appears quite likely that YouTube asked to have the video taken down by the Italian YouTuber who may have somehow been “cooking the books,” possibly in a prObama gesture!?!?]