Internet memes often feel like they come out of nowhere, emerging from the digital ether at random before becoming inescapable fixtures of late-night comedy shows and social-network news feeds. Online ephemera tends to follow a clear path, however, journeying from obscure LOL-bait to something your grandparents can quote back to you.
“PPAP” by Pikotaro is no exception. Although it blew up at the end of September, the short-and-sweet video became a trend gradually, building from obscurity to become Justin Bieber’s “favorite video on the internet.”
Here’s a timeline of how “PPAP” rose up the viral ranks in 2016.
June 27: Pikotaro launches his own Twitter account. By the end of July, he has a total of 327 followers.
Aug. 18: Announces a new video project launching on YouTube, after the Rio Olympics.
Aug. 25: Posts first video in the series, “PPAP.” In the next few days, a handful of popular performers — including fellow Avex performers Sky-Hi and members of idol group Dream5, along with singers such as Lisa and the band Silent Siren — share it with their followers.
Aug. 27: Uploads “Pikotaro Theme,” the next in the series. Not many lingering thoughts on “PPAP.”
Mid-September: Japanese teenagers embrace “PPAP.” The song becomes popular on video-sharing site MixChannel, where kids record themselves imitating Pikotaro’s dance moves. Soon, these clips get packaged into compilations on YouTube and pop up on Twitter. Pikotaro retweets a dance cover on Sept. 15. By Sept. 17, the official YouTube clip has 111,000 views.
Sept. 24: Hashtags such as “#ppap” and “#ppapchallenge” help turn the song into a viral smash across Southeast Asia. A YouTube channel unaffiliated with Pikotaro or Avex called Chee Yee Teoh posts the video and helps spread it further.
Sept. 25: Hong Kong-based online content aggregator 9Gag uploads “PPAP” to their Facebook page, and it goes white hot, becoming their most viewed video (currently at 69 million). English publications start writing stories about it soon after.
Sept. 27: Pop star Justin Bieber shares the video on Twitter, helping to make it the viral hit of the year.