At the start of March, the Miley Cyrus single ‘Flowers‘ secured a sixth-straight #1 finish in the Billboard Hot 100. Since its release, the empowering jam has received regular airplay on Top 40 radio while also boosting flower sales around the globe.
Despite all those accomplishments, ‘Flowers’ has arguably had its biggest impact on social media. Creators on YouTube Shorts and TikTok are sharing messages of self-acceptance, and the platforms that host those videos are learning to love themselves, too. On YouTube, the growth of ‘Flowers’ memes serves as a case study for the way viral trends incubate and grow during the Google-owned platform’s multiformat era.
Tracking an “immediate phenomenon”
I can buy myself flowers. Write my name in the sand. Talk to myself for hours. See things you don’t understand.
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That four-line chorus has become a common refrain on YouTube Shorts, where ‘Flowers’ is the soundtrack for self-love. In the weeks after the song’s release, Kaeli Mae made dinner for one, Not Enough Nelsons threw away the tissues, and Bailey Spinn took herself on a date.
One of the YouTube employees responsible for tracking these viral fads is Earnest Pettie, the platform’s Culture and Trends Insights Lead. Pettie told Tubefilter that ‘Flowers’ was an “immediate phenomenon” that soared to the top of the YouTube Music charts (at the time of this post, the song is #2 on the list of top U.S. songs.)
Amateur remixes of ‘Flowers’ spurred its popularity. Pettie called Cyrus “a star to Gen Z” who, through her new song, has provided that cohort with a new way to “express themselves.”
“There’s a much broader trend, especially among young people, towards content that is instructive towards or reflective of self-care,” Pettie told Tubefilter. He cited several other memes that have capitalized on that trend, including “main character” videos and the Black creator community’s penchant for “soft living.”
The proliferation of Cyrus’ hit single shows us what self-acceptance means to YouTube creators and viewers. The ‘Flowers’ chorus soundbite has appeared in nearly 600,000 Shorts, some of which have received more than 40 million views all on their own.
The trend behind the trend
The ‘Flowers’ trend has also been active on platforms like TikTok and Reels, but Pettie believes that YouTube’s particular mix of formats allows it to capture the entire lifecycle of a viral hit. Pettie admitted that “all of the Shorts content” — ranging from responses to dances to remixes — has driven ‘Flowers’ to the top of the charts. At the same time, the song’s music video is also part of YouTube culture. It has received nearly 300 million views on Cyrus’ official channel.
“When things like this emerge, what’s most interesting about YouTube is the way it cuts across our verticals and categories of content creation,” Pettie told Tubefilter. Though he said that “right now we’re seeing this in Shorts and music,” he speculated that any creator, whether they be a Minecraft star or a DIYer, could find a way to express self-love on their own channel.
The popularity of self-acceptance, rather than a specific lyric from a specific song, carries these sorts of trends across YouTube. “We always talk about trends in terms of viral content but it’s really viral ideas that content is floating on top of,” Pettie said. “Because it’s an idea, it becomes something that a Shorts creator, a live streamer, or a regular long-form video creator working in any category can express in a way that makes sense to them.”
Even after the trend dies down, it will be immortalized through compilations that will live on the long-form version of YouTube. According to Pettie, the convergence of all these video types enables YouTube to serve as an “archive” for pop culture fads. “YouTube has become this full ecosystem for trends,” he said.
Music to YouTube’s ears
In many ways, YouTube has always been the archive of internet culture, but the advent of Shorts has allowed for more thorough connections between content categories. In the case of ‘Flowers,’ music is the conduit that makes those connections.
Catchy songs have driven YouTube culture since the platform’s inception, and those viral smashes have profoundly impacted the global pop industry. Top 40 jams are also fuel for short-form communities, and YouTube is the place where those trends come together. “People should be thinking about [‘Flowers’] responses,” Pettie said. “The history of YouTube is its ability to have its impact on music.”
The increasing adoption of YouTube Shorts will provide more opportunities for creators to “communicate something about themselves” by reimagining specific song lyrics. While ‘Flowers’ has spawned one of the biggest trends of 2023, in many ways, it’s just the beginning. Music and content creation are more interwoven than ever before, and as they continue to move closer to one another, the platform that offers both music videos and short-form responses — i.e. YouTube — plans to be at the center of it all.