The Best, Worst, and Most Oddly Compelling Content That Hit Our Screens This Year

Sagit Novian/Shutterstock cybermagician/Shutterstock Caleb Hammer/YouTube The Guardian/YouTube pinkydollreal/TikTok @yelenafriedman/TikTok Remix by Caterina Cox

2023 is already nearing a close, and it’s been an eventful year for digital media and creators. And not always in a good way! Or even mostly! Though publishing and ad-supported content creation have been on uncertain, rocky ground for a while now, 2023 was the year the collapse went from a concern to an existential crisis, as mass layoffs and the threat of an AI Bot takeover loomed increasingly larger week-by-week.

But it wasn’t ALL BAD NEWS this year! Mass labor movements gained some serious ground, as the Hollywood strikes won some victories for writers and performers, while encouraging other workers in related fields to reconsider their own situations. A viral YouTube hit sparked a new awareness of the ills of plagiarism and started a long-overdue conversation about proper sourcing and citation. And yes, we all enjoyed TikToks in which teens pretended to die after consuming Grimace Shakes. As ever, a mixed back.

Before bidding a final farewell to 2023, here’s a quick look back at some of the best, worst, or most oddly compelling content that hit our screens this year.


Last year, Dan Olson of Folding Ideas released a 2 hour-plus documentary called “Line Goes Up,” which provided the most thorough and compelling takedown of the entire NFT craze that I have ever seen. It’s a perfect use of the YouTube video essay format, condensing a ton of complex information into something supremely watchable, visually engaging, and easy to follow. A bit of a masterpiece of the form, honestly.

In March, Olson followed up with a new feature-length examination of a recent phenomenon in the tech industry, the metaverse. Or at least, all of the various applications and technologies that get clumped together under the umbrella term “metaverse.” In particular, his video – “The Future is a Dead Mall” – centers its critique on Decentraland, a virtual setting operating off of the blockchain that encourages users to invest in “land” which will one day, theoretically, skyrocket in value.

The film is pointed, even a bit mean, in its attacks on Decentraland, but it’s not just “YouTube Drama.” It’s criticism with a purpose, exposing some of the bigger issues and problems with the Metaverse and how it’s being sold to consumers by attacking one big, particularly potent target. It may not resonate quite as loudly as “Line Goes Up,” if only because the metaverse has never quite taken hold of the tech bro imagination like NFTs did, but it’s still absolutely worth your 110 minutes.


@addictedtoana The best part of this video is the woman jugding me #humor ♬ Cupid – Twin Ver. (FIFTY FIFTY) – Sped Up Version – sped up 8282

In this brief clip posted to TikTok in September, a young woman named Ana is seen dancing with excitement and joy as she’s served pancakes at IHOP. It’s a pretty standard genre of TikTok clip, a person doing something everyday but in a goofy, performative way for chuckles. But what makes Ana’s clip so compelling is that she calls attention to a woman in the background at another booth, glaring over at her. Ana’s caption reads “The best part of this video is the woman judging me.”

The clip has over 60 million views to date, but what fascinates me is how it has become something of a litmus test, almost like the “what color is this dress” but for personality types, not eyesight. Whether a viewer immediately takes Ana’s side (“she’s just having fun and enjoying life!”) or the glaring woman’s side (“she’s being obnoxious and phony!”) seems to come from a deeply personal place. I’m not sure exactly what your affiliation says about you as a person, but I feel like it says SOMETHING. (I’m Team “She’s Being Annoying.”)


Another clip I’m picking less because IT’S OBJECTIVELY GREAT and more because of the fascinating conversations that collected around it. Anthony’s folky roots song contains some very vague gestures in a political direction – at one point, he seems to call out overweight people who are cheating the welfare system – but it’s hardly an overt protest song. 

Nonetheless, the 3-minute clip briefly became a proxy battle in the years-long internet debate over “woke culture” and authenticity. Right-wingers jumped all over Anthony as the new Beyoncé plus Taylor Swift, expressing the resentful, angry feelings of millions of Americans with his plaintive wails. People on the left mocked and ridiculed everything from his voice to his grooming and personal style. Then when he came out and declared himself functionally non-political, everyone kind of lost interest.

I’m not comparing their songwriting or singing abilities, but it’s hard not to be reminded of Bob Dylan in his protest song era. While the media, post-”Masters of War,” was so fixated on labeling him and putting him in a box and making him the spokesperson for his entire generation… he just wanted to write songs. It was not really that complicated.


Connor O’Malley has had something of a crossover moment at this point, making notable appearances in mainstream shows and films like Netflix’s “I Think You Should Leave” and the big-screen horror comedy “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” But REAL FANS remember him best for his absurdist, satirical internet videos, often portraying strange, delusional, unpredictable characters who are desperate for attention, internet fame, or notoriety.

Earlier this year, O’Malley launched a new personal streaming service, Endorphin Port, where he plans to directly sell new videos and projects to fans. The first release – which was recently dropped on YouTube for free – is classic O’Malley, but on a larger canvas, with more of a narrative through-line. It’s a weird, wild, transmedia tragedy about a guy named Tyler Joseph who moves to Hollywood dreaming of stardom, only to find himself sucked into a dark conspiracy.

O’Malley has lots to say about the nature of fame and parasocial relationships and the conspiratorial mindset and how social media and apps manipulate their users. But it’s also just very funny.


Actor and writer Brian David Gilbert posts occasional silly songs or sketches to his YouTube channel. A few of his 2023 releases have performed better, but for money, none were more amusing than “Don’t Tell Your Wife About This Game,” a musical ode to those weird ads you sometimes see for salacious mobile games.

The song opens as a simple joke about irritating pop-ups and banner ads, but after a while, sort of transitions into something more sad and insightful, about how relationships inevitably deteriorate over time. The video itself as funny as well, with Gilbert portraying the kinds of fantasy characters internet marketers use to distract people throughout their busy work days. 


The #1 tech story of the entire year was, of course, the arrival of generative AI and the promise (or threat) that much of the work produced currently by real humans will soon be offloaded to our machine counterparts.

So it’s sort of telling in a way that one of the year’s most visible creators was TikTok’s PinkyDoll, a human who perfectly simulates digital avatars and characters. It’s one thing to note, in a removed academic sense, that computers will never completely take over the culture, and it will always be about how humans creatively try to use their output. 

But PinkyDoll drives this point home in an incredibly visceral way. Even in a world where we can create digital humans to host livestreams, thank their fans or accept gifts, the idea of a real person doing that – copping a digital avatar’s robotic, programmed style – is still more compelling to flesh-and-blood human viewers.


Kyle Gordon’s Europop parody “Planet of the Bass” soaked up all the buzz this summer, but the real #1 comedy music jam of the year just might be Auntie Boy and Omri’s “Pregnant Sonic.” 

What starts off as a silly little ditty about getting caught looking at weird Rule 34-style fetish porn ultimately transitions into an anthem about tolerance and the wonders of self-discovery. It’s also something of a banger, which you really don’t expect from a song titled “Pregnant Sonic.”


Perhaps no single YouTube video shifted the conversation about generative AI art and its potential applications this year more than Corridor’s “Anime Rock, Paper, Scissors.” The collective – founded by Sam Gorski and Niko Puerginer – has grown over the years from a viral YouTube channel dropping eye-popping action and effects videos into a legitimate production studio.

So, in February, when they announced that they’d produced a new cartoon short utilizing cutting-edge AI technology, the internet immediately took interest. The film itself – written and produced by Gorski and Puerginer – was always intended to showcase what was currently possible using the latest AI tools, but it also wound up highlighting the technology’s many limitations. Fans pointed out flickering images, inconsistent renders of characters and settings, messiness around details like eyes, hands, and teeth, and other clear drawbacks to early 2023 image generation tools. 

A sequel released in August was somewhat better received by the channel’s regulars but hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in terms of viewership, with under 1 million clicks to date.

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