Origins of the Harlem Shake phenomenon

Photo Courtesy of DizastaMusic

Months after Psy took the Internet by storm with the legendary “Gangnam Style” dance craze, a new rave sensation has become a worldwide phenomenon in less than a month. Starting with a video uploaded on Feb. 2 by five Australian teenagers, attention caught on. One week later, the vlog was receiving over 4,000 hits per day, and less than two weeks after that, an assortment of over 40,000 replica videos had been uploaded, amounting to a total of nearly 200 million combined YouTube views. Everyone from Manchester football players to senior citizens homes to the Georgia Tech Student Government Association has caught on to the rage. Furthermore, the accompanying song instantly topped the popularity charts on iTunes, both in America and abroad. Of course, this is all in reference to the one and only “Harlem Shake.”

Starting with a video uploaded on Feb. 2 by five Australian teenagers, attention caught on.

With so many versions flying around the Internet, however, not many people may know about how this sensation began. The foundation of the meme was established by a group of boys from Queensland known as “The Sunny Coast Skate.” Their video was a follow-up to a clip uploaded by YouTube vlogger “Filthy Frank,” which featured several costumed individuals dancing to a segment of the electronic song “Harlem Shake” by American music producer Baauer.

As anyone with Internet access knows by now, these videos and subsequent replicas are characterized by a group dancing spasmodically and elatedly to 31 seconds worth of Baauer’s wordless tune. Typically, the video begins with one person dancing alone for 15 seconds, surrounded by others who seem preoccupied and oblivious; then, the bass noticeably drops, and the video cuts to an engaged crowd. A minimum of clothes or an assortment of crazy outfits and strange props usually add to the hysteria.

So, how did the video gain such instant fame? In part, this seems attributable to its short length, which makes it easy to watch. Furthermore, the hypnotic beat and catchy feel-good vibe make the viewing experience all the more enjoyable. And the fact that such humor can be translated to all viewers, independent of language, expands its potential to spread to various cultures and age groups.

The Harlem Shake has likely reached its peak, allowing a new craze to soon take its place.

The Harlem Shake gained a following due to its simplicity to recreate. Consisting of a single, stationary camera and one effortless jump cut, the video requires practically no effort for any group to reconstruct, regardless of technological proficiency. The simplicity of the concept allows fans to infuse their own individuality, whether this is crazy costumes, crazy props or outlandish filming locations. It can also be generated with any number of people, as has been shown through videos ranging from two best friends to the entire Clemson student body. Finally, the Harlem Shake fad puts fans on the same playing field as their favorite celebrities, many of whom have also created their own versions.

As with Gangnam Style, the Harlem Shake has gained an almost astonishing amount of recognition, albeit for slightly altered reasons. Its accessibility and opportunity for creative freedom have ultimately allowed it to transcend the status of a viral sensation, becoming instead a global meme and a cultural phenomenon. But as with past similar crazes, the Harlem Shake has likely reached its peak, allowing a new craze to soon take its place. Before this happens, we hope to see some more celebrities do the Harlem Shake.

We would love to see Barack and Michelle Obama do the Harlem Shake. If not, we can always hope for a Screaming Goat Remix of his inauguration speech to go viral soon.