The Harlem Shake, like most things of its ilk on the internet, seemed to go from rare curiosity to something that was suddenly everywhere — and if you haven’t seen it, be prepared to spend the next few hours rapt in TV Tropes like thrall as the huge cache of videos obliterates your productivity.
The Harlem Shake is, much like any big internet meme, something that grabbed the collective social media consciousness all at once — Marines, celebrities, families with kids, everyone seemed to be uploading videos of this bizarre yet compelling to watch dance phenomenon.
So what is the Harlem Shake?
Good question, internet. Going back to the start, the Harlem Shake stems somewhat from the 2012 song “Harlem Shake” by Brooklyn-based rapper Baauer — but that’s not what seems to have catalyzed the meme. Con los terroristas!
It seems the Harlem Shake would have died in obscurity (or, the obscurity of simply being a song and not a meme), had it not been for five Aussie teens, under the name The Sunny Coast Skate, and their contribution to the Harlem Shake meme phenomenon.
In early February, this video was uploaded to YouTube and became an instant hit — and if you have any familiarity with broad-scale web culture, it’s pretty easy to see why.
Let’s take a look.
By this point, the Harlem Shake had already begun to foment in its internet recognizable form just prior — a blogger named Filthy Frank had uploaded a similar segment to an overall compilation involving four dudes in latex suits jamming in the same way to the same song.
And thus it seems, the Harlem Shake by Baauer song was transformed and solidified — described on Urban Dictionary as “an eccentric upper body dance move that involves the shaking of the upper torso and shoulders,” the meme itself seemed to center around a single situation, reinterpreted hundreds of ways.
An early report on Mashable also sliced and diced how the Harlem Shake became a thing, telling readers in a succinctly accurate explanation:
“A quick guide for the baffled: Harlem Shake videos all follow the script of one person, often in a helmet, dancing alone in a room full of bored-looking people. Then, as the beat kicks in on Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” we smash cut to the entire room going nuts in the most ridiculous ways possible.”
Here is how most Harlem Shake YouTube video clips begin. An every day scene is being filmed — with people engaging in average activities such as sleeping, playing video games, doing home maintenance or sweeping — with one party, usually masked, doing the distinctive, shoulder-popping dance move.
Here at The Inquisitr, we believe an historical argument can be made for the Harlem Shake YouTube phenomenon having been seeded by this classic clip below, often titled “it only takes one person to start the party.”
One week ago, the Harlem Shake hit a major tipping point — becoming an acknowledge trend on YouTube’s blog in a post titled “The Harlem Shake Has Exploded (Updated).” In the post, YouTube explains the history of the Harlem Shake dance meme and adds some numbers for perspective:
“The meme first started gaining traction last week and is attributed to a silly video from a vlogger named ‘Filthy Frank.’ Though it was another user named SunnyCoastSkate who then established the form we’ve become familiar with: the jump cut, the helmet, etc…. “
“From there, the spin-offs spread very quickly. As of the 11th, around 12,000 “Harlem Shake” videos had been posted since the start of the month and they’d already been watched upwards of 44 million times. As you can see in the chart below, over 4,000 of these videos are being uploaded per day and that number is still likely on the rise.”
But by February 15, the video site had updated, adding:
“It turns out plenty more were on the way. As of Valentine’s day the number of ‘Harlem Shake’ videos has increased to around 40,000 — based on video title — and those videos now have 175 million views.”
Pretty soon, everyone in internet culture was getting in on the Harlem Shake action, because how could you not? Content creators like Break, CollegeHumor and Buzzfeed stepped up:
College campuses embraced the Harlem Shake’s YouTube friendliness and random party vibe:
And of course, some of our favorite Harlem Shake videos came out of the armed forces, who seem to excel at silly dances. To wit:
As far as meme longevity goes, the Harlem Shake is still in early days — only time will tell if the Harlem Shake has peaked in popularity already, or if web users will be continually delighted by new and fresh takes on people in a horse mask starting a random dance party.
Google Trends indicates the Harlem Shake meme has, to a degree, plateaued — but we are of the opinion given its versatility, the clips will continue to appear and go viral at a steady rate for some time to come.