Two things occurred last weekend:
1. The Grammys
2. “Harlem Shake” officially going viral.
In case you were too preoccupied with #1 to pay attention to #2, we’ll help you catch up. Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” one of our favorite songs of last year, has become an integral part of a suddenly omnipresent video meme. In said videos—which generally last only about a half-minute each—the song’s intro plays, with one person dancing to the song either by themselves or in a room full of people who don’t seem to be paying attention to them or the song.
Then the song’s hook comes in, with the “Do the Harlem Shake!” vocal command, and all of a sudden the video cuts, and everyone who’s in the room (and sometimes, people who weren’t in the room previously) goes absolutely bonkers, sometimes wearing totally different clothes (like a Power Ranger outfit or a chicken suit, and often a lot of helmets) or stripping down to their underwear or just doing whatever the fuck. Then just as quickly as it went insane, it’s over. On to the next video.
And there are already a whole lot of them. Mashable, god bless ‘em, already did a comprehensive “17 Amazing Harlem Shake Videos You Can’t Possibly Live Without” roundup article, which…well, we’d say watching the first two or three is probably about all you need to get the point. But the fact that there’s 17 of these things at all (there were 0 two weeks ago, before YouTube user Filthy Frank got the ball viraling, and that number’s probably gotten exponentially bigger since then—even the Dallas Mavericks have one now) is a pretty good indicator of how nuts this thing has gotten in a fairly brief period of time.
In general, this is a pretty cool and weird and random thing, and has already gotten people proclaiming Baauer to be this year’s Psy (and mashing up the two, natch). And so popular has Baauer’s song gotten as a result of these videos, that “Harlem Shake” has shot up the iTunes charts, residing at #29 at time of writing but climbing higher every hour. That’s pretty impressive for a song as hard-hitting and abrasive as “Harlem Shake”—not to mention one that’s been around for nearly a year already and hadn’t exactly lit Top 40 radio on fire until this point.
That begs the question, then: Why “Harlem Shake”? Well, we’re not going to try to guess Filthy Frank’s specific motives for using the song the first time—from his YouTube page he looks like he throws a lot of different shit against the wall to see what sticks—but as for why it took off the way it did, it sort of makes sense. Even before these videos made it a phenomenon, “Shake” was one of those songs whose hook—repetitive and somewhat grating, but undeniably transfixing and exciting—just does weird things to people, like “Pon de Floor” or “Niggas in Paris,” where the first sounds of it get your blood pumping and make you wanna to go out and kick over a garbage can and/or grind the first person you see up against a wall. It’s rough, but it’s addictive, and it reflexively inspires a physical reaction of some sort.
But while the videos definitely serve a compliment of sorts about the inscrutable physical hold that “Harlem Shake” has on listeners, they also risk diminishing the brilliance of the song itself. No matter what kind of rep “Shake” had in the underground up until this point, within a week of it going viral, it will now forever be known as “the song from all those crazy dance videos,” putting Baauer in league with the Psys and Soulja Boys of the world, rather than say, the DJ Rashads and Diplos that Baauer is more naturally in league with. (Tellingly, Baauer refused to be interviewed for this article, his people saying they were “not especially interested in more press around this.”)
It’s hard to blame him. The meme will burn out soon enough, and the fleeting exposure that Baauer receives from his 15 minutes of internet fame probably wont’ be enough to do anything for the Brooklyn trap DJ’s career but get him permanently typecast. (Still waiting on that “Gangnam Style” followup, Psy.) So if you’re still busy ingesting however many “Harlem Shake” videos You Can’t Possibly Live Without, do take a moment to appreciate the brilliance of the song itself—maybe even subscribe to Baauer’s SoundCloud page?—and don’t let one of the best dance recordings of the decade turn into the answer to a trivia question.