The Harlem Shake – What, Who, When, Where, Why, & How?

Thu 21 February 2013 10:00, Vitto Christaldi

The Harlem Shake – What, Who, When, Where, Why, & How?

Say goodbye to “Oppa gangnam style!” and say hello to “Con los terroristas!”. This new internet phenomenon, known as The Harlem Shake, has taken over social media, blogs and worldwide news since the beginning of February. If you have never heard about it, then I highly suggest you check the clip below ...

The Harlem Shake is a song recorded by Brooklyn DJ and producer Harry Rodrigues, better known as Baauer. The song made its debut on May 22nd 2012 by Diplo’s label, Mad Decent.  You may argue that the original choreographer of The Harlem Shake dance was the comedian Filthy Frank which first uploaded the clip on YouTube under the username DizastaMusic on February 2nd, but it reached its popularity after five Australian teen boys from The Sunny Coast Skate uploaded their clip dancing to the song (the clip above). Their clip went viral and soon everyone all over the world was making their own YouTube version of The Harlem Shake.

The clips begin with a woman (some people told me it is a man, but I am quite sure it is a woman) shouting “Con los terroristas!” (a Columbian-Spanish term, meaning “with the terrorists”), followed by one person, usually wearing a helmet or in a ridiculous costume, dancing to the song alone while surrounded by people who are unaware of the dancer. 15 seconds later, after a man shouts “Then do the Harlem Shake”, the bass will drop and the clip metamorphoses into pure chaos where in the next 15 seconds everyone in the clip is engaging in extreme dance wearing crazy outrageous outfits (sometimes partially clothed). The videos usually last no longer than 30 seconds.

Josh Constene from TechCrunch created a simple formula of the Harlem Shake meme: 

[14T x (A1 + V1)] => Δ => [14T x (A2 + V2)] => [2T x (A3+V3)]

[14 seconds of (build-up music) played as (one person passively dances while others linger around them motionless)] then an instant video cut to [14 seconds of (bombastic dance music) played as (many people dance aggressively)] then [2 seconds of (a slurring sound) and (slow-motion video of the aggressive dancing)]

It’s unlikely you have missed the internet meme. Pepsi and Red Bull are among the companies who have already proven that they are still up to date. Popular news and comedy sites like AMP, AOL, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and College Humor have also participated in making the Harlem Shake clip, even the employees of mega internet company, Google and let’s not forget Facebook. 

The internet meme is not only popular in Western countries but also in Asia; China for example. Translated as “Ha Lin Yao”, below is the clip of Chinese seniors shaking their bodies to the Harlem Shake in Beijing Park:

I have watched a lot of Harlem Shake clips, but my favorites so far are the clip from the Norwegian army and the UGA Men’s Swim and Dive team. These clips are original and the props/costumes they are wearing are hilarious, guaranteed to make you laugh your head off. You should check them out!

Harlem Shake vs Gangnam Style

Before Harlem Shake, Gangnam Style was the major internet hype. At its height in August 2012, Psy's video generated more than 3 million views a day on YouTube, and it continued to generate millions of views every day for some time after that peak (Psy even received an award as the most-viewed YouTube video of all time in November 2012). But some experts predicted the Harlem Shake to be bigger than the Korean song. Here are three reasons why the Harlem Shake will beat Gangnam Style, according to Forbes:

  • It’s a lot simpler. All you need is a single actor for the beginning of the clip, random outfits/props, and uncoordinated choreography. Simple!
  • It’s a lot shorter.  The length of the Harlem Shake clip is only 30 seconds short. People like to watch short clips.
  • It’s time to say goodbye to Gangnam Style. Right? “Inplain speak, this is called moving on”, said Giovanni Rodriquez from Forbes. If you're one of the sad people still posting videos of you and your friends doing Psy's dance, shame on you!

However, will the popularity of Gangnam Style end soon after the rise of the Harlem Shake? According to the analysis by International Business Times, “it likely won't drop off the map for quite a while.” As explained further, “At its height in August 2012, Psy's video was generating more than 3 million views a day on YouTube, and it continued to generate millions of views every day for some time after that peak. But it still hasn't dropped off the map entirely, despite having gone up on YouTube in July of last year. In fact the term 'Gangnam Style' still garnered a respectable 54,912 mentions on Twitter on Sunday, according to Topsy. So it appears memes die hard, though many of those mentions were in reference to the long-awaited 'death' of "Gangnam Style" in order to make room for something new; namely the 'Harlem Shake'." Clearly it is not a good news for a Gangnam Style hater like me (Sorry for being too vocal, but I am not a fan of Gangnam Style; not a single bit!).

Critics about the Harlem Shake

Hayes Brown, a blogger on criticizes the Harlem Shake for distorting the original Harlem’s shoulder-popping dance from the 80’s. In his article 'The Obscuring of Black Culture, Or Why I Hate the Fake 'Harlem Shake' Meme’, he wrote “My problem was with the dancing itself. No unity, no precision, no sense that anything was going on other than pure chaos hiding under the label of a dance that's existed for years

Below is the clip of how to do the“original” Harlem Shake:

About Baauer

The 23 year old Harry Rodrigues, or Baauer, was born in West Philadelphia. As a kid, Baauer had to move around due to his father’s job. He lived in Germany from the age of 4 to 7, then to London from the age of 7 to 13. He moved to New York in 2007 to attend the City College in audio technology major.

He changed his DJ name from Captain Harry to Baauer about a year ago. In his interview with the Daily Beast, he explained “Bauer is my middle name. I threw another ‘a’ in there to spice it up a little bit. Also, there’s an ice hockey equipment company called Bauer. And I’m also more than happy to be associated with Jack Bauer.

Click here to see the Baauwer’s online Q&A session on Reddit.


Harry "Baauer" Rodrigues

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