Why Has the Harlem Shake Gone Viral?

The Harlem Shake is a series of viral Youtube videos that features one man or woman standing in the middle of a setting with various bored/nonchalant bystanders (in the case of this one, it’s a subway car full of startled passengers.) Halfway through the song, at the climactic peak, the video “smash cut(s) to the entire room going nuts in the most ridiculous ways possible.” Thank you, Mashable’s extensive research into the first viral hit of 2013. Students have done it, firefighters have done it. Even T-Pain’s done it.

Now that we know how it has progressed to its viral peak, I have to ask why? Why is the premise so popular?

Mashable themselves gave a hypothesis: “The videos are so short, you can easily consume a dozen of them in a ten-minute lunch break.”

My guess is that it’s also because so many new videos are being uploaded, there is fresh content to see almost daily. And, because the premise is simple and silly, more people are willing to spend a bit of time creating them.

Have you heard it, though? The beat is so grating to the ears and nerves that it’s almost calming to be released from the pain of its driving force.

This may sound terribly old of me to ask but, is this what they call EDM?

Electronic Dance Music, what I once associated with musicians like Nine Inch Nails (industrial), Depeche Mode, Massive Attack, Tiesto and Paul Oakenfold.

Now it’s associated with strange man-child-android hybrids named things like Skrillex and Dangermou5. Dangermou-five? Is that how you say it?

I’m being facetious, but I only ask this because it feels like popular music sometimes swings into this noisy mess that I can’t relate to. It happened when I was a child and grunge came out. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the true genius out of musicians like Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain, Bradley Nowell or, hell, even Billy Armstrong (although I do remember jumping like a gleeful punk to “When I Come Around” at the age of ten).

So perhaps this is the point at which I come to a startling conclusion: maybe I’ll “get” Skrillex when I’m older and wiser?

I won’t get the Harlem Shake videos, though. It’s just too weird and strange for me. Maybe I didn’t go to the right raves when I was growing up.

Who am I kidding? I didn’t go to any raves when I was growing up.

Update, Sunday, February 17th: Professional music geek Alan Cross also agrees with me. I contacted him to ask his opinion on the Harlem Shake and his response was succinct: “I don’t get it, either. I’m purposely ignoring it.” Thanks, Alan!

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12 thoughts on “Why Has the Harlem Shake Gone Viral?

  1. cantaloupe February 17, 2013 at 11:49 am Reply

    I saw Tiesto and Deadmau5 in concert awhile back and if I’d been sober, I definitely would not have have enjoyed it as much. But I do enjoy the drops in songs like that. Which is the moment in which the song suddenly gets easier to dance to, haha. And that’s what the Harlem Shake is about.

    • Olga February 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm Reply

      Fair enough. I enjoy the rise and fall of electronic music, too. Especially for dancing! But, sadly, I just think EDM has now turning into so much noise without any distinction. It’s actually grating to my ears. 😦

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, btw!

  2. eemusings February 17, 2013 at 6:58 pm Reply

    I don’t understand it at all, either! The music’s awful and the dance is just weird. Funny to watch though.

    I like grunge. I don’t like electronic music however and I rue the rise of dubstep.

    • Olga February 17, 2013 at 7:26 pm Reply

      Aha! That’s another reason it’s so popular: it’s funny. In retrospect, that’s a reason that probably drives a fair amount of traffic to Youtube.

      As a lover of electronic music, I think of dubstep as a noisy child who’s looking for attention. No pizza for dinner tonight? Fine, I’ll shave HALF my head.

  3. Manda February 17, 2013 at 7:44 pm Reply

    The Harlem Shake mystifies me. I watched the Youtube video you linked… and I still don’t get the appeal. Does that mean I’m getting too old for my own good? 😛

    • Olga February 17, 2013 at 8:02 pm Reply

      Manda, I think that means we’re BOTH getting too old for our own good! 😛

      Thank you for the link love. And…haven’t I seen you from somewhere before? Maybe TFL? 🙂

      • Manda February 17, 2013 at 9:38 pm

        Yep, that’s me! I found your link while going through my RSS reader – it’s good to “see” you again! How’ve you been?!

      • Olga February 17, 2013 at 10:28 pm

        Amazing! It’s good to “see” you again as well. 🙂

        I’m doing well, thanks. How about yourself? I remember you lived in HK, but now you’re in DC? How’s that treating you? I’ve always wanted to visit the city.

  4. […] Online I’ve heard a ton of buzz about the Harlem Shake but hadn’t the faintest idea what it was or why it was so popular. Olga helps explain why the Harlem Shake has gone viral. […]

  5. metamorphocity February 19, 2013 at 10:00 am Reply

    You know, having read this, I feel pretty content to not bother watching any of the videos. Someone tried to get a bunch of my friends to film our own version of it at a party on the weekend and they were just incensed at the number of us who had no idea what it was and just didn’t particularly care to learn. Actually, THAT was pretty entertaining. Heh.

  6. m.neil February 20, 2013 at 4:58 am Reply

    It’s not your age or the fact that you don’t get it … don’t ever question your position in life based on a bunch of retards trying to dance to incoherent so called music… it also means you hold onto individuality very well by not following other retards copying the first retards in the first place…

    • Olga February 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm Reply

      Fair enough! Thank you for the reassurance. 🙂

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