The Harlem Shake: Examining a cultural phenomenon

The massive group of students explode with energy as the Harlem Shake begins.

Seannie Bryan

The massive group of students explode with energy as the Harlem Shake begins.

Zak Jones, Section Editor

The Harlem Shake. Within mere weeks this insane dance spiraled from three kids in a dorm room to larger scales like University of Georgia’s “underwater Harlem shake” and a Norwegian army drill battalion’s own rendition. It is an outright sensation.

Our own school hosted three separate Harlem Shakes in one week alone.

But what buoys this YouTube phenomenon above the rest? The dance has come a long way since its first appearance in Eve’s “Who’s that Girl” video, a name which inspired Baauer’s viral party anthem.

Answers lie in its accessibility and exclusivity. Scanning a dangerously general search on YouTube of “Harlem shake” would reveal each “edition” (many of them labeled the “best ever”) featuring a specific school, team, club, interest or army. It is a chance to take the people around you and become a part of an Internet sensation, along with the other three hundred thousand results. All you need is a room, some costumes and a strong hormonal response to a bass drop.

Compare it to the last great viral video, K-pop knockout Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” which netted the most views ever on single YouTube video. The similarly strange and exotic dance grew trite quickly. It was passed around, but just couldn’t connect with the audience.

The original Harlem shake was like a blank canvas. It didn’t give a specific form of dance, or form of anything for that matter. Just know to start with one (usually masked) party-starter, and then when the music drops, everyone goes crazy. It’s that simple. It is the job of the viewer to use other “shakes” as inspiration for their own works. It is a loose comparison to art or music, using other works to influence one’s own.

Given this creative basis along with the ease in crafting a video, it is no wonder the Harlem shake rose to the stars of online video so quickly and virally. How could one resist grabbing some friends, some capes and masks and convulsing with reckless abandon?

The 200,000 plus YouTube search results prove that you can’t.

Carlsbad High’s version of the Harlem Shake at the boys varsity basketball game