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UniLife column: The Harlem Shake

I just spent approximately 79 minutes on YouTube (not unusual). Listening to the same song (slightly less usual). And no, it wasn’t the latest chart topper from 1D (guilty pleasures aside), it was something much more catchy…yet mysterious. It’s being hailed as the next Gangnam Style, with the dance phenomena spreading across the globe faster than Taylor Swift making her way through Hollywood bachelors. They call it the Harlem Shake.

After just getting back from an overseas trip, I thought I really ought to educate myself on what I’d missed out on over the past few months. The ‘Harlem Shake’ instructed the internet. So I went forth, in good faith, opening up that YouTube window with a combination of intrigue and trepidation. But 79 minutes and a litre of Pepsi Max later, I still don’t understand what this meme actually is. Nor do I understand exactly how to ‘do the Harlem Shake’? There’s flailing, there’s thrusting, there’s a good amount of water sprinklering, all starting with one person dancing seemingly unnoticed, before the bass drops and BAM the dancing is on like Donkey Kong (did I just say that?).

Returning to good friend Internet, he informed me that it all started about a month ago, when user (slash comedian slash vlogger), Filthy Frank, uploaded a vid of 4 guys in morph suits (well, one of them is a Power Ranger) jivin’ to Harlem Shake by American DJ Baauer. Currently it has a casual 25 million hits.

But 5 skateboarders from Brisbane (going under the name TheSunnyCoastSkate) have been credited for boosting its popularity even further, beginning with a thrusting Stig lookalike, and soon descending into arm-waving, wall-dancing, red undies dance madness.

It’s got over 18 million views, at time of writing. Not exactly sure where this stat is from, but an update under their original video states that: “as of 15 February 2013, over 40,000 spinoffs of the TSCS meme have been uploaded to YouTube, generating a staggering 175 million views!”

And some of these spinoffs have become viral sensations of their own. Harlem Shake (Pool Party edition) has nearly 2 million hits, ‘office edition’ has over 22 million, and the ‘original army edition’clocks in at a ridiculous 35 million. Other personal favourites that I stumbled across include the Nintendo version, Grandma edition and Sea World San Antonio’s attempt – it’s got a walrus, two sea lions AND a guy in a long blonde wig doing the running man, so clearly a winner in my book.

It’s infiltrating Adelaide too, with Fringe venue The Depot recently hosting a Harlem Shake event. Although it couldn’t quite rival Austin’s University of Texas hosting a huge Shake-athon, and proving everything is bigger in…well, you know. And then there’s the celebrities – model du jour Cara Delevinge has been seen ‘doing it’ at a show during London Fashion Week, alongside fellow pretty people Jourdan Dunn and Rosie Tapner, Azealia Banks’ remix of the track (subsequently taken down because Mr Baauer didn’t like, and causing a Twitter feud), and Ryan Seacrest shaking his thang with Kylie and Kendall Jenner in a radio studio (oh, and some kind of green dinosaur).

It’s a viral sensation yes, but the jury’s still out on whether it’s better than something like Thriller, which is still getting performed by crowds decades on (most recently those prison inmates clearly making good use of their rec time; or my favourite, Jennifer Garner’s rendition in Suddenly 30…each to their own). Is it really the next Gangnam Style? Although the views don’t quite reach the 286 mil that PSY can boast, it’s pretty good for 4 guys webcamming themselves jumping violently in a tiny room, or some Brissy skaters.

Unlike MJ or our fave Korean, there doesn’t seem to be a set of moves to the dance we can all learn and then perform perfectly in sync (or think we can perform, 4 ciders into the night). But is this the point – a free for all, where you can just let out your inner dag? A dance combining all dances, and leaving judgment at the door? Is the Harlem Shake the dance of Kings, the one dance to rule them all? Okay, maybe that’s a bit far. But I think I’m a convert, although even after getting this all out on paper (aka Word) I’m still not sure I understand it.

That said, I don’t really care. It’s a wonderful free-for-all, in my book. If other people can do the worm in a sleeping bag on YouTube and not be socially ostracized, I think that’s brilliant. I also think this gives me license to flail my arms wildly in a banana suit without a care in the world. So I’m going to get amongst it, embrace the terrible dancer within and possibly drive off any male suitors within a 100 metre radius. Thank you Bauuer, for creating the most ambiguous dance song in a long time, and allowing the uncoordinated amongst us a chance to rule the dance floor.

I really wanted to sign off with a tiger roar, but I’m not exactly sure how to spell that.


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