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Irony of Harlem Shake Viral Videos: No One is Actually Doing ‘The Harlem Shake’

Since the beginning of February, people have been sharing 30-second videos soundtracked by Baauer’s track “Harlem Shake” at an astonishing rate. Reportedly, as many as 4,000 videos have been uploaded in a single day, and in two weeks, more than 12,000 videos have been created, generating more than 44 million total views. In a “Harlem Shake” video, a person, usually masked, thrusts along with the music while others mundanely go about their day-to-day. Then, when the *drop* drops, action explodes: people change costumes, remove their shirts and generally lose it.

Whose idea was the “Harlem Shake” video in the first place?

Filthy Frank, a 19-year-old currently studying communications in New York who has about 13,000 subscribers on YouTube. Reached by phone, he explained the genesis of his “Harlem Shake” video, the one that started it all. “I was in a room with a few people. One of my friends was just playing the song on the speakers and I asked what [it was], and it just happened to be ‘Harlem Shake.’ As soon as the drop of the song came, we just started going crazy. We thought, well, we could turn this in to something good.” Frank started making videos as a hobby when he was 12, and sounds almost disappointed that this particular video, which he says took about three days to inspire more successful imitators, was the one to leave such a mark. “I guess I’m proud [of starting the meme]. It’s a shame, that was probably the video I put the least amount of work into. [But] I’m very happy it got that kind of exposure. I think I got just enough credit. At first I was upset, like, what’s going on, I made this. I already had a fan base before, as Filthy Frank, and [my followers] were concerned that I was gonna hit the mainstream big time. They were upset about me going viral. I realized not getting that much publicity was better ’cause I have a dedicated cult following, and I would lose their respect.” Frank wasn’t a big Baauer fan before making his video, and says he still isn’t. “That was probably the first song I’d heard by Baauer,” he said. “I listen to a lot of hip-hop and a lot of jazz. I’m not really into music like Baauer’s, I just thought that song was cool.”

Who is Baauer?



Baauer, born Harry Rodrigues, is a 23-year-old Brooklyn-based producer. He spent time living in London, as a tween he aspired to be a turntablist, later he DJed house records and started making house tracks on Reason. A couple years ago, he says, “I tried out making a hip-hop song one time after sucking at making house music for a long time…it felt really natural. I really liked cutting up sample and trying to vary hip-hop beats.” He posted “two pages” of Soundcloud tracks before Rustie featured “Harlem Shake” on his popular BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix last April; in May, Mad Decent imprint Jefrees released “Harlem Shake” as a single. For all his sample-snipping and interest in rap beats, Baauer’s become associated with what’s been called “trap” music, a style of production similar to mainstream EDM, which mixes dubstep drops with rap’s artillery fire drum programming. The sub-genre spread in 2012 thanks to artists like Baauer, TNGHT and Flosstradamus, labels like Jefrees and various music outlets. Much has been written exploring the origin and impact of last year’s crop of “trap” producers; for more, start with Miles Raymer’s feature for the Chicago Reader and David Drake’s article for Complex.

But isn’t the Harlem Shake already a dance? Why isn’t anyone in the videos doing it?

It is, and it’s hard to say. The original Harlem Shake rose to prominence in music videos throughout the ’90s and early ’00s, notably G-Dep’s “Let’s Get It.” In 2003, Al B, a fixture around Harlem’s Rucker Park playground, took credit for inventing the dance. He said he started shaking in the early ’80s, mimicking the shakes of alcoholics, and that the dance was first called “the albee,” after his name. He claimed the Harlem Shake’s origins were ancient.” That’s what the mummies used to do,” he told Inside Hoops. “They was all wrapped up and taped up. So they couldn’t really move, all they could do was shake.” Some say Al B’s dance traces back to Eskista, a dance originated in Northeast Africa. But, as Harlem residents have expressed, there’s no good reason why the stars of popular “Harlem Shake” videos aren’t doing the actual Harlem Shake. Actor and amateur filmmaker Chris McGuire screened “Harlem Shake” videos on 125th street and asked passersby what they thought. The general consensus, as communicated by the McGuire’s February 18th video? “That’s not the shake, B.”

Read more: TheFader

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