Harlem Shake Revealed

By now, you’ve probably seen one, if not three dozen, of these on your social media feeds:

It’s the Harlem Shake, and it’s taking the Internet, and people’s goldfishian attention spans, by storm. However, as a true custodian of meme history and ‘net culture, it is my responsibility to inform the easily amused public that what you see in gyms, bars, and offices throughout America isn’t actually the Harlem Shake.

Poor, poor weepy Dawson. Bastard.

The original Shake was born in Harlem (oddly enough) in 1981. Yes, that’s right kids, before most of you (and me, for that matter) were even born. It was only a dance, though, as things like memes and 30-second Internet videos and 6-second porn clips viewable by anyone didn’t exist yet, and were just fever dreams in the mind of even the most cocaine-addled Wall Street executive’s mushy brain parts.

We’ll leave the easy cocaine joke up to you.

According to Know Your Meme:

Introduced in 1981 by a Harlem, New York City resident named “Al Bm,” the dance was initially referred to as “albee” after his name, but later became known as the Harlem Shake as its prominence grew beyond the neighborhood. The popularity of the dance reached its peak around 2001, when it was featured or referenced in songs by several New York-based hip hop artists such as Jadakiss, Cam’ron and P. Diddy.

And who doesn’t like a good Cam’ron song from 2002 every now and again?

In any case, KYM goes on to detail the most recent resuscitation of the phrase, in a Baauer (Real name: Harry Rodrigues) electrosynthdubpopstepgoatcraponica song released last August on YouTube , which was itself based on a sample from a 2001 song by a Philadelphia “party rap crew” called Plastic Little-

-*whew* Everybody still with me?

In any case, the Baauer nee´ Rodrigues song was used in the opening of a web show by a guy on YouTube, where one of his friends danced around in a Green Man suit and there was a jump cut, after which showed a large group all flopping around like fish dropped out of the sky by God.

Therein, children, lies the math of what makes these 30-second nuggets of why the aliens won’t bother with us so accessibly viral.


Our friends at TechCrunch call it a “symbiotic meme,” one that generates new versions of itself due, in part, to its simplicity. The math looks a little like this:

[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)]

– TechCrunch’s  Josh Constine

Basically, Constine is saying all viewers and potential viral video stars have to do is insert variables of their own choosing, and voila! Easily digestible crap that everyone (don’t lie to me, you know you’ve watched at least one) can view. If they don’t like it, no big deal; it’s only thirty seconds. If they get a chuckle, they may want to see the original before they recreate it to make sure they’re “getting it right.”

Kids, the correct formula is always important. Write that down.

So yes, it’s silly. Yes, it’s the popcorn of self-produced Internet videographic entertainment, not nearly on par with Jenna Marble’s opus “What Your Drunk Name Is” or the many times we’ve seen a cat nonchalantly kick its owner in the nuts.

Ultimately, though, is it evil? Memes are forever, well, their concept, in any case. If you can’t take any more of the Shake, though, remember one thing:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s