Harlem shake takes over Internet
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 22:02
Although the dance bears little resemblance to the 1980s dance of the same name, the “Harlem Shake” has become an Internet phenomenon.
The Harlem Shake originated in the New York City neighborhood in 1981 and has been featured in numerous hip-hop music videos since its creation, according to Time magazine, but today’s Harlem Shake, on the other hand, features people dancing to the song “Harlem Shake” by electronic music artist Baauer. The videos with the song begin one person dancing, then cut to a large group often wearing costumes or masks. Variations range from the University of Georgia’s swim team dancing underwater to Norwegian soldiers dancing in uniform.
Marketing professor Dan Freeman says the Harlem Shake’s rapid growth can be expressed in terms of the viral quotient–the number of people who pass along something divided by the number who see it.
If one person watches a video and shares it with 20 friends and half of those people share the video again, then the video would hit 10 million views after seven iterations, Freeman says so if the viral quotient is close to one, then nearly everyone who sees it will pass it along and it will spread very quickly, he says.
“It all comes down to things that resonate,” Freeman says. “I think that’s the trick—to be able to create something that will resonate with people, no matter how absurd it is.”
Junior Ahmadu Jalloh says his roommates told him about the meme, and he watched the video following his friends recommendation. He said he thinks the Harlem Shake is popular because of the ridiculous nature of the videos.
“You have people doing crazy things and that’s just hilarious,” Jalloh says. “And people actually want to do these crazy things. Once a few people do it, everyone has to do it.”
Compared to Gangnam Style, Jalloh says the meme will be more short-lived because Gangham Style was a combination of a song and video, whereas the Harlem Shake is a dance that has evolved over time.
And while initial confusion occurred when Senior Joseph Zarraga says he saw the video on Facebook about a month ago, since then, he says he has watched many Harlem Shake videos.
“To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what I was watching, you know, with the dance being so random and unexpected,” Zarraga says. “But I like how different groups did their own unique variations, like the underwater swim team one—I thought it was interesting.”
As a result, Zarraga helped organize a Harlem Shake flash mob to raise money for UDance. The dance seemed like an easy way to garner attention for the organization, he says.
The move was mostly a public relations stunt, and at the end of the day, he says the group just wanted people to know that they are college students taking part in viral videos just like other universities across the nation such as the University of Maryland, University of Virginia and University of Connecticut.
As far as the motive for the memes and imitation, Freeman says he believes viewing viral videos creates shared cultural meaning and amusement. However, imitation provides a shared experience with friends, he says.
“It’s something new and amusing to do nowadays—to be with friends and share something that you know in common, which is something that the initial sharing of videos was intended to help accomplish,” Freeman says.