Just when the whole “Gangnam Style” craze had finally started to die down, yet another novelty anthem is rapidly making the transition from Internet meme to genuine chart hit. Indeed, hardly a social media page refresh goes by these days without another new link to footage of grown men and women indulging in the 30-second act known as the Harlem Shake.
Named after, but in dance terms, only very loosely related to, the art of upper body popping that was ‘developed’ by a New York alcoholic in the early 80s–and 20 years later entered the mainstream in videos by Eve (“Who’s That Girl”), Jadakiss (“Put Your Hands Up”) and G. Dep (“Let’s Get It”)–the Harlem Shake didn’t even exist as a meme when the Korean pop juggernaut was in full flow. But in the small space of two weeks, the concept has spawned over 10,000 different versions that total an astonishing 44 million views.
For those blissfully unaware of the viral hit, the routine begins when one person, usually wearing strange headgear, begins frantically dancing along to the track for 15 seconds before those who have previously ignored him join in themselves when the massive bass drop kicks in.
Confusion is already breaking out over who is actually responsible for the whole phenomenon, with comic vlogger Filthy Frank attributed to the first upload last month, but five Australian teenagers known as The Sunny Coast Skate largely credited with honing the formula.
But there’s no such debate about the man at the centre of the track itself. Previously a remixer for the likes of Nero (“Won’t You Be There”) The Prodigy (“Mindfields”) and No Doubt (“Settle Down”), Brooklyn producer Harry Rodrigues, aka Baauer, has unwittingly found himself in the midst of a global sensation with a song he originally released to little fanfare last year.
Taking its cues from the trap scene, a sound inspired by the early 00s crunk movement that’s characterised by 808s bass-lines, frenetic hi-hats and layered synths, the glitchy instrumental would undoubtedly have remained underground had it not been for its YouTube-assisted promotion. But at the time of writing, it’s become the most downloaded dance track of the year in the States, is quickly climbing the US Hot 100 and is already lodging itself in the upper reaches of the UK Top 10.
However, just like “Gangnam Style” had so far failed to be the catalyst for K-Pop’s commercial breakthrough, it’s unlikely that the Harlem Shake will encourage millions to seek out what else trap music has to offer. And although at least it’s a break from the usual culprits of Guetta, Harris and the Mafia, let’s hope that the outskirts of dance music don’t have to keep relying on such gimmicks to achieve such eminence.