In Defense of The Harlem Shake


Gangham Style is dead, right? It’s gotta be dead. The last time I heard anything about the K-Pop single, Duluth mayor Don Ness was dancing alone in his office. When a dorky Minnesota public official gyrates to a tired YouTube tune, it’s called pop culture cremation. R.I.P. Gangham. Join the Macarena in confusing our ancestors.

Now we have the Harlem Shake… I hope Don Ness starts gyrating soon…

Pop culture assassin.

Pop culture assassin.

I take that back. “Gyrating” conveys a sort of rhythmic movement, which requires some sort of torso skill in order to achieve. If Don Ness wanted to “do the Harlem Shake,” all he needs to do is wear a mask and get attacked by bees. Edit out the swarm, and voila, le Harlem Shake.

Let me try to explain more thoroughly, so Minnesota mayors can be fully informed. Each one of these videos begins with a pile of Goodwill garb going berserk amongst disinterested strangers. For 15 seconds, the “awkwardness” continues and the “disinterested strangers” attempt to hold in their giggles. It’s like, so totally good.

At the 15 second mark, the singer (Baauer, a man everyone forgets) bellows “Do the Harlem Shake” through an electronic bass guitar while warping the Price is Right fail sound.

WUB wub wub-wub, POaow...

WUB wub wub-wub, POaow…

At this point, the camera cuts and EVERYONE is dressed (or, if college males, undressed) like lunatics and wigging the hell out. Imagine a parade of time-traveling cripples being riddled with tommy guns bullets. Or a bunch of drunk koalas falling off a carousel. Or America’s Got Talent contestants.

The wigging continues for another 15 seconds, and the video ends. Totally worth it, and you can watch roughly 120,000 hours of it. At hour 180,000, you just get so tired of it, ya know?

Now most of the people who bemoan the Harlem Shake cite the ease with which it’s duplicated. It isn’t like Gangham Style, which took a bit of dancing skill. It takes no amount of ingenuity or cleverness, and you can’t do much with it outside of tired imitation. It’s just a simple formula that’s kinda stupid the first time, and worse with each subsequent viewing. But in the end, the critics say it’s just too damn easy.

And that’s really stupid.

Unlike this, obviously.

Unlike this, obviously.

As blogger Aaron Paul puts it, “The 30-second format of the traditional Harlem Shake video and the ‘required elements’ makes for a sort of visual poetry… A good Harlem Shake video is more than just the duplication of dance moves; it’s high order choreography that relies on people, place and theme.”

Paul compares these videos to Haiku. And think about it, it’s just a form of art (used very loosely here) that relies on a prescribed format. Gangham Style videos could be anything, but every Harlem Shake video is pretty much the same. This fad is thousands of YouTube users across the world playing into the same format, the same style. It’s only possible in the internet age, and it’s kinda neat for that fact alone.

“A lot of Harlem Shake videos are boring and repetitive,” Paul asserts. “Good ones stand out.”

Is this what you mean? Ah, "good" = loosely, I understand.

Is this what you mean? Ah, “good” = loosely, I understand.

Sure, it’s still kinda boring. And don’t get me wrong, the Harlem Shake will never be as interesting as the cultural anomaly called Gangham. But this is internet poetry in all it’s (loose) glory. It’s like an in-joke that everyone gets, which makes it both cheap and kinda admirable. Weirdly.

Now Don... please...

Now Don… please…

But seriously, the Minnesota Timberwolves have already heralded the death of the Harlem Shake. Go Minnesota, I salute you.


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