Harlem Shake

Harlem Shake‘ is a song recorded by American DJ and producer Baauer. It was released as a free digital download by Mad Decent imprint label Jeffree’s in 2012. The song incorporates samples of growling-lion sounds and Plastic Little’s 2001 song ‘Miller Time,’ specifically its line ‘then do the Harlem shake.’

In 2013, a user-submitted video set to ‘Harlem Shake’ became a viral hit on YouTube. The song features an undulating synth, harsh snares, and a mechanical bassline. It is categorized by Resident Advisor’s Andrew Ryce as a hip hop and bass song, while David Wagner of ‘The Atlantic’ describes its music as trap, a sub-genre with stylistic origins in EDM and Southern hip hop. 

Pitchfork Media’s Larry Fitzmaurice called it a ‘disorienting banger’ with an ‘irresistible appeal’ that ‘owes almost everything’ to its ‘menacing, world-smashing bassline.’ Ryce found its musical climax ‘admittedly satisfying—that is, until it resumes flailing like a novelty track,’ writing that ‘it’s not hard to see why the track is well-liked, but its snowballing ubiquity is a bit of a head-scratcher, simply because it’s not all that interesting.’

The meme videos last 30-something seconds and usually begin with one person (often helmeted or masked) dancing to the song alone for 15 seconds, surrounded by other people not paying attention or unaware of the dancing individual. When the bass drops, the video switches to the entire crowd doing a crazy convulsive dance for the next 15 seconds. The dancing style should not be confused with the original Harlem Shake dance, which originated in Harlem in 1981. Also, in the second half of the video, people often wear a minimum of clothes or crazy outfits or costumes while wielding strange props. ‘The Atlantic’ magazine declared the ‘meme murder[ed]’ when the mainstream ‘Today’ television program broadcast their version of the Harlem Shake on February 13. 2013.

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