The Astonishing Rise and Rise of The Harlem Shake.

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Collectively these videos may end up dwarfing Gangnam Style. At one stage last month new versions were being uploaded at a rate of 4000 per day. There’s every niche and sub-niche covered. You want walruses and sealions? You got ‘em.

We’ve seen the Norwegian Army get involved, Wieden’s in Portland, Channel 4 and even my in-laws were persuaded to bogle with traffic cones on their heads in a charity shop while the manager’s back was turned.

It all started in Queensland, Australia with 5 teenagers in morph suits. And it has blown up beyond all comprehension. They may get some fame – even some girls – but it’ll be interesting to see if they can monetize this monster. Could they ever repeat it? The odds say No.

Vine-intolerant

Ironically it exploded at the same time another short-form video format launched – Vine. Unfortunately Vine seems too inflexible to carry this type of execution so it’s been bypassed. Shame – what a way to launch yourself – with a pop culture phenomenon that will no doubt feature in everyone’s end of year round-up of 2013.

The mutating meme

What’s interesting is that this meme is evolving. The rules are gradually changing and right now these are the ingredients one needs to make your own Harlem Shake:

  • one lone shaker with optional but preferred helmet on
  • several bystanders who look unaware or uninterested in the activities of the lone shaker
  • when the bass drops there’s a hard cut right on the beat and the locked off shot switches to the same same scene but with everyone in fancy dress going batshit crazy
  • optional: a lone person standing still in the midst of all the lunacy
  • the last second switches to slow motion to match the low time-stretched lion roar in the song

There’s even a site that will turn any other site into a living breathing Harlem Shake:

Try your own at http://hsmaker.com

Inevitably the early-adopters are already disowning this phenomenon now the squares have caught onto it. And no doubt it’s jumped the shark when mainstream TV stations do their own versions.

Douglas Rushkoff, author of “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now” says, “Something like this stands in for the centralized broadcast spectacle. It’s interactive, in that people actually *make* one of these things. And being in one, or knowing people who are in one, or even just knowing this phenomenon exists *when it’s happening* is a form of connection. In some ways, the brevity of the fad makes it all the more tempting to participate in. It’s going to be over so soon that you want to get in on it before it’s not cool any more.”

If you didn’t make your own within a fortnight of the first you missed the credibility boat – unless you bring an Earth-shattering twist to the format.

Goodby Silverstein + Partners have released their own gentle backlash video – a charming swipe at other agencies that jumped on the bandwagon. Their message: we’re in the business of creating cultural phenomena, not straight-up mimicry.

However, you have to wonder how it blew up so big so fast? And could a brand ever pull it off? Cadbury’s have perhaps come the closest with “Gorilla” and “Eyebrows”. Consumers are no mugs, which is why they’ll resist any prompting from us to spread overt brand messaging on our behalves.

5 factors that made Harlem Shake go BOOM!

  1. Here’s the thing. It’s not even a great song. Released for free in the summer last year it’s highly repetitive and doesn’t really go anywhere. It does however work very well in this 15 + 15 second UGC format. The crescendo building to the bass drop just underlines that sense of anticipation, waiting for all hell to break loose.
  2. It’s stupidly easy to make your own. People are uploading their own versions at an astonishing rate. And is it any wonder? You need a cameraphone, 2 shots, enough people willing to make idiots of themselves (seemingly no shortage) and the track. You can even put this together on YouTube when you upload it – no need for any editing software. I managed using my phone and nothing else.
  3. The joy of it comes from the anticipation and the explosion of unfettered WTF anarchy when the bass drops. You could watch each one over and over and see something new to LOL at every time. There’s a man in a bra standing completely still, there’s the account guy for Nike on a trike, there’s my sister-in-law with a lampshade on her head.
  4. With so many versions out there, it reaches a critical mass where mainstream media gets hold of it and adds more fuel to the fire, so even the luddites get to hear about it.
  5. It’s funny and there’s a constant supply with something for everyone. Not in an intellectual or cerebral way. It’s an outlet for puerile, infantile stupidity that connects with our inner 10 year-old. A pleasure that gets more guilty as we get older.

Gay abandon finally found an acceptable outlet. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

So you can sing along at home, here are the lyrics in full:

 

Con los terroristas

(Do the Harlem Shake)

Con los terroristas

Ey

Ey

Ey

Ey

Ey

Ey

Con los terroristas

Ey

Con los terroristas

Ey

Ey

This post originally appeared on the DLKW Lowe blog

Comments

Slightly embarrassed and slightly proud to have gotten my client, Boulder's Yoga Loft, to do one of these. ...Good sports.

And hell, mainly psyched to see just now that it ranks #1 in Google for "pee wee herman harlem shake." :-)

http://www.yogaloftboulder.com/blog/harlem-shake-yoga-loft-style

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