the harlem shake has nothing to do with The Harlem Shake
In case you didn’t know, there’s been this viral video going around where a group of people get together and do what’s being called the “harlem shake”. When I first saw these videos, I honestly thought it was hilarious. However, I was totally confused on why it was called the Harlem Shake. The videos have absolutely nothing to do with the original “Harlem Shake” or the iconic Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem. This got me thinking. Where did this come from? How did this start?
After doing some research, I learned that these videos are all tagged “harlem shake” in reference to the song that everyone is dancing to in the video. This song comes from Harry Rodriguez better known as Baauer, 23, a music producer based here in NYC. He released the song “harlem shake” on May 22nd (my birthday) last year on the label Mad Decent. The title for the song was inspired by Plastic Little’s Miller Time which Baauer sampled for harlem shake.
Baauer has been quoted as saying, “A friend had shown me that track (Miller Time) where he says, then do the Harlem shake, and it just got stuck in my head for a while, so I used it,”
Well, let’s just say the people in Harlem aren’t very happy about it. Something tells me Baauer doesn’t have plans to perform at the Apollo.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, see my favorite harlem shake video below:
The first one of these videos was posted on YouTube just a few weeks ago on February 2nd. Crazy how fast things blow up these days. Makes you want to go film something doesn’t it?
For the record, I’m biased on this debate because I love Harlem… and would like to move out of my Hell’s Kitchen closet to my favorite part of the city later this year.
I definitely understand how they feel about this. Growing up in the DC Area, if someone were to say “Beat your Feet”, I would have a very clear understanding of what they were talking about. I can’t imagine someone creating a viral “Beat your Feet” video that had people doing a dance that did not represent the most famous dance in the Chocolate City.
In Baauer’s defense, it’s not like he created these videos.
It would have been a completely different story if Baauer came out with a music video titled Harlem Shake, and had a bunch of models wearing crazy outfits and animal heads doing seizure-like dances. Then Harlem would have come after this dude. CNN would have captured Al Sharpton standing in the bed of a truck screaming for justice to be served.
That being said, as an artist, I do question Baauer’s judgement when it comes to naming his song harlem shake. It’s one thing to tell someone to do the Harlem Shake in your song, but it’s an entirely different situation when you attach a famous city or, in this case, neighborhood to the title of your song.
Baauer is not from Harlem, he’s from West Philly.
He does not represent the culture of Harlem.
His song has absolutely nothing to do with Harlem.
There’s two perspectives you can have on this I think.
1. The popular name “Harlem Shake” has been used/”stolen” to garner attention without paying homage to the original dance, thus is disrespecting the originators and the neighborhood of Harlem.
2. The new harlem shake has breathed life back into the original dance which nobody was talking about before these new videos hit YouTube, thus creating even more exposure for the originators and the neighborhood of Harlem.
The problem with #2 is that, no one is doing the real Harlem Shake in these videos, and because of the popularity of this new song, they are re-shaping what “Harlem Shake” actually means.
Totally Biased did what I wish more people would have done and had someone actually do the Harlem Shake at the end of the video. Sadly, it takes forever now to even find the real Harlem Shake on YouTube now or even a picture on Google. It’s virtually been wiped out of existence. I mean, you really have to look for it.
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of something like this ever happening before. Where a popular dance has been taken over by another popular dance with the same exact name.
I’d love to take a poll at a middle school in say… Ohio, and ask the kids there could they do the Harlem Shake? I’m sure we all know which one they would they do.
The bigger music industry story is that Baauer and his label are making quite a bit of change according to Billboard on the 175 Million+ views these videos have received on Youtube, even though some of the samples in the song haven’t even been cleared. Baauer’s harlem shake is also now the #1 song on the iTunes Charts. This is the quintessential example of how visual media is the dominating platform for musicians. Radio is a thing of the past, and has been for years now. If you just listen to Baauer’s song on iTunes, you’ll probably get bored fairly quickly. Toss it into a 30 second video and kaboom, you’re now selling out Webster Hall.
What’s also really interesting about all of this is that the phenomenon is a pretty big deal in NYC, but most New Yorkers have never even crossed 110th street in Manhattan.
Just as many Angelenos have never taken a ride down Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. I just had a visualization of someone from North Hollywood creating a viral crip walk video, but they weren’t doing the Crip Walk.
When tourists visit New York City, Harlem usually isn’t in their itineraries, yet these same tourists would definitely know of Baauer’s harlem shake rendition. They no nothing of Harlem beyond the renaissance, movies and music and probably don’t even know there was indeed an original Harlem Shake. Unfortunately, most of world might not ever know either.
So what does all of this mean?
I don’t know. I’m sure many “experts” will continue to dissect the “harlem shake takeover” over the next few weeks, and then we’ll be talking about the next YouTube sensation.
Will it be you?