The Harlem Shake – A (Not So) Scientific Analysis

According to its Wikipedia page, the ‘Harlem Shake’ internet meme emerged on February 2nd with a video uploaded to YouTube by user TheSunnyCoastSkate.  The format of the video is simple: one person (often helmeted or masked) begins dancing alone to the Baauer song “Harlem Shake” for approximately 15 seconds, while surrounding persons act disinterested or oblivious to the dancer’s odd and out-of-place antics.  Then the bass drops, and the video cuts to a mob of people dancing like crazy, often with the aid of props and the absence of clothing.

Here’s the original video that has sent the internet into a frenzy:

The popularity of these videos is largely attributed to the anticipation of the bass drop and short duration of the video itself (often not much longer than 30 seconds in length).

Over the course of the past two weeks, over 40,000 (!!!) renditions of the ‘Harlem Shake’ have been uploaded, garnering combined YouTube views in excess of 175 million!

For a snapshot of just how big the ‘Harlem Shake’ has become, check this out:

harlem shake chart

Source: youtube-trends.blogspot.com

Yes, that’s over 12,000 uploads in a single day.

The ‘Harlem Shake’ internet meme was introduced to me on Friday, February 15th.  Over the course of the past 48 hours, I’ve watched over 100 ‘Harlem Shake’ videos.  Thus, it holds that I am now a ‘Harlem Shake’ expert and connoisseur.

With that said, let’s delve into the features that make for a high quality ‘Harlem Shake’ video.


With so many people jumping aboard the ‘Harlem Shake’ train, the sheer amount of different renditions has already become a bit overwhelming.  With some videos clearly of better quality / effort / execution than others, it’s important to discern between great videos and those that merely consist of people looking for their 15 minutes 30 seconds of fame.

So what makes for a high quality video?  What features must a ‘Harlem Shake’ video contain in order to be taken seriously, and, perhaps more importantly, enjoyed by the masses?  Ultimately, I think it comes down to the following:

(1) Originality

With so many versions of the ‘Harlem Shake’ already in existence, it’s hard for single videos to stand out unless there is some aspect of originality to them.  This creativity can take many forms, from costumes to props to overall weirdness.  Here are a few videos that I think exemplify the ‘originality’ factor.

Military Style

This video is pretty phenomenal when you really take it in.

Kid-On-Top-Of-The-Fridge Style

Side note: what is the chubby kid doing with that stuffed horse?

University of Wisconsin Dorm Style – Part One

I see you, sweeping man!

University of Wisconsin Dorm Style – Part Two

Creepy overalls guy, I see you as well.

All Sorts of Awesomeness Version

Yep, that’s milk.  At least I hope it is.

(2) Authenticity

Not to be confused with originality, ‘Harlem Shake’ videos are authentic when they are believable.  This is kind of hard to explain, but videos fall short in this category in instances where people are breaking character (when they are supposed to be oblivious to the masked dancer) or when participants are clearly trying too hard to be funny / stand out.  Great ‘Harlem Shake’ videos are like a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ book.  There are a lot of things going on that combine to create an entertaining and crazy scene.  Yet, it takes some searching (and multiple views) to be able to enjoy some of the real gems.  Overall, if I can notice people unnaturally trying to draw attention to themselves, they’re doing it wrong.

(3) “Bass Drop Factor”

The most addicting part of these videos for me are the few seconds before the bass drops, where I’m wondering what the scene will look like once the video cuts to the large mob of people.  The videos that excel on this level generally contain a small number of people (including the masked dancer) in the opening 15 seconds and an absolute riot in the final 15 seconds.

That’s not to say that smaller groups of people can’t pull off a great video, but let’s be honest for a second.  Which is more entertaining / aesthetically pleasing to watch?

This?

Or THIS?

This???

(Holy shit! This video has over 14 million views?!?  That’s incredibly impressive.)

OR THIS???

Posse?

(I’ll admit, I love the dude bouncing on the ball while crushing a burrito!  Another great example of creativity.)

MOB?

(I mean, who doesn’t want to be part of this party?  Maybe Florida State students / alumni, but that’s about it.)

(4) Keep It Simple

When throwing one’s hat into the ‘Harlem Shake’ ring, it’s easy to lose sight of the original goal.  That goal is to create another 30-second version to add to the movement.  Thirty seconds.  Not one minute.  NOT THREE MINUTES.  Thirty seconds.  One of the greatest features of these videos is their short length, which allows addicts like myself get their fix without investing long periods of time.  Little videos laced with crack that keep me coming back for more.

If your ‘Harlem Shake’ video is going to stand out, it should do so in categories 1 through 3 above, but under no circumstances should it be differentiated by being longer than the rest.

Now that we’ve covered all the basics, feel free to put your stamp on history and create a ‘Harlem Shake’ video of your own.  Remember to keep in mind the examples covered above, as they are a sure-fire guide to creating a successful video.  At the very least, they will help to fast-track your way to one million YouTube views.

2 thoughts on “The Harlem Shake – A (Not So) Scientific Analysis

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