Internetting: The Harlem Shake (updated)

So I spend a lot of time poking around the Internet*, looking for interesting things to share both for my job and…to kill time. I thought I might as well share some of my learning, in case you have, like, real things to do all day and don’t have LITERALLY HOURS to waste. Let me share my knowledge! It will let me pretend that I was just doing research for a great blog post. Like when I worked in an ad agency and we had to track all of our hours in the day, and I always had a little “1OFFICE-08” and called it “New Media Research” which was obviously just me checking Facebook and Twitter for anything that would make me smile and lift me out of the hell hole that was creating junk mail to trick old people into buying Medicare insurance. Which is LITERALLY what I got paid to do all day.

In this edition, I give you a brief summary of the Harlem Shake. You’ve probably already come across it as it’s nearly impossible to avoid these days, but if you’re like me (until quite recently) you’ve been wary of watching any of the videos lest you get sucked into what seems to be a never-ending vortex of a time sink.


Apparently there’s a real dance called the Harlem Shake that’s been around since the 90s (you can even learn it, from a man who clearly hates that his life has come to teaching people how to sway their shoulders back and forth). Then there was a song by the same name recently, which honestly I haven’t heard more than the first 30 seconds of (and you really don’t need to either). The real business started when someone made a 30-second video set to this song that is a little weird and a little surprising (I think this is the first version but who knows):

And then the Internet was all, “ZOMG THAT’S THE BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN.” And now there are over 100,000 YouTube videos based on this formula. It’s kind of unique in a world of never-ending memes and calls for “someone should make a Tumblr about [thing],” in that people are generating their own content rather than just slapping some text on a picture à la One Does Not Simply Blank into Blank or Grumpy Cat.

Notable versions

Why are there so many versions? Why is everyone participating? I have no idea. But it probably has something to do with the simplicity of the formula: one person is gently dancing among a seemingly non-responsive group, likely with head covered by a helmet or mask, then suddenly everyone is dancing ALL CRAZY and then RAWR it’s over.

I like the guy to the right who’s punching a giraffe in the face. It’s a like a post-modern commentary on…something.

It’s dumb, but the more versions I see the more I kind of love it. The element of surprise is there for every new version, and there still seems to be room for new takes on the formula. Like groups of people you wouldn’t expect to be down with the shake:

I love the commitment from the guy who falls out of a window on the right, but my favorites here are the sleeping-bag worms.

Or a place you wouldn’t expect to see folks a-shakin’:

I like to think this occurred during their weekly Thursday afternoon underwater tea parties.

I find myself getting really nervous right before the first “And do the Harlem Shake” because I’m like, “OH GOD WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN.” And I’m rarely disappointed.

You know there are some people around the top who are just like, The fuck?

And finally, you can just turn it on it’s head in this brilliant version from The Daily Show.

There’s a guy on the left who appears to be putting in eye drops.

And now you’re all caught up on the Harlem Shake and can make your own, or just feel superior to everyone who doesn’t get it yet. I’ve already seen obituaries for the Harlem Shake, so maybe it’s on its way out but I think it will stick with us for a little while longer. What do you think–funny, stupid, confusing? Any great versions I’ve missed?


I just found this video and I think it wins at the Internet.

*Richard has dubbed this “Internetting,” as in, “Man I was Internetting so hard today.” And I like it. Put it in the Urban Dictionary. But DEAR GOD don’t go browsing around there, because you might see something you can’t unsee. Like the 1st definition of a pudding cup. I SAW IT ONCE, and now my personal crusade is for the world to join me in my horror.


  • Aubrey says:

    When I heard about the Harlem Shake, I kept thinking, isn’t that a dance move my younger sister was really good at back in the day and I was jealous of her skillz?

    I still don’t get this video craze, but unlike the Call Me Maybe or Gangnam Style parodies, these only last 30 seconds. So it’s less time wasted if one of them sucks.

    This post was fantastic. I totally needed this explanation because this had me all confused!

  • jtal says:

    Yeah, it’s very odd that it’s so popular, but the 30-sec time limit definitely helps.

  • Alison says:

    Love the sleeping bag worms. LOL

Leave a Reply