One thing we can always count on to make the internet a slightly more horrible place is viral dance videos. It's a remarkably dependable feature of the web. For the past few weeks that viral dance video has been the "Harlem Shake," in which a single person does a dance move that is not the actual "Harlem Shake" (but which often looks similar, at least at first, to "the Bernie," another viral dance craze) to a song that is called "Harlem Shake," until the beat drops, at which point the single person who is not doing the actual "Harlem Shake" is joined by a whole gaggle of people not doing the actual "Harlem Shake."
The track that inspired all this is Baauer's "Harlem Shake," and the origin of the title is unclear. We did put in a call to the producer's rep, though, and we'll update if there's any explanation. One thing is certain: the sample used in the beginning of the track is someone saying "con los terroristas." Even the backing track agrees. You're all terrorists.
Last week, two fairly dissimilar media outlets—the bros at College Humor and the former collegiate a cappella group members at BuzzFeed—posted their "Harlem Shake" videos, and we hoped the fad might pass with the weekend. But then it hit the sports world. Generally, it's a good indication that a viral video has gone too far—here is the original, posted Feb. 2, if you're curious—when it crosses over into sports. (Think Harvard baseball singing "Call Me Maybe.") This week alone the Phoenix Suns staff recorded an edition in their equipment store, and the folks at TSN SportsCentre recorded an edition in their offices, and the George Washington men's basketball team recorded an edition at practice, and the Dallas Mavericks recorded an edition for the JumboTron, and approximately every college baseball team in the country recorded an edition in various states of undress, and it became clear that something had to be done.
Specifically, here is what should be done: We must stop calling these godawful videos "Harlem Shake" videos, because no one in the videos is ever doing the Harlem Shake.
The actual Harlem Shake is a dance that has been danced since the '80s, when, as the legend goes, a man who goes by the handle "Al B" introduced it to the world. The dance, which is really not much more then a little side-to-side shoulder shimmy with a shake in the forearm, spread further when rappers like Jadakiss and Cam'ron included it in early-aughts music videos. And here's some great news: the actual Harlem Shake is fairly easy to do.
The video below has been passed around quite a bit recently, as people of the world struggle to understand the newest meme in their lives and how they can ruin things by further contributing to it. It's the most straightforward dummy explanation of the actual Harlem Shake out there, if you can get past the fact that it starts out with the greeting, "Hey-hey-hey, cyber land!" You can get through the basics in about 90 seconds:
That's it. Anyone can do it, though not everybody should do it. It's an accessible little shimmy, easy enough if you keep it simple. If you don't have to keep it simple, you can do things like this, and it looks awesome.
This isn't a matter of cultural appropriation. This is a matter of mistaken identity. This is like flipping around and spinning on your head and calling what you did a waltz. The Harlem Shake is perfect as it is. It doesn't require rebranding.
With this in mind, I'd like to propose a few alternative formal names for this meme:
- Not The Harlem Shake
- Not The Bernie, Either
- Mass Corniness
- The Sad Office Worker Jiggle
- Viral Dance #4,080
- The Kill The Internet Two-Step
People of the world: Continue embarrassing yourselves with viral dance videos. I have utter faith in your ability to do so, as long as the internet exists and there is music to dance badly to. But please, call this anything else. Don't call it the Harlem Shake, unless you are doing the Harlem Shake.