A Meme Goes Mega-Mainstream

Feb 23 2013 @ 7:32am

Marlow Stern explains the recent dance craze:

For the uninitiated, it consists of users uploading videos to YouTube that last about thirty seconds in length and feature the opening of electronic music producer Baauer’s song “Harlem Shake.” The videos begin with the song’s sample of a man giving a shrieking siren call of “Con los terroristas!”—Columbian Spanish [sic] for “with the terrorists”—followed by one person, usually in a ridiculous mask or helmet, dancing to the song alone as the beat builds. He or she is surrounded by others who are stationary, blissfully unaware of the dancer. When the directive, Then do the Harlem shake is uttered about 15 seconds in, the bass drops and the video metastasizes into pure chaos—the entire coterie engaging in paroxysms of dance for the next 15 seconds in outrageous outfits, and wielding bizarre props.

Tim Carmody explains how Baauer, the song’s creator, is making money on the meme:

On February 14th, “Harlem Shake” first broke through to number one on iTunes’ best seller list. At the time of this writing, the iTunes charts put “Harlem Shake” at number one overall, in the US, Australia, Belgium, Canada, and Luxembourg, and in the top five in most of the rest of Europe.

Victor Luckerson runs the numbers:

Neither YouTube nor Mad Decent would confirm how much money’s been generated from clicks on Harlem Shake videos, but Goggins says he expects it to be a “considerable amount.” Past viral hits on YouTube have generated big paydays for content owners. “Gangnam Style,” the viral sensation of 2012, earned Korean pop star Psy and his handlers a reported $870,000 from YouTube ad revenue alone. The amateur YouTube classic Charlie Bit My Finger video netted Charlie’s parents more than $150,000.

The song is now at the top of the charts:

“The very definition of what it means to have a hit is ever-changing these days,” said Billboard’s Bill Werde in a statement. “The Billboard charts are the ultimate measure of success in music, and they constantly evolve to reflect these new music experiences. When the charts launched over 70 years ago, a hit was defined as selling copies of a single or generating airplay. While those avenues are still viable, one needn’t look any further than Cee Lo, Gotye, PSY or now Baauer to know that a song can be a massive hit on YouTube alone.”

Update from a reader:

If you’re going to cover this, you might want to cover the criticism. Here is Hayes Brown - who is most definitely not a left-wing “everything is racist” type – writing about a week ago on the subject. He particularly notes how this meme affects searches and our modern Internet culture. Here (also courtesy of Hayes) are some actual Harlemites reacting to the videos. It’s not positive.