In the past couple of weeks, a new YouTube trend has emerged: The Harlem Shake. These dance videos, which are an amazing example of surrealism infiltrating pop culture, can’t really be properly explained so, if you’re not already acquainted with them, go plug “Harlem Shake” into the YouTube search bar and watch a few.
Got it? Alright, good.
Because the trend is spreading almost exclusively through YouTube, some people are comparing it to “Gangnam Style.” These people are wrong and, also, not particularly bright.
“Gangnam Style” was a professionally produced video with a super catchy pop song behind it, and the dance craze it spawned was featured in the video itself. Psy wasn’t just along for the ride when the Internet found his music; he did all the legwork and we were just smart enough to recognize it. Baauer, on the other hand, seems to have absolutely no involvement with the “Harlem Shake” phenomenon. The format and timing of the meme seem to have grown organically out of multiple Internet videos and none of them feature a single dance or attribute that would be identifiable outside of the video. You can take the horsey dance out of “Gangnam Style” and everyone knows what you’re doing. If you start flailing around in public while wearing a storm trooper mask, everyone’s going to look at you like you’re nuts.*
The only reason these two songs or trends are spoken of in the same breath is because both of them achieved popularity on the Internet and there are still enough older people examining cultural trends that they think this is somehow noteworthy or unusual. In our current reality, a song becoming popular through YouTube isn’t any stranger than a song becoming popular on the radio two or three decades ago. It’s just that, now, we have the chance to take these songs and make them our own. We can make our own videos, remix them the way we want, and share them, ourselves, globally, in a way that wasn’t possible before. That’s also not limited to “Gangnam Style” or “Harlem Shake;” it’s just how things work now–not only in music, but in everything. The remarkable thing here is not that two different songs achieved fame through the Internet, but that we’re still talking about “the Internet” or “YouTube” as though they’re some wildly new and different form of media.
Finally, this should also be proof that loosening up on copyright restrictions isn’t a death knell for artists. Baauer is credited on every one of those “Harlem Shake” videos. He may not have control over what people are doing with his song, but he’s sure as hell going to reap the benefits of letting them use it however they like.
*Although I have thought of making “Harlem Shake” my ringtone just to see who would go with it when the beat dropped.
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