This 'Harlem Shake' Meme Is About to Make a Cult Music Genre a Very Big Deal

David Wagner

A new branch of populist electronic music called "trap" has been skirting the mainstream for awhile now. Could a bunch of silly viral videos be the catalyst that makes the genre a household name?

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Considering the randomness of the "Harlem Shake" meme, it's optimal to approach these videos with as little context as possible. So before we spoil it by explaining trap music and its trajectory, just look at this thing people are doing:

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Any questions? Videos like this have been accruing hundreds of thousands of views in the last few days. And — mark our words — by the week's end, they'll pick up a few million more and launch a slew of copycat videos. There are plans to storm Times Square with a flashmob version of the Harlem Shake routine. For heaven's sake, the Buzzfeed staff already did their own version. The steps to creating your own take on the meme seem simple enough: 

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1. Put on a goofy mask. 2. Get everyone in some room to pretend like you don't exist. 3. Play Baauer's massive trap hit "Harlem Shake." 4. Do this little shimmy move that's been around forever. Do it as poorly as possible.  5. When the beat drops, everybody acts like a bunch of high schoolers on spring break in Miami.

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Voila. We don't really "get" these videos either, but a blogger at the illustrious Know Your Meme offers this helpful description of what's going on: 

These videos tend to initially show a lone masked individual dancing while others around him show indifference to the act, before cutting quickly to a scene of everyone doing assorted viral dance crazes once the song’s chorus starts. These typically include dances such as the Bernie, twerking, krumping, and several other forms of stereotypical urban dance.

The most intriguing part of this whole meme, as far as emerging music genres go, is the song uniting all the videos. "Harlem Shake" is a track by a young Brooklyn beatmaker called Baauer, one of the leading lights in a nascent electronic genre known as trap. This bold new outgrowth of EDM (electronic dance music) ranked high on the "realness" scale in our roundup of new genres from 2012, and its popularity is cresting amongst the youngsters who attend mega-raves like Ultra and Electric Daisy Carnival. You'll recognize a trap song by it's skittering hi-hats and marching band snare rolls. Also by its heavy bass drops and Southern rap samples. If Skrillex is the superstar of dubstep, then trap's starting lineup includes artists like Flosstradamus, TNGHT, RL GRIME, and UZ in addition to Baauer. 

Trap is already doing well with EDM junkies, but so far the genre hasn't crossed over into dubstep-level mainstream ubiquity. Something needs to carry it over that wall separating neo-rave culture from the listening public at large. Could this insanely popular dance video meme be that something? Already, plenty of dance music trainspotters are predicting that it is: 

Calling it now: this Harlem Shake meme is going to go viral & trap music will be completely mainstream in 6 months…

— JD Scott (@LeeHazlewood) February 7, 2013

Oh dear. It seems the "Harlem Shake" meme is going global. Brace yourself for white people dancing stupidly to Trap music.

— Simon de la Rouviere (@simondlr) February 7, 2013

Lol, ok, I'm seeing harlem shake videos pop up in all sorts of places now. Is this how trap finally becomes a thing? Because Im ok with that

— TWERKmoyed (@Dr_Nikolai) February 7, 2013