The Harlem Shake Meme Is Not The Harlem Shake

by Yesha Callahan

Let’s have a quick lesson in popular hip-hop dances from the previous decade.

This is the Harlem Shake:

Now lets have a quick lesson in popular memes that have surfaced on YouTube that involve using the name of a popular hip-hop dance from the ‘90s.

This is not the Harlem Shake:

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you may have noticed these “Harlem Shake” meme videos posted on various social media sites of people doing everything but the Harlem Shake.  According to Know Your Meme, “Harlem Shake” is the title of a 2012 bass track produced by Baauer, and although you’d expect a whole lot of Harlem Shaking to go on, that’s not always the case.

With a quick search on YouTube, you’ll notice that most of the videos seem to be done by college students, apparently college students with a lot of time on their hands. But then this happened:

I’m going to go out on a limb and ask, WWMD (what would Mase do)?  Would he refer to this as “hip-hop appropriation”?  I only ask because I see this term thrown around the Clutch comment section so often. Or are these people just cooning on YouTube, the way so many people suggested about Sweet Brown yesterday?

In any event, let the record show that this is not the Harlem Shake I know of.  Albeit, some of the videos are funny and can garner a laugh or two:

There are just others that aren’t.

I’ll sit sit back and wait for Mase to come out of hiding to show people how it’s actually done.

  • [email protected]

    ““Harlem Shake” is the title of a 2012 bass track produced by Baauer,”

    Yeah so, this is a problem. There was also a news story about it on my local news this morning (I’m now in Chicago). I’m from Harlem, born and raised, and that ain’t it. And DJ Baauer definitely ain’t make that ish up. And by the time it went mainstream via G-Dep’s “Special Delivery,” it was old in the hood. It wasn’t even called the Harlem Shake until it went mainstream…over a decade ago. It was just a dance Harlem kids did at the Skate Key and neighborhood parties.

  • Beautiful Mic

    Is the “real” Harlem Shake an adaptation of the Ethiopian traditional dance – eskista?

  • k

    perhaps they shouldnt have called it the harlem shake but that newscasters one is hilarious to me i LOL’d for real

  • Beautiful Mic

    They still tryin’ to erase us…

  • Stephanie

    WE KNOW!!!!! …that the Harlem shake isn’t the Harlem shake but people are making it too deep. Here is a post from a facebooker, which I think sums up everyone trying to be so damn politically correct… Its just fun people… have some.
    What’s “mocking” about the meme? I have no way of sussing out motive from a video but I’m thinking people are being pretty sincerely silly. I think what I like about the meme is just watching people engage in an act of pure silly pleasure.

    It seems to me that people are reacting negatively about the name and as Joe said, I think that’s a fair critique but ultimately kind of a nit-picky, purist one.

    Random people – and not just white even if they’re the majority of what I’ve seen – are taping themselves participating in a meme based on a dubstep song by a Latino producer out of Brooklyn (mis)named after a dance that originally was linked to Harlem by name.

    That sounds as quintessentially American as anything I can imagine. It’s how culture works – a constant cycle of adaptation, corruption and transformation.

    After all, isn’t the “Harlem Shake” an homage of sorts to the “Harlem Shuffle”, at least in name? Are people aware of the “actual origins” of the shake as equally aware of the shuffle?

    I know a little something about another uptown dance craze: the Latin boogaloo. The term “boogaloo” began with an early/mid-60s dance craze in the midwest, largely amongst black communities in Chicago. But once it ended up in East Harlem, it became something different, mostly made by Nuyorican kids. Many of them probably had no idea about the boogaloo’s origins in the midwest. I don’t think that cheapens the Latin boogaloo though. Nor did it means that people who were trying to dance the Latin boogaloo mocking the Chicago boogaloo if they happened to do it “wrong.”

  • TT

    I always thought Harlem Shake referred to the song not the dance. Because anyone who knows what the dance actually looks like knows that not the Harlem Shake.

  • OhPuhleezee

    I’ve been looking at them for a few weeks….they’re (most) are hilarious. Learn to pick your battles. Anybody that would get mad at this or thinks its taking something from Black people or hip hop needs to sit down and figure out what’s really important in life. They should also take at least 10 minutes to figure out wth is wrong with their life. Being anti-every damn thing does not make you “real” or an intellectual.

  • Camryn

    This is a funny lighthearted post! The videos are hilarious. I wonder where Mase is.

    I get the nuace & satire…especially about ‘appropriation’…b/c that word is damn sure thrown around these parts a lot….

    *harlem shakes out of the comment section*

  • Camryn

    Apparently you can’t take a lighthearted post. I really don’t see the author being ‘mad’ about it…jeesh..get your panties out of your ass.

  • Sasha

    I think the appropriate term for their dance is ‘The Bernie’/ off-beat twerking and acid/ ecstacy induced seizures….

  • ChicagoShake

    Couldn’t agree more with that person’s post, Stephanie

  • nona

    Um…pretty sure I know the guys in the third video. Freaky. I’m leaving now, lol.

  • OhPuhleezee

    I can surely take a lighthearted post and certainly understood the lightheartedness of this post. I made no comment about the actual post, but about the negative reaction some people have to the videos. I thought I made it clear that this was not something for people to get worked-up over. So kindly keep the location of my panties out of your head and stop looking for something to jump on. RIF

  • The Moon in the Sky.

    The Harlem Shake became a popular dance in 2001, not the 90s.

  • Clutch

    Thanks – we will update.

  • Jaslene

    I love all it. Especially Peanuts and the last one.

  • Bekah

    aaah it’s all in good fun! i enjoy the update

  • The Moon in the Sky.

    Definitely not that one.

  • Rue

    Never heard of the dance or the meme. *searches for large rock**

  • Kam

    Yeeaaah… I’ve heard it called the Suburban Seizure. I thinks that’s a better name.

  • B

    Funny. The last one is nice.

  • Niesha Gourdine

    hahahahahaha… white pple have me dyin on the floor.. toooo funny

  • Kema

    Just saw this on 106&park. Lol!

  • nikki

    they are KILLING it in the 2nd video

  • actually-

    And according to the Harlem Shake wiki (wow) it stems from 1981.

  • TajMarie

    Well, although they may not have the technique down, at least some are finally learning what a “beat” is.

  • TajMarie

    The dance between the man and woman in video 3 was impressive.


  • Anita Volpato

    The new one is funny but it still annoys me. They should have called it something else. I talked my husband into making a video of the old one “his version” it’s funny also..

  • JNoire

    Why did you have to bring it back to Skate Key?! Lol! NYC throwback.

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