The Origin of “The Harlem Shake” Viral Videos

The Daily Beast has a piece/interview with the man who made “The Harlem Shake” a viral sensation, a DJ named Baauer:

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 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.

The first video was uploaded to YouTube by amateur comedian Filthy Frank on February 2. As of February 15, over 40,000 “Harlem Shake” videos have been uploaded to YouTube, totaling over 175 million views. The cast of the TODAYshowThe Daily Show and The Colbert Report, this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, and even a battalion of the Norwegian Army have gotten in on the act.

It’s Friday, February 15, and I am huddled with Baauer in a tiny bathroom inside the green room of Webster Hall, a 1,500-capacity venue in Manhattan. It’s the only place where we can find some peace and quiet for his first interview since the song went viral. The night also marks Baauer’s first show in his adopted home of New York since the song exploded. It is, predictably, very sold-out.

“It’s gotten absolutely insane,” he says. “All I did was make the song so it’s kind of a weird place for me to be at. I birthed it, it was raised by others, and now it’s like my weird, fucked up adopted teenage kid coming back to me.” 

Baauer, 23, is a tall, slight fella with a boyish face and big, goofy smile. He was born Harry Rodrigues in West Philadelphia, but moved around a lot when he was younger due to his father’s job as “a financial consultant for international companies.” He lived in Germany from age four to seven, then London from seven to 13, then to Connecticut from 13-17, then one more year in London before heading off to college in New York.

Says Baauer:

“I just had the idea of taking a Dutch house squeaky-high synth and putting it over a hip-hop track,” he says. “And then I tried to just make it the most stand-out, flashy track that would get anyone’s attention, so put as many sounds and weird shit in there as I could. The dude in the beginning I got somewhere off the Internet, I don’t even know where, and the lion roar just makes no sense.” He laughs. “There’s the sound of flames in there, too, it’s just really low.”

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