According to Billboard, as of last week the Harlem Shake has had a combined view of 30 million+ on YouTube. It’s the latest viral hit to succeed Psy’s Gangnum Style. Everyone from UCLA to Facebook employees and Obama have created their own versions of the Harlem Shake.
Why is it so popular? At its core, the Harlem Shake is an extended 30 second video meme. As Josh Constine explains, “A five-minute video? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Not to watch one, or to make one. But Harlem Shake dance videos are capped at 30 seconds. That’s why we’re so willing to watch just one more incarnation, and why it’s easy to recruit friends to make them.”
He even goes on to break down the video into a formula:
[14T x (A1 + V1)] => Δ => [14T x (A2 + V2)] => [2T x (A3+V3)]
[14 seconds of (build-up music) played as (one person passively dances while others linger around them motionless)] then an instant video cut to [14 seconds of (bombastic dance music) played as (many people dance aggressively)] then [2 seconds of (a slurring sound) and (slow-motion video of the aggressive dancing)]
As daunting as it looks, the formula is easy to replicate, requires little video production skill, and allows anyone to participate and create their own version. All are important key factors that have lead to its viral nature.
Video memes are not new. They’ve been around for sometime, but have been gaining a lot more attention lately. Most notably with Twitter’s recent acquisition of Vine, reportedly the company's largest to date. Vine allows users to record videos (up to 6 seconds long) and is also easy to replicate. Some have even predicted that Vine will be as revolutionary as Twitter. Others have touted it as the next Instagram. It will be interesting to see how videos memes will evolve and how brands and marketers will use them. If the Harlem Shake is any indication, it’s clear there is captive audience willing to engage and participate. Will Vine help lead the way?