Video reaches over six million views
It usually begins in a public setting, with one masked person dancing solo to an electronic song for about 15 seconds, surrounded by other people who don’t notice or are unaware of the dancer.
Anticipation swells, and then the bass drops.
The video cuts to the crowd, wearing crazy outfits – or almost nothing – and holding strange props while doing a hyped, convulsive dance until the video abruptly ends at half a minute.
When University of Guelph students joined in on the Harlem Shake in February 2013 and followed this theme, their video gained rapid YouTube success.
“I expected about 70,000 views and we are at six million right now. It’s a lot bigger than we all expected,” said co-organizer and mechanical engineering student Scott Clumpus, noting that U of G was the first university to make a version.
Not to be confused with the original 1981 Harlem Shake dance that actually comes from Harlem, New York, the viral YouTube videos are named after the song "Harlem Shake" by electronic musician Baauer.
Similar to the past crazes of “Call Me Maybe” and “Gangnam Style” video remakes, many groups have made their own versions of the Internet meme, including a Norwegian army and firefighter edition. The organizers of the U of G Harlem Shake – including Clumpus, marketing student Christopher Brophy, and marketing and biology student Mitchell Kiernan – didn’t expect the video to have such success.
“We didn’t really have any intentions of going viral or anything,” said Clumpus. “We were just bored, and we felt like having fun.”
The three first-year students live in residence together and with a friend first made a video of the four of them dancing to the Harlem Shake in their dorm room. However, due to specific content resident assistants made them take it down soon after it went up.
They then planned the video shoot on campus. On Feb. 8, Kiernan made a Facebook group to gather as many people as they could for the next day. On Feb. 9, around 70 people showed up.
“We told everyone to do whatever you want – go crazy and dance,” said Clumpus.
And they certainly followed instructions. Students clad in everything from bikinis, lab coats, sombreros, and pink boas danced frenetically in both the opening scene in a Rozanski classroom and later at the cannon. The organizers also included the signature “winding of the toy” at the end to include some Guelph spirit in the video, which has garnered a lot of attention.
“We always encourage student engagement and are impressed with what they can accomplish in such [a] short time period,” Brenda Whiteside, associate vice-president of student affairs told the Guelph Mercury in an email. “We are surprised that the ‘shake’ has taken off the way it has.”
Like many videos that gain fame on the web, the Harlem Shake may be forgotten as soon as the next big thing arrives.
“It’s one of those trends that locks for two weeks and dies off. No one really remembers it after that,” Clumpus commented on the slowed traffic on the video’s YouTube page. Yet, Clumpus noted that the three organizers are enthusiastic about creating more content in the future.
“We’re going to try and make a few more videos because we have a lot of subscribers from this one video, but nothing related to Harlem Shake. We are going to start the next trend and see if it catches on.”
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