Four Lessons from “Harlem Shake”

Now that “Harlem Shake” fever has finally subsided, I think it’s instructive to ask what lessons are to be learned from the wildly popular song that created a cultural sensation. Was “Harlem Shake” just a fluke? Can its success be duplicated by someone else? As we’ve seen with just about every viral phenomenon, there is no sure-fire formula for success. But I believe “Harlem Shake” does show what can happen when an artist creates engaging content that taps into essential human wants and needs, such as our joy of dancing and social sharing.

1. There Are No Overnight Successes

The history of “Harlem Shake” is as intriguing as the phenomenon the song unleashed. For instance, did you know “Harlem Shake” had been a riding a tide of success for nearly a year before it exploded across the world?

Indeed, “Harlem Shake” began as a song recorded by American DJ Baauer and released for free by Mad Decent nearly one year ago.


Baauer never created a video for the song nor encouraged anyone to do so. The 23-year-old Baauer posted the song itself online in 2012 “just to show people.” Throughout 2012, though, without the benefit of video airplay, the song gained a popular following in the dance world. Scottish DJ Rustie featured the song for BBC Radio 1 a year ago. Diplo and Skrillex played the song in their concerts. Through months of hard work and PR representation, Baauer was creating a steady success. Of course, in February 2013, when fan-created 30-second videos of “Harlem Shake” exploded across YouTube, the song became the Internet meme we all know today, literally all over the world — which is how “Harlem Shake” immediately became more than a dance hit.

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