Baauer's dumb-dance-inducing track shot to No. 1 after Billboard changed its charts equation. But in mining success from silliness, "Harlem Shake" is as much a throwback as a sign of the times.
It was a fantastic run, wasn't it?
As a weary nation ices down previously unflailed muscles, Baauer's "Harlem Shake" enjoys a third (and most likely final) week atop the Billboard Hot 100. The infamous first beneficiary of Billboard's incorporation of YouTube streams into its chart formula, "Harlem Shake" achieved what viral curiosities "Friday," "Chocolate Rain," and "Pants on the Ground" could not: industry validation.
Though not a novelty song in execution (as detailed in a Billboard cover story, "Harlem Shake" is a legit dance tune, with pre-viral endorsements from electronic/hip-hop heavyweights), YouTube's fearsome powers will prevent anyone from ever hearing "con los terroristas" as anything other than an incitement to silliness.
But the reaction hasn't been entirely as giddy as the song. Set aside questions of appropriation: In giving consideration to videos that don't originate with the artist, is Billboard ushering in a new era of novelty songs? Some believe so, and they're not thrilled. In a Slate conversation between Jody Rosen and chart oracle Chris Molanphy, Rosen noted that "I ride hard for novelty songs—but if, suddenly, all our big hits are goofy YouTube-incubated one-offs, the novelty song will cease to be novel... I don't want to outsource all my No. 1 hits to Joe Schmo and his laptop camera. My populism only runs so deep." On Ben Ratliff's New York Times Popcast, Jon Caramanica pondered the mutable nature of that No. 1 spot: "What does Number One mean? Is it a place you land at after a lot of work, or a place you dive off of after a short time?" Pop-production titan Claude Kelly—the man who co-wrote Jessie J's "Price Tag"—waxed warily on Twitter: "just nervous it'll open the floodgates to trivial 'hits' that are driven by image and not content."