March 24, 2013


Ultra Now: Baauer's "Harlem Shake" Is No. 1 on Charts—But What's Next?

Photo Credit: Baauer/Facebook
Photo Credit: Baauer/Facebook

I showed up to Baauer’s set early on Saturday night at Ultra 2013, took my seat in the grass and prepared to hear the Brooklyn DJ drop an hour of aggressive trap music before ending his set with the No. 1 song in the country (for the fifth week in a row), “Harlem Shake.” The song was released in 2012 but took off in February when it became a viral Internet phenomenon, racking up over 32 million YouTube views and selling over a million digital units.

But instead of “saving the best for last” last night, Baauer dropped “Harlem Shake” mid-set, like it was no big deal. Like it wasn't the biggest thing on earth/the most viral trend of the year.

It seemed as though Baauer was hesitant to play the song. (He didn’t play it at all when he recently performed at SXSW.) He first cut off the song after the infamous "Con los terroristas" line, and the crowd erupted in boos. They wanted their "Harlem Shake"!

So Baauer started it from the beginning again and played it through this time. As anticipated, people lost their sh-t. Booties were poppin,’ light up accessories were strobing out and nearly everyone was pointing to the stage in unison as if to thank the DJ for playing their jam.

But the crowd lost interest after the first 30 seconds of the song. After all, it’s only the first 30 seconds that inspired millions of YouTubers to upload their own videos of them doing the Harlem Shake (that’s not actually the Harlem Shake).

But does anyone know the song after those initial 30 seconds? Baauer’s full “Harlem Shake” is over three minutes long. Does anyone care?

It doesn’t really seem to matter. You don’t go to Ultra expecting to hear your favorite song at the end of the night or during the encore. There’s not much of a build up. Calvin Harris, for example, also played his Rihanna-assisted smash, “We Found Love,” only 30 minutes into his set. And fellow Ultra DJ Porter Robinson explained the importance of providing the audience with something they won't expect as opposed to the same old songs: "I made some exclusive versions of my own songs that I've never played out before... When you have a big avenue like Ultra Main Stage, it makes sense to do your diligence and bring something special to the table."

EDM fans don’t care about the anticipation of hearing the hit song. They want new music but they want it now. The don’t even want the full thing—they want to hear 30 seconds of their favorite song, and then they want to hear 30 seconds of their new favorite song immediately after that. To savor something is a foreign concept. Instant gratification is the name of game.

When “Harlem Shake” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Baauer retweeted a tweet from Josh Groban who was “shaking his head” at the news: “Smh. RT @billboard Big chart news! @Baauer's "Harlem Shake" debuts atop revamped Hot 100.” He didn't exactly pat himself on the back.

By all accounts, this is Baauer’s time. Now. But even a No. 1 song doesn't seem like the right place to stop and take it all in. For EDM and its fans, even “now” doesn’t seem to be immediate enough.

So what's better than now? How about what's next?