Last week, Brooklyn beat-maker Baauer released his first new material since “Harlem Shake” made the transition from “biggest trap song in the world” to “biggest song in the world.” The new track, a remix of UK duo AlunaGeorge’s “Attracting Flies,” still retains the trap skeleton of banging low-end, repetitive vocal cuts, and a “drop,” but otherwise, it’s the most subdued song we’ve heard from Baauer in a good twelve months.
While usually partial to sounding as huge as possible, Baauer slows his roll (MDMA pun intended) with “Flies,” which sounds more Nastradamus than Flosstradamus. Is this stylistic switch-up an attempt by Baauer to shed his reputation as “the ‘Harlem Shake’ guy” by shunning his newfound audience? To answer that, we’ll have to backpedal a bit.
“Harlem Shake” is the weirdest chart-topper we’ve seen so far in the 21st Century, this side of Psy. Its only competition among other Hot 100 number ones from the last 12 and a half years are the wonky “Ms. Jackson” by Outkast and, possibly, Soulja Boy Tell’em’s ubiquitous “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy).” But while those songs were relatively left-of-center when compared with other contemporary hits (in 2001 and 2007, respectively), you’d be hard-pressed to find another hit song from any century that samples a tiger’s growl, contains only eight words, and inspired millions of fan videos.
Of course, the last 50 years of popular music have seen their fair share of weird things suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Think about 20th century music sensations like “Incense and Peppermints,” the Ferris Bueller song and “She Don’t Use Jelly”, and try to imagine how weird they sounded to the average Midwestern radio listener when they each first hit the Hot 100.
After cracking into the public’s consciousness, obscure artists with hit singles usually do to things: keep trying to top the charts, or flip a complete 180 to alienate bandwagoneers and attempt a recession back into obscurity. Followers of the first path include Strawberry Alarm Clock, who followed “Incense and Peppermints” with more of the surface-level psychedelia that went out of style faster than brown acid in the post-Woodstock world. Most artists that ride the formula of their hit songs into the ground become known as “one-hit wonders” — that is to say that a formula for a perfect pop song, like a condom, should be discarded after one use.
Then there are the In Uteros, Kid As and Pinkertons of the world, that came after groundbreaking chart toppers (Nevermind, OK Computer and the Blue Album, respectively), and left record executives reeling in the presence of much stranger, less commercially viable products. Though initially called “unlistenable,” “commercial suicide,” and/or “the third worst album of 1996,” all three are now generally held in higher critical regard than their predecessors. With great risk, it seems, comes great potential for reward.
While Baauer’s new song isn’t exactly Zaireeka in terms of weirdness, it’s most certainly not “Harlem Shake Pt. 2.” Whether trying to expand his palette or improve his legacy, Baauer seems to be doing the smart thing by not feeding his newly rabid audience more formulaic trap snacks. Don’t get us wrong, “Harlem Shake” was one of our favorite songs last summer, but it’s time now for Baauer to remove its sticky, worn-out shell, toss it in the garbage, and try out a new brand of condom.