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On YouTube, Video Makes the Radio Star

With the help of major record labels, a new breed of YouTube weirdos is finding mainstream success
On YouTube, Video Makes the Radio Star

On March 5 a 16-year-old Texan named Austin Mahone posted a video to YouTube in which he and some buddies dance to Harlem Shake, an electronic single turned viral phenomenon. The song, by the Brooklyn producer Baauer, came out as a free download last spring. In February it became the soundtrack to a giddy Internet craze with an ingeniously simple structure: As the intro ramps up, a single person dances, surrounded by a seemingly oblivious crowd; when the bass kicks in, there’s a jump-cut, and suddenly the lone dancer is engulfed by a mob of people freaking out along with him. Ryan Seacrest, Kate Upton, and the Miami Heat have all participated in Harlem Shake videos, which have been viewed more than 500 million times in aggregate.

Mahone’s version, which has been seen at least 600,000 times, takes the same rough shape as the others—he hops and whirls alone, then in a raucous ensemble—but his video contains two big twists. First, Mahone shot it while performing a sold-out concert for 62,000 people at a Houston stadium. When the jump-cut comes, you can hear the crowd roar. Second, the only reason Mahone was even on that stage is because he’s a viral star in his own right, having built a staggeringly large fan base by posting covers of pop and R&B hits to YouTube. Watching Mahone do the Harlem Shake is like watching the Internet eat itself: The only way it could be more brain-bending is if the sneezing baby panda came out to shake, too.