Psy's Gangnam Style

01 March, 2013

Welcome to AS IT IS! … your daily magazine show from VOA Learning English.

Today we visit the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Efforts are underway to return the area to its former glory.

We also hear about a new dance craze named for the area called the “Harlem Shake”….

And another YouTube video sensation that also shook the world.

New Yorkers often say Harlem is “The Capital of Black America.” Harlem has acted like a magnet for African Americans. Until recently, it has also been one of the poorest areas in New York. It was difficult for local businesses to succeed. As we hear from Mario Ritter, that picture is starting to change.

Nikoa Evans-Hendricks has spent 14 years organizing small business owners and marketing the Harlem name.

“I’ve watched it evolve from essentially the forgotten land above 96th street, where no one really saw any value, to the goldmine and the gold coast that it has become of Manhattan.”

From 2000 to 2010, median household earnings in Harlem rose 30 percent. That enabled Seven Brown to open a skin care shop, the kind of business once considered too upper class for the neighborhood.

“It’s been a great experience to be able to live and work in the same community that you’ve lived in for a long time. The bad part of it is watching a lot of the mom and pop organizations, mostly black-owned businesses, close on a daily basis.”

Major stores and developers are using tax breaks and other assistance to open stores in Harlem. The new investment puts rental payments for commercial space beyond the reach of many small businesses. Murphy Scott Jr. puts it this way…

“Big fish eat the small fish. That’s what’s happening.

His furniture and upholstery store has been in Harlem for over 40 years.

“Because I can’t afford a place out there to rent, I have to shut it down. They done shut down maybe 20 stores like this already.”

Harlem native Hans Hageman and his wife Bernadette want to combine the old and the new in Brownstone Fitness, their personal training center.

“One of the things about having a business here and particularly where we live is that our kids get to see both whatever successes we have – and we hope to accelerate those. But they also get to see the struggles that small business people have.”

Now it is up to people who were raised in Harlem to join with outsiders to define the future of the neighborhood. This is especially important to Harlemites who value the black history of Harlem because African-Americans are no longer a majority. Many say a changing Harlem that honors its past will be good both for business and for the rest of New York.

I’m Mario Ritter.

You are listening to As It Is from VOA Learning English. I’m June Simms. Thanks for joining us.

A new YouTube dance craze called the Harlem Shake is gaining a huge Internet audience. In the past few weeks, thousands of people have posted short videos of themselves and their friends dancing to the formerly little-known song by a New York DJ.

Most of the videos follow a basic formula that has been easy to copy for fans around the world. On a recent day in Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle Park, two people dressed as penguins started to dance. Park visitors appeared not to notice what was going on. When the music started to play, the once normal scene suddenly turned into a dance-filled celebration.

A dance and fitness studio in Washington called Jordin's Paradise organized the event through Facebook.

“Thank you so much everybody for coming!”

One of the people who took part in the Harlem Shake flash mob explains why the dance has become so popular.

“I think the song is really catchy, and since Gangnam Style was very difficult for everybody to get, this is really simple. So, even if you can't even dance, just do whatever, and it's just so awesome.”

In early February, five Australian teenagers were among the first to post a Harlem Shake video on YouTube. YouTube officials say since then, tens of thousands of versions of the dance have been uploaded, resulting in more than 175 million views.

American rock duo Matt & Kim’s version of the Harlem Shake achieved seven million views in a week. They performed the dance at a concert hall with 5,000 fans serving as their back-up dancers.

Vocalist Matt Johnson spoke to VOA via Skype.

“As far as I know, no one’s really done it with as many people as we have. And there's just a certain energy that you get from just watching the 30 seconds of this that I think people really have found enjoyable.”

DJ Baauer released Harlem Shake last year to little praise. He has seen sales of the song skyrocket on iTunes since the dance videos went viral.

Some say the flood of imitation videos will eventually cause people to tire of the Harlem Shake.

Vocalist Matt Johnson says he is surprised the craze has lasted this long.

“That's the thing, the nature of these Internet memes, is that they can be so large so quickly. It's not like it can maintain. Everything is about doing it right then and moving forward. And there is something fun and very 2013 about that.”

Just maybe the Harlem Shake will go on to achieve the success of last year’s big dance craze. Our Dupont Park Harlem Shake dancer mentioned that one earlier. Jim Tedder has more on the “Gangnam Style” video dance craze by South Korean pop artist PSY.

In December, the “Gangnam Style” video became the first YouTube video to receive one billion views. The video was first posted to the site in July.

PSY raps in Korean in the video while dancing as if he is riding on an invisible horse. The 34 year old pop star is the first Korean artist to receive mainstream success in the United States.

Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Gangnam Style” at number 25 on its top 50 list of best songs for 2012 and nicknamed PSY “Seoul Brother Number One.”

I’m Jim Tedder, today’s “Soul Brother Number Two.”

Well that’s AS IT IS for today. I’m June Simms. Stay tuned for VOA news at the top of every hour. And remember, we want to cover the issues and ideas that matter to you, in your world, as it is.