TORONTO — When Drake released his hyped album “Scorpion” a month ago nobody was talking about jumping from moving vehicles to celebrate its songs.
But over the past several weeks the Toronto rapper’s track “In My Feelings” has exploded in popularity and inspired an unusual viral dance sensation that’s crossed generations and led to a number of serious injuries.
The sudden popularity of the Shiggy dance, which started as an Instagram post by U.S. comic Shiggy, has encouraged many people to grab their phones and try to mimic the choreography. But some participants keep raising the stakes with the Kiki Challenge.
In Shiggy’s original video he was dancing on the side of a street, but as the clip went viral others began imitating the dance in parking lots. It wasn’t long before some elevated the risk by trying to step outside their slow-moving vehicles and dance while the passenger filmed them.
“People think, ‘If I push it more and create something that’s more extreme… I’m going to do something different,'” says Elissa Freeman, a Toronto-based pop culture commentator.
“Those differences can result in accidents.”
According to news reports, one dancer fractured her skull while trying to perform at a roundabout, while another was run over by his car. It was enough for Halton Police in Ontario to issue a warning on Thursday saying that distracted drivers and pedestrians moving to Drake’s song are a “perfect storm” for potential injuries.
Freeman says none of this is surprising in a social media environment where many users feel pressure to up the ante with each video. She says despite the accidents, most people are safely participating in what’s become the latest global dance phenomenon.
“It wasn’t manufactured,” she says of the viral popularity.
“Finding it was almost like being part of a club that you join by engaging in social media.”
Diana Reyes taught the choreography for Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” at various events in Toronto. She feels that YouTube and Instagram are playing an important role in tying public dance and mainstream music together.
“People gravitate towards things that are simple, fun and attainable,” said the dancer, who performs as Fly Lady Di.
“It unifies everyone, in a way.”
Jax Irwin, radio host at Kiss 92.5 in Toronto, says viral dance challenges give a song a degree of popularity that can’t be achieved in any other way.
In 2013, Bauuer’s “Harlem Shake” raced to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 driven by YouTube videos of average people who become the life of the party when the song’s beat drops.
More recently, a performance of Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” on “Saturday Night Live” featured teenage dancer Russell Horning — known as Backpack Kid — vigorously swinging his arms to the beat. Within hours people were trying to imitate the moves on social media.
“What’s cool about these dance challenges is that it makes a song much more accessible to so many demographics,” Irwin said.
“You see your 74-year-old aunt Brenda doing the Shiggy Challenge.”
Many of those baby boomers probably learned about “In My Feelings” through the staggering number of celebrities who’ve jumped on the bandwagon. Will Smith captured much attention after he filmed an elaborate take on the Shiggy Dance atop a Budapest bridge and with a drone camera.
Drake paid tribute to Smith by including the moment in his music video for the song, released Friday, while featuring celebrities like the Fab 5 from “Queer Eye” and Ciara, alongside a number of the most popular viral clips from his fans.
Irwin predicts the fascination with “In My Feelings” won’t slow any time soon. She expects the dance will see a new wave of viral clips from students when high school and university classes resume in a few weeks.
Staff at her radio station have also been placing bets over the likelihood it will be crowned song of the summer by many listeners. It would be a rare feat to see a song released halfway through summer become the biggest hit of the season.
“Drake is easily one of the most calculated guys out there,” she says. “In the best way possible.”
Follow @dfriend on Twitter.
David Friend, The Canadian Press