Welcome to a brief history of dabbing.
Trends, by their very nature, tend to have short shelf lives. One minute, everyone you know is rushing to Superdrug to bag a pink hair mascara, the next, we’re tossing them in the bin and begging our manicurist for unicorn nails. It wasn’t too long ago that we were all wearing Kappa and narrowly avoiding death trying to trap virtual Pokémon hovering off cliffs. Now it’s just an annoying app we deleted to make space for our growing obsession with Boomerang. In this sense, ‘dabbing’ cannot be considered a trend. Because despite the best efforts of Kay Burley to make it heinously uncool, it's still going strong. Here’s everything you need to know about the craze that simply refuses to die, starting with what the hell it is in the first place.
What is dabbing?
For those of you who’ve been holed up in outer Mongolia for the past two years with nothing but a sock puppet for company, dabbing isn’t anything to do with soaking up excess liquid with an absorbent piece of material. Neither is it the act of gently prodding someone with your hand in an attempt to procure attention, as the Oxford Dictionary might lead you to believe. Instead, it’s a dance move created when one crooks one’s elbow across one’s face, head bowed and looking into the elbow crease, while holding their opposite arm in a straight and parallel direction. Confused? Allow this 2D man to demonstrate:
Where did it come from?
You’d be forgiven, at this point, for thinking this whole thing is just one big send-up, like the Vice mockumentary on fake genre ‘Donk’. Even as I write this, I’m half expecting Chris Morris to appear behind me and tell me its April 1st. But “dabbing” is a real thing that emerged from the very real Atlanta hip-hop scene thanks to the popularity of music video “Look At My Dab” by a group called Migos. Released in December 2015, it features the lyrics “Dab… Bitch dab… Bitch dab” and more heads in elbows than a pre-school class of flu-ravaged toddlers:
However, there is some dispute over whether the move was first performed by Migos.
Music journalist and contributor to hip-hop magazine Vibe, , told me: “While a lot of folks really credit Migos for creating the move with their song "Look At My Dab," it was actually rapper Skippa Da Flippa who came up with it first… You Gotta give proper credit where its due.”
Here’s a clip of Skippa’s work “How Fast Can You Count It”, which was uploaded onto YouTube in July 2014. It takes a while for the dabs to flow, but trust us, they’re there:
Other rappers credited with having fingers in the dabbing pie were Peewee Longway, Jose Guapo and Rich The Kid, whose YouTube “dabbing” tutorial amassed more than 2million views.
How did it get so popular?
They might not have invented it, but the Migos video went viral, and to date has racked up more than 35million views. But it was a football player Cam Newton who was the messenger who shot dabbing mercilessly into the mainstream:
In his break-out season in the NFL, the Carolina Panters quarterback performed the dab to celebrate every time he scored a touchdown. He first dabbed in November 2015 in a match against the Tennessee Titans. At a press conference after the game, he explained:
“I'm a firm believer that if you don't like me to do it then don't let me in ... I just like doing it, man. It's not to be boastful, and from the crowd's response they like seeing it.”
Many struggled to make sense of this, lending a perhaps unintentional air of mystery to the dab. He later admitted the idea had come from his 16-year-old brother, Caylin, who advised him to “dab on those fools”.
It was strong, it was easy, it took little effort and had no political ties. Pretty soon, fans of Cam everywhere were copying the dab, from basketball courts to school playing fields. Vines of people’s grandmothers dabbing away in kitchens, babies dabbing in high chairs, and cops dabbing when they probably should have had something better to do quickly increased in volume. A trend was born.
Then came the tsunami of celebrity dab appropriators, including Tom Hanks, Jerry Springer, and, in a desperate attempt to appeal to the disenfranchised youth of America, Hillary Clinton. Here’s a video of the former US Secretary of State in action:
Sadly, it didn’t work, and America now has a President who has never dabbed in his life. Or, in fact, has any experience in politics.
Dabbing became so popular Bow Wow, who wasn’t well known for his concern for child welfare, decided to issue parents with a warning about the dab. The rapper drew links between dabbing and the culture of marijuana smoking. He was trolled by the Atlanta originators on Twitter, who to this day maintain the move has nothing to do with drugs or coughing:
It quickly started to infiltrate the UK when footballers like Paul Pogba started posting photos of themselves mid-dab.
It spread through British schools like wildfire.
When will the madness end?
A year breezed past, and the dab had yet to die. Many predicted the end of the craze when a meme itself, Katy Perry’s left shark, got in on the action:
Yet despite the meta nature of the event, dabbing lived on. Then on 22 February 2017, the UK watched in horror as the Labour Party’s Tom Watson did the unthinkable in the House of Commons:
Guardian columnist described it as “a dab of such dismal proportions that he ended up looking as if he was smelling his own armpits to see if he could get away with wearing his shirt for two days running.”
“Did I do a dab?” Watson said after the event in feign surprise. British news anchors across all channels, including Kay Burley, started performing their own versions, and the funeral bells of dabbing rang out over Twitter. “Dabbing just died,” one bemused follower wrote. “That’s it, its over,” another posted.
And yet it seemed politicians were just getting started. By March, French presidential candidates Francois Fillon, Benoit Hamon and Emmanuel Macron had all dabbed in public, while president of the Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, invited a dance group to perform the dab dance with him in the state house. More recently still, Canadian President into a photograph with an also dabbing policeman.
Dabbing, it seems, had become such an epidemic, that the Times Education Supplement (TES), had to issue this f in the classroom.
Oliver Riding, who teaches Maths at Coventry’s Caludon Castle School, said: “It is absolutely a distraction. You get someone being a bit silly and doing it mid-sneeze to make a scene, and everyone loses their concentration. They know it’s a silly, inoffensive celebration that they can do and not really get into too much trouble.”
At the moment, it remains unclear whether dabbing will become an official dance for the contestants of Strictly, or if the Olympics will recognise the art of dab as an official sport in time for 2020. What is clear is that dabbing is a true cultural phenomenon that likely will see us throwing parallel shapes for years to come.
Thank you Justin.