In 2003, the term “flash mob” was coined, and since then, thousands of attempts to pull them off have been made — to varying degrees of success, of course. The main idea is for a pre-informed group of people to quickly assemble in a public place, after which those gathered perform a seemingly pointless and unusual act before dispersing as if nothing has happened. Of course, the truth is that these stunts are by no means simple to carry out as they often take weeks, in some cases even months, to bring together.
The first known flash mob seems to have been successfully carried out in June of 2003 after a previous attempt had failed. To pull it off, then Harper’s Magazine senior editor Bill Wasik emailed people to ask them to come together at a Macy’s department store in downtown Manhattan. There, over 130 accomplices converged around an expensive rug, and when they were asked by a sales assistant what they were doing, they explained that they were warehouse dwellers who were shopping for a communal “love rug.” Later, Wasik explained that he had attempted the stunt to encourage spontaneity and to demonstrate how crowds could take over public spaces.
Over the years, flash mobs have been assembled for various purposes: advertising, satire, artistic expression, special occasions, or just simple entertainment. And while some of them have turned out to be forgettable, many of them have created memorable moments and have had powerful effects on the people that witnessed them.
Here are ten amazing flash mob moments that we can fortunately relive via the magic of video:
10. Oprah’s Gotta Feeling
The Oprah Winfrey Show, with its amazing 25-season run from 1996 to 2011, is the highest-rated talk show in the history of American television. To kick off the program’s 24th season, Harpo Productions organized an event that closed down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Guests included the likes of Jennifer Hudson, James Taylor, and Rascal Flatts, but the undoubted highlight of the September 8, 2009 celebration was an enormous 21,000-person flash mob. The dance that went with the Black Eyed Peas’ performance of their smash I Gotta Feeling had actually been choreographed and practiced for weeks by the group’s core, but teaching the huge crowd was carried out only on the day of the performance itself. The end result was so stunning that Oprah, who didn’t know what had been planned, could only repeatedly gush about how “cool” everything was — as did many viewers who caused clips of the stunt to go viral.
9. Passengers Lose Their Train of Thought With Music
In April of 2012, Copenhagen Phil surprised commuters on the Copenhagen Metro with a sterling rendition of “Morning Mood (Morgenstemning)” from Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. The sound quality of the video, which is strikingly crisp, was actually recorded in the Metro, but while the train was standing still, not while the train was in motion as the video portrayed. Nevertheless, the sound recordings from the cameras were, as much as quality would allow, also incorporated into the final mix for the YouTube video, which has already been viewed more than 11 million times.
8. A Cappella-Style Airport Welcome
The Life’s for Sharing campaign by T-Mobile U.K. aimed to highlight how a mobile phone could be used to share meaningful moments with others, and the company attempted to accomplish this by creating various experiences that it hoped people would find share-worthy. One of the more memorable events for the campaign was the Welcome Back flash mob conducted in Terminal 5 of the Heathrow Airport on October 27, 2010. In it, thousands of passengers were welcomed with A cappella medleys including hit songs like “At Last” by Etta James, “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison, and “Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy. The campaign was a hit with the video garnering more than 12 million views with the company’s sales benefitting from a 52% sales boost, year over year.
7. Bounce’s Michael Jackson Tribute
The performance may be only over a minute long, but boy is it impressive. As the title of the video indicates, the stunt was carried out in Stockholm, Sweden on July 8, 2009, just a few weeks after Michael Jackson‘s unexpected death. The group responsible for the Sergelstorg and Central Station stunt is called Bounce Streetdance Company, a troupe formed in Sweden in 1997. As is evident in the clip, Bounce has extensive dance experience as many of the group’s members have actually choreographed routines for Scandinavia’s So You Think You Can Dance, one of its members even serving as a permanent judge on the show.
6. The Power of a Single Coin
In 2012, in a city square in Sabadell, Spain, a wavy haired little girl put a coin in the hat of a black-suited man who stood frozen with a double bass in his hands. As street performers usually do, the man began playing his instrument. Surprisingly, moments later, a female cellist came forward and joined him, drawing a few more people to the performance. Then group by group, more instrumentalists, and eventually, even a choir and a conductor, joined in to deliver a full-orchestra performance of Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Needless to say, the unexpected spectacle elicited enthusiastic applause from the crowd that had, by the end of the song, grown quite thick. Not surprisingly, the video of the flash mob went viral, garnering more than 60 million views for the Vallès Symphony Orchestra, which had been employed by Banco Sabadell to help mark its 130th anniversary.
5. Disease Caught by Beachgoers
On a seemingly normal day at the beach, a chubby man in a red swimsuit plays a song on his boombox, then begins dancing. How do the other beachgoers react? They slowly join him in an elaborately choreographed dance routine, of course! The joyous flash mob was carried out at the Bondi Beach in Sydney sometime in 2009. All in all, close to 200 performers were employed for the performance, which used a remix of Ben Lee’s “Catch My Disease” as the background music. The now defunct Flip Video, a company that used to produce a series of digital camcorders, actually commissioned the stunt to drum up interest as their products were about to be launched in Australia.
4. Security Guard Stops a Flash Mob…
Flash mobs are not always welcome in public spaces as the resulting crowds understandably make police and security personnel quite nervous. Well, Bosca Ceoil, an Irish music television series, thought it clever to use this reality in its advertisement for the show, and the end result is quite undeniably satisfying. Entitled Security Guard Spoils the Craic — the last word being a prominent Irish term to refer to something fun — the stunt begins with a red crank box attached to an advertisement with the words “Bosca Ceoil – Turn for Live Effect” on it. When a few people turn the crank, the magic unfolds, then appears to be halted, only for another twist to transpire.
3. Antwerp Central Railway Station Breaks Out in Do-Re-Mi
“Do-Re-Mi” is among the most well-known tunes of all time, so it certainly wouldn’t be a bad choice as background music for a flash mob. But the selection of the Hammerstein and Rodgers classic for the elaborate Antwerp Central Railway Station performance in 2009 wasn’t simply a matter of choosing a popular song to use for the stunt. Actually, the production, which employed over 200 dancers, was brought together for the purpose of promoting Op zoek naar Maria (Looking for Maria), a televised talent competition in Belgium that sought to fill the role of Maria von Trapp in a theatre revival of The Sound of Music. Fortunately for the show, the publicity stunt worked as the video went viral and garnered millions of YouTube views.
2. Russians Put on the Ritz
There’s some controversy surrounding this Russian-produced flash mob video that was uploaded on February 28, 2012. No major news outlet seems to have covered the story to report who was behind the performance and what it meant. In fact, the YouTube account through which the clip was posted contains only one video, thus making the identification of whoever posted it quite difficult. As a result, very few facts can be ascertained about the clip. The performance appears to have been shot in the Sparrow Hills of Moscow, and the last repetitions of the refrain show a prominent female seeming to mouth “Putin molodets” in place of the original lyrics. “Putin molodets” translates to “Good job, Putin,” and perhaps not coincidentally, Vladimir Putin was involved in a presidential election on March 4, 2012, just days after the video was posted. Regardless of the circumstances behind the flash mob though, it’s undeniably impressive.
1. Mobbed Marriage Proposal… and More
Some people might argue that when a huge media organization like Fox gets into the flash mob scene, it defeats the purpose of how the momentary assembly is supposed to demonstrate the power of ordinary citizens to organize themselves and take over a public space. But in truth, upon seeing the way that former Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel and his team put together a wedding proposal — and more — via a flash mob, it’s almost impossible not to marvel at the end result. The supposed one-time special was aired by Fox on March 31, 2011, but after the program was viewed by 10.8 million Americans, the network ordered more episodes and turned the show into a series. Thankfully, Nikki and Justin, the couple featured in Mobbed‘s pilot feature, have remained married. Their union has borne a son, Troy Davis.