Dive into the Viral Vault, our new feature exploring viral videos in the early days of the internet. Today, we look at the kinetic poetry of Gary Brolsma’s “Numa Numa Dance.”
The month is December, the year 2004, and Newgrounds.com is already the thing that the rest of the internet is only just becoming. Peer-to-peer sharing is fading, hanging on by a Lime(wire)-colored thread after Napster had been sued into oblivion. Revolution awaits, led by new platforms MySpace and Facebook, as well as YouTube, set to launch in a few months. But from our vantage point in 2004, Tom Fulp operates Newgrounds on the thrilling edge of internet culture: a site powered by user-generated content full of flash games, in-jokes, absurdity, and joy.
“The community was lively,” Fulp tells Consequence when reached by email in January 2023, “and partly as a result of me being a teenager when I made NG and the site coming up in the late ’90s, the vibe was best defined as ‘edgy.'”
On December 6th, a user named Gman250 posted a video called “Numa Numa Dance.” Fulp put it on Newgrounds’ front page on December 12th, and the internet would never be the same.
As with so many viral moments that followed, there are several layers between where the idea first began and the final, glorious product. “Numa Numa Dance” finds Gman250 — the then-19-year-old Gary Brolsma — lip-synching to the song “Drogostea Din Tei” by Moldovan pop group O-zone.
“Drogostea Din Tei,” which is Romanian for “Love from the linden trees,” or “Love of the lindens,” was released in 2003 as the lead single from O-zone’s third studio album, DiscO-zone. Initially only a modest hit, it soon began a Sherman’s March up the Eurochart Hot 100, slowly scorching every song in its path until camping out at No. 1 from June to September of 2004.
It’s the kind of irresistible synth pop that transcends language. The melody is simple enough and catchy enough to get stuck in your head after a first listen, and the pace of syllable allows anyone, anywhere, to sing along. Never spoken Romanian before? “‘Hello,” is all but universal, and if you can’t pronounce the finer nuances of “Ma ya hi” or “nu mă, nu mă iei,” well, none of the other people dancing in the club would be able to tell.
By December of 2004, it was a hit almost everywhere except the United States. Gman250 would change that.
Not that he heard the song on the radio; a true denizen of the world wide web, he came across the tune in a video called “Ma Ya Hi” about Japanese cats.
“Newgrounds made what they called the Portal system where people could send in their submissions to the site, which was kind of a newer concept back then, since there weren’t really any websites where you could share your own content,” Brolsma tells Consequence in a separate interview. “The community would vote and when the portal submissions got popular, they would move up or be featured on the homepage. I think this was how I found the Japanese animation with the cats. It really is a strange animation,” he says. “I don’t understand the language or really remember what was on, but later on the song popped back in my head. It was really catchy.”
Brolsma felt inspired. “I decided out of nowhere to turn on the webcam and make a silly lip sync video to send to some friends. They all got a good laugh, so I also submitted it to Newgrounds for fun, thinking no one would see it,” he recalls. “It was only one take. I only recorded the first half of the song, that’s why it cuts out early.”
The video finds Brolsma seated in his computer chair in front of a window AC unit and a terrarium housing a leopard gecko named Rocky. At times he is almost still, holding his mouth open wide or punctuating a musical moment with a perfectly-timed raised eyebrow.
The video builds in the same way that water comes to a boil: no movement, a few ripples, and then a sudden obliteration of matter — a solid man becoming pure, dancing air. Brolsma captures all the joy of the chorus with a sly humor and full commitment, despite never standing up. Watching him pump his fists above his head is like watching a prophet talk to God.
If he had released “Numa Numa Dance” a year earlier or a year later, that might have been the end of his story. But in 2004 Newgrounds was a vibrant artistic hub benefitting from Tom Fulp’s curation. “I loved Gary’s energy,” Fulp says. “I loved the shape of his mouth when he opened it really wide, I loved the way the camera shook a little when he started pounding his fists into the air and the way he sorta flails his arms around to the music during the transition after that initial pounding. Then there’s that double eyebrow raise before Gary nonchalantly goes back into pounding his arms in the air. The whole video is really just filled with personality and positive energy, which made me want to share it.”
“Numa Numa Dance” landed on the front page of Newgrounds. Then it exploded.
“I was surprised when it became popular,” Brolsma says. He hadn’t even thought to tell his mother “because it was such a quick, silly thing,” and so she got the shock of her life when news vans from ABC, NBC, and CBS showed up outside their house.
Newgrounds was overwhelmed. “Back then we managed our own physical servers at a facility in Philadelphia and we had to quickly buy additional hardware to handle the load,” Fulp says. “We had a lot of crashes!”