It’s Actually Time – A Cultural History of “The Macarena”

Maybe you saw the headline and the song is already stuck in your head. Perhaps to the relief of many Americans in 2014, an encounter with the “Macarena” is generally limited to bar mitzvahs and baseball games. But as those who left their houses in 1996 remember, “Macarena” was at one time all but unavoidable. In an age of Harlem Shakes, Dougies and Gangham Styles, music-video dance crazes may proliferate faster and more frequently, but none have had the somewhat incredible staying power of the Macarena.

It’s been almost two decades since the remixed version of the “Macarena” conquered the airwaves, and it’s time to take a look back at how and why it all happened.

How did it happen?

The Macarena originally surfaced in 1992, released by a middle-aged Spanish duo named Los Del Rio, but began picking up steam in 1994 in several Latin American countries. Around the same time, club goers in Miami began to request the song at a local dance night hosted by a DJ named ‘Jammin’ John Caride. Caride also DJed at a local radio station, where he asked his station managers if he could play the song on air. But at the time, the station’s policy did not allow for Spanish-only records.

So Caride turned to a few DJs he often worked with called  The Bayside Boys to rework the track. Although the original song had the famous “Hey Macarena!” vocal hook, the track itself was relatively spare in comparison to its more famous counterpart, relying on Los Del Rio’s vocals, low-tempo percussion and a saxophone interlude. So the Bayside Boys punched/hammed it up, adding the now-signature keyboard sample and the latin house, disco and meringue flavor along with some accompanying vocals in English.

The remix was an instant success, and began re-circulating internationally, gaining in popularity on cruise ships and international clubs before being picked up and distributed by record giant RCA.

Why was it so big?

Many pop musicians can attest that having too many hands in a recording process can pull a track in too many directions. In this case, it may have actually had a positive impact; music critics trying to understand the song’s surprising success hit generally point to the ways in which it appealed to a much more diverse audience than typical pop singles. The song first gained popularity in Latin America and Spain, but for at least a little while also saw play in pop-music clubs in America.

A much-cited reason for the song’s popularity was also the accompanying dance’s appeal to a spectrum of ages. It was desexualized, extremely simple, and required no footwork and very little lower body coordination. So kids who hadn’t yet found total control over rhythmic impulses and senior citizens who’d long since lost most of theirs could participate as easily as tipsy cruise ship crowds and club-goers. It could also be done standing mostly still in seats at sports arenas and conventions, which made it an easy way to harness attendees attention and energy. In 1996, over 50,000 people did the Macarena during a Yankees game.

Who did it?

Everyone. Or enough to make it appear that way. The song took on its own cultural identity – it was parodied by everyone from Cheech and Chong to The Muppets and Alvin and The Chipmunks.

In an election year, it was embraced by politicians on both sides who hoped to inject a bit of populist character into their campaigns. The song’s explosion in popularity coincided with the 1996 Democratic National Convention, where delegates kept energy up by repeatedly doing the “Macarena.” Even Vice President Al Gore made a joke about doing the dance, although he did not actually perform it (on camera). Bob Dole played off falling down the stairs at a California campaign stop by saying he was doing the dance. Secretary of State Madeline Albright did it, then-future-Secretary of State Colin Powell also did it.

The song was a phenomenal commercial success, selling over a million records before 1996 even began, topping out at almost 6.5 million copies sold. It broke Billboard records, spending more than 60 weeks on the Top 10 Charts, peaking at Number One in the summer of 1996, and remaining there for 14 weeks. It circulated globally – CNN wrote about a local remix that was extremely popular in India.

Where did it go?

Like all pop songs, there’s a built-in expiration date – that much radio play, cultural referencing and use for political gain was going to cost it at some point. But the extremely diverse nature of the who adversely limited where the song could be played. It died in the mainstream club scene as soon as it blew up everywhere else. The numerous remixes and obvious attempts to further capitalize on the song’s popularity also may not have ultimately helped; versions like “Macarena (Christmas Remix)” were pretty transparently commercial, and not good enough to justify keeping the song’s popularity alive. None of the artists or DJs responsible ever reached anywhere close to the record’s success.

In case this article has made you want to re-live the Macarena in all of its glory, the Nat Geo staff has recreated it with as much historical accuracy as possible – 90s apparel included!


  1. Liam
    January 19, 2016, 11:08 pm

    Just letting you know that the video is private.

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