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Why Love the ’90s: Nooooo Macarena! defines ‘Macarena’ as, “a dance performed in a group line or solo and following a rhythmic pattern of arm, hand, and hip movements in time to a Spanish song.” defines ‘Macarena’ as, “The deadly disease that crippled 98 percent of the world back in 1996. It was quickly cured and went away fast though.”

As a fan of the 90s and corniness in general, most would probably assume that I would be in favor of such 90s crazes as the Macarena. 

However, the opposite is true. 

To this day, a decade-and-a-half after Macarena-mania nearly destroyed the free world, I can honestly say I really, really, really dislike the song and dance that came with it.

What got me thinking about this dark moment in my favorite decade was attending a 25th wedding anniversary party over the weekend. 

It was a fun time celebrating a good-hearted couple who my family and I have known for a very long time. There was good food, some nice guests to hang out with and even a DJ and a dance floor. 

It was great…until the Macarena came on. 

As it started to blast from the speakers, dozens, many qualifying for an AARP membership, filled the dance floor, sticking their arms out and initiating one of the worst dances in the history of mankind. 

Here are a few thoughts that raced through my head:

“The Macarena…seriously?”

“How common is it for this song to still be played at parties like this one?”

“I know the dance isn’t so complicated but I can’t believe these people, a decade and a half after this song got so big, can do the dance without even thinking about it.”

“Is there anything more awkward than watching people do The Macarena?”

My honest answer to that last question is, no, there is nothing on this Earth that is more awkward than watching people, live in person, performing the dance. 

As a 4th and 5th grader during the pinnacle of Macarena mania, I can remember passionately disliking this song. The moves were easy to do which meant that everyone and their grandmother would do the dance at every function where there was even a remote chance of any dancing taking place.

But why? 

Why did this song and dance become such a cultural atom bomb? 

There is no way anyone can look cool doing the Macarena under any circumstances. I truly believe that every single person who does this dance, even if they are usually great on their feet, looks like a fool. Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson could combine to form the greatest dancer in the history of the world, but if he did the Macarena, he would look much like the middle aged folks who I saw over the weekend.  

Frankie, thoughts?

Ah yes, the Macarena.

The song and accompanying dance were the product of a Spanish lounge act, Los Del Rio, who somehow managed to prop up their career for a decade through numerous remixes and rerecordings of that song. And yes, it was every bit the cultural phenomenon T.J. described, grabbing radio and television play like Pac-Man devouring little pellets.

The song was everywhere and there was no way to stop it.

Perhaps the Macarena was the greater of several evils, but it was far from the only catastrophe to mar dance music in the ’90s.

Sure, fads like these happen in every decade.

Perhaps it was just the time, that period of youth that seems to amplify every memory. As our parents and grandparents can tell us about the hustle and the cabbage patch, the mashed potato and indeed, the twist, so can we tell our younger siblings and children about the Macarena, and the Scatman.

Okay, so that last one wasn’t a dance, but a man and a song…a very grating song.

That song was the best-known product from a man by the name of John Paul Larkin.

Music history knows him best, however, under the name “Scatman John.” He took that name after a couple of decades kicking around as a jazz pianist. A history of stuttering as a boy inspired him to record a song encouraging children to push through their own adversity. That profound wisdom in song? The phrase, “Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop.”

Alright, to be fair, a couple of verses actually addressed stuttering, and Larkin’s stuttering in particular.

He punctuated his inspirational messages with the line, “If the Scatman can do it, so can you,” which was quoted a lot among a few of my friends. That’s strange. When I think about it, I wonder why the Scatman came up so often. I’m…worried now.

I totally came into this bit intending to bag on the Scatman, but even though the song is entirely preposterous, the story behind it uplifting enough that I can’t totally dump on Scatman John. His sincerity shines through on the track, even if inspirational pop songs were a waist-deep cliché in the ’90s. (I see you there, Sounds of Blackness.)

The same can’t be said for Lou Bega, whose Mambo No. 5 burned up the charts at the end of the decade, i.e. at which point I should have known better. Yes, Mambo No. 5 was so ubiquitous, even I sang along to it.

The song is so silly and arguably terrible it feels like something I listened to in middle school, but no, I was a freshman in college.

Lou Bega never really grew up in the Latin music tradition.

Hell, he didn’t even grow up Latin, being of German and Ugandan descent. His sole original exposure to the music was during the year and a half he lived in Miami as a teenager. Around that time, Bega was working on sustaining a rap career, but when he left Miami for Munich, he hooked up with producers to synthesize the sounds of mambo.

To Lou Bega, mambo sounded a little bit like Monica, Erica, Rita and Tina.

And it’s a catchy song, like the best and most irritating pop songs.

Bega doesn’t sing so much as rap on the track, which is fine considering his background. There’s a bounce to the song, which is fine considering it was sampled from an earlier song also titled Mambo No. 5.

There’s really no reason to think it wouldn’t be a huge hit, but my God was it inescapable, to macarena levels.

Unlike the macarena, however, Scatman and Lou Bega faded into obscurity stateside, though they continued to enjoy a degree of success overseas. Scatman continued to record until his death in 1999, and Lou Bega…well, he just released his fourth album two years ago. Los Del Rio, meanwhile, broke up in 2007.

Like I said, every decade has its novelty hits, but the ’90s have managed to produce more with some unholy measure of staying power.

For better or worse, we’ll always have Mambo No. 5 and the macarena.

Then again, it gave us this clip.

I gotta give the macarena a lifetime pass for that.

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