Story of a Hit #16: "Macarena"
Love it or hate it, the "Macarena" is as famous as it gets. While you might think you've heard it enough times for one lifetime, the song itself has a pretty interesting story. Today we're looking at a song and dance that has travelled the world and touched all layers of society.
In the summer of 1996, an addictive Latin dance pop number hit the number one spot on the US Billboard Hot 100. It would sit there for 14 weeks, spreading around the world and becoming, for want of a better word, a sensation.
It was circulated with a relatively simple video clip, of girls in all sorts of outfits, miming the words, dancing around, swinging their hips, and occasionally showing off a set of moves that would become world-famous. Of course, you know what we're talking about, I mean, everybody knows the Macarena.
The "Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix)" was actually released the year before, but didn't quite chart that well (no. 45). But when the video clip dropped in July 1996 it was only a matter of a few weeks before it started inserting itself into all corners of the globe.
The video clip is simplistic genius – without having to mention the attractive girls and their hips – the clip actually serves as a lesson on how to dance the "Macarena". In fact, it was intended that way, the director Vincent Calvet said in an interview that he had to fight for its minimalist style, and that he "thought the music video could provide somewhat of a dance lesson". As the song travelled the world, it did so with those specific dance moves, becoming a sensation at parties, clubs, you name it. It's fame is largely down to the catchy simplicity of its dance, and the eagerness of almost anyone to grab their bum and swing their hips.
But that's hardly its only quality – one could argue that the chorus of "Macarena" is one of the most recognisable of 90s pop. And that's all down to the original duo who first recorded it in 1993. Los del Rio were a couple of relatively older musicians who first formed in 1966, and had modest success in their home country of Spain and abroad.
It's a refreshing take on the ultra-famous dance version, with flamenco clapping and acoustic instruments, and of course, that addictively repetitive chorus. If you never understood the Spanish lyrics, they're basically singing about a girl called Macarena, and telling her to move her body, you know, because it gives you joy.
According to an interview in 2015 with Vanity Fair, they were inspired by a flamenco dancer's performance, and typical of a mega-hit wrote the song in 5 minutes, naming the protagonist after one of their daughters, Esperanza Macarena. The rest of the lyrics are somewhat more promiscuous however, about how this girl Macarena cheats on her husband while he's in the army – gives a whole new meaning to "Que tu cuerpo es pa' darle alegría y cosa buena".
If you recognise them, that's because they are part of the famous video clip, singing in two-piece suits into an overhanging microphone. What the Bayside Remix did was translate the verses of the song into English, in a fairly faithful adaption. However, the origin of the dance beat that they used has been questioned. Check out this "River Remix" from 1993 by Fangoria.
If you're into musical copyright and plagiarism, well you're going to love this. Compare this version with the famous video clip at the top, and you will hear that they are very similar.
The syncopated synth motif, arguably the most stand-out difference from the original acoustic version, as well as the female vocalist singing a sort of chant are common to both remixes. The flanger effect, which kicks in at 0:10 in the "River Remix", takes a little while longer to feature in the "Bayside Remix", but it comes in at about 0:19. None of these musical ideas feature in the original "Macarena" and while one could argue that one 90s dance drum beat is like any other, this dance remix of "Macarena" predates the famous one by 2 years.
That would all be fine, if the duo behind the "Bayside Remix", the Bayside Boys, had acknowledged they'd borrowed ideas. However, Fangoria took it to the European Court of Justice, but the plagiarism appeal was thrown out. This version was actually released on the original single of Los del Rio's "Macarena" in 1993, so apparently Fangoria claimed that when the Bayside Boys picked which version to emulate, they created their remix based on the Fangoria version, instead of the original.
All that aside, the "Bayside Remix" is the one we all know now, and perhaps without it, it never would have become the worldwide hit. What's more, the boys from Los del Rio have ridden the wave of fame, so it's nice to see that the original composers have gotten most of the credit.
Their song has seeped into all layers of society, if you don't believe me, check out the video above with André Rieu! If a classical orchestra can largely mime to a backing track, while all sorts, adorned in suits and formal dresses can dance the moves – well, you know it has crossed affected culture fundamentally.
Dance phenomena have a special place in helping elevate songs to mega-hit status (think, "Y.M.C.A."). And while the song and its dance have experienced their own waves of (un)popularity in the last 30 years, I think it's pretty safe to say that it will live on for many years to come.
What do think, does the "Macarena" deserve it's hit status?
Let us know your opinion in the comments below!
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