When Macarena Ruled the World in 1996

We apologize in advance for getting "Macarena" stuck in your head.
We apologize in advance for getting "Macarena" stuck in your head. / Evan Agostini/Liaison/Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Los del Río's “Macarena” became the second longest-running number one in Billboard history, shifted 14 million copies, and sparked a dance craze that spread everywhere from the Olympics to the Democratic National Convention. There are one-hit wonders and then there are .

In the summer of 1996, the party anthem was impossible to escape, no matter how hard you tried. However, it was by no means an overnight success. And neither were the suited 48-year-olds who delivered its earworm hook.

The president and the flamenco dancer

Indeed, Antonio Romero Monge and Rafael Ruiz Perdigones launched their flamenco-pop careers in the Andalusian city of Dos Hermanas back when they were teenage bullfighters. Though the duo initially began as a local concern, they gradually began to make a name for themselves across the rest of Spain, buoyed by the need to provide for their families in the wake of their fathers’ deaths. Their first album, Luces de Sevilla, hit shelves way back in 1967. By the time “Macarena” set off on its slow journey to global domination, their discography was well into the double figures.

That slow journey started in the unlikeliest of places: an exclusive Venezuelan party staged at the home of Carlos Andrés Pérez, the country’s former president. It was here that one half of Los del Río, who were touring South America at the time, found his muse. Monge was so transfixed by Caracas flamenco instructor Diana Patricia Cubillán Herrera and her attempts to entertain the dignitaries in attendance that he improvised a melodic tribute on the spot.

“¡Diana, dale a tu cuerpo alegría y cosas buenas!” (loosely translated as “Give your body some joy, Diana”) would also form the basis of a full song Monge took just half an hour to write. This version was renamed to honor his daughter Esperanza Macarena—a slightly unfortunate move when you learn of the hit remix’s lyrical themes—and first appeared on the duo’s 1993 LP A mí me gusta.

The Bayside Boys arrive

But “Macarena” traveled much further than Los del Río’s 30-year back catalog—literally. Its toe-tapping clave rhythms and anthemic chants became a firm favorite of cruise ship dance floors and eventually burrowed their way into clubs that were on dry land, too. Pretty soon, DJs such as Jammin Johnny Caride were being bombarded with requests every time they took to the decks.

Caride, who was also a regular host on Miami radio station Power 96, is almost as instrumental to the Macarena story as Los Del Río. Recognizing the song’s infectious nature, the DJ tasked his record company partners Carlos de Yarza and Mike “In the Night” Triay with making a bilingual version that could get played on his show.

The Bayside Boys Mix didn’t just add some English words to “Macarena,” it substituted the original tune’s busy Latin beats for a simple dance-pop groove (an idea Spanish production duo Fangoria, in an unsuccessful lawsuit, claimed they originated). It sampled Alison Moyet’s laugh from Yazoo’s “Situation” and vocal melodies from British indie pop outfit The Farm’s “Higher and Higher” and it handed half its running time over to future Miami Sound Machine vocalist Carla Vanessa.

The latter’s contribution changed the entire nature of the track, too. Whereas Monge had penned “Macarena” as a playful ode to a flamenco dance teacher, the Bayside Boys repurposed its innocuous lyrics to create an altogether more risqué narrative. Yes, as recently discovered by the TikTok generation, the verses pertain to a young woman who gives her “body some joy” in the form of a threesome with her absent army boyfriend’s two best buds.

From popes to politicians

Still, few were paying attention to such promiscuous tales at the time. The Vatican certainly wasn't; Los del Río was invited to meet both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. Instead, the focus was on both its ridiculously addictive hooks and another vital component of the “Macarena” phenomenon: its accompanying video.

One of the 10 young women seen throwing some shapes in-between the middle-aged crooning, Paris-based New Yorker Mia Frye, was responsible for its memorable choreography. And by creating a routine that even a “child with no sense of rhythm” could master, she helped “Macarena” to surpass Madonna’s Vogue, Alfonso Ribeiro’s The Carlton, and even Billy Ray Cyrus's “Achy Breaky Heart” line dance as the decade’s most copyable.

By the time it concluded its 14-week run atop the US Hot 100 in November 1996—having previously taken 33 weeks to get there—“Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” had transcended far beyond the status of novelty number one. It was a pop culture behemoth.

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team dubbed the Magnificent Seven celebrated their Atlanta Games triumph with a nod to the song’s slightly less challenging steps. Broadway icon Chito Rivera led a 50,000-strong crowd at the Yankee Stadium for the world’s biggest Macarena line. It even dominated that year’s Democratic National Convention, where Hillary Clinton famously participated in an awkward dance-along, while Al Gore poked fun at his own wooden reputation with a motionless demonstration.

Macarena 2.0

Unsurprisingly, “Macarena” proved to be something of an albatross around Los del Río’s necks. They only graced the Billboard charts once more, and with a festive version which lazily threw some sleigh bells and a medley of Christmas carols into the mix. And it simply didn’t go away. There were hit covers from Canadian duo Los del Mar, Dutch hardcore techno artist MC Rage, and country collective The GrooveGrass Boyz. It remains a staple of wedding dance floors and nostalgic “I Love the '90s” clip show, while it’s now enjoying a new lease on life as the source of a viral dance challenge.

Not that Monge and Perdigones are bitter about failing to strike lightning twice. In fact, the lifelong friends have continued to embrace the track, which still reportedly pulls in royalties of $250,000 per year.

They’ve included it on pretty much every single album they’ve released since, performed new versions with bandleader André Rieu and Cuban reggaeton outfit Gente de Zona and made a cameo in the video for rapper Tyga’s unlikely 2019 interpolation. Then in 2021, they celebrated the 25th anniversary of its chart-topping reign by offering Airbnb users the chance to stay at their Andalusian retreat (and enjoy a “Macarena” masterclass from the men themselves).

And as the saying goes, it’s better to be a one-hit wonder than have no hit at all, as Monge acknowledged in an interview with earlier this year: “Just as Spain has only won the World Cup once, we have fortunately been able to be the world champions in terms of music. We are always being asked when we are going to compose another 'Macarena,' to which we reply that we have already done it. Let others have a go.” A noble sentiment, although it seems improbable that any future song of the summer will ever make quite the same impact.