The Baha Men's popular 2000 song "Who Let the Dogs Out" never hit number one in the United States. But it spread so quickly into American culture that year, it seemed impossible to escape the "WHO WHO WHO WHO WHO."
15 years ago — in the summer of 2000 — the nine-piece band Baha Men released "Who Let the Dogs Out" into the American market as a CD single. It wasn't even their song. "Who Let the Dogs Out" was actually a cover of Anslem Douglas's song by the same name, written for the 1998 Trinidad and Tobago Carnival season. The Baha Men took that Carribean hit, toned down the Calypso rhthyms, upped the chanting, and gave us a catchy, unavoidable, culture-permeating hit.
It's actually amazing how much of an impact "Who Let the Dogs Out" had, because despite its induction into the baseball walk-up music canon and winning a GRAMMY for Best Dance Performance (!), "Who Let the Dogs Out" peaked at only no. 40. That means it barely scraped into the top 40 — and got almost no radio time.
It's also amazing that "Who Let the Dogs Out" became as popular as it did because by all critical analysis, it's a terrible song. In 2008, Spinner ranked it number 2 on their worst songs ever list. Rolling Stone put it on a list of Top 20 most annoying songs of all time.
It is an incredibly, incredibly annoying song.
In fact, the song is so annoying that the Baha Men almost didn't even cover it.
In an interview with the Baha Men Brandt Hamilton did for Vice in January, Dyson Knight—a Baha Man— said:
"The manager of the Baha Men at that time heard a version of the song in Europe. He called Isaiah and told him it was an absolute must that Baha Men record that song, because they had the vibe to make it a huge hit. Isaiah heard the song and said there was 'no way in hell we're recording that song.'"
The song starts with the lead singer literally yelling the name of the song, followed by the other members of the band barking "who." Then it transitions into a reggae-inspired verse, and then it's back to the chorus. It has the incessant chanting of an elementary school rhyme. The verses are so incoherent that the members of the band barely even know what they mean.
"Marvin, the ex-member with blond hair, originally wrote the rap, so he's the only one who knows what the words are. Leroy sings what he thinks it is, but I know that what he's singing doesn't make sense," Knight told Vice.
There's a random drum breakdown in the middle of the song where a bridge should be — before the song returns to the "who let the dogs out" chanting. If you don't understand the importance of a hook, this song is a great example: the chanting buries itself in your brain and refuses to leave, even when you try desperately to get rid of it.
All earworms have a great hook. Take Iggy Azalea's "Fancy," with it's bragging, taunting line: "I'm so fan-cy/ you already know." Or the "hey hey hey" and "I know you want it" in Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." A hook is what makes a song unbearably catchy. But what's funny about "Who Let the Dogs Out" is that there is no melody to the hook. It's just men shouting WHO. Over and over and over.
Repetition was popular in the year 2000.
Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5," a Latin music-inspired chart-topper was popular at the very same time. "Mambo" is a jive dance song with an addictive melody. It, too, is a cover/interpretation of a much older song ( Dámaso Pérez Prado's 1949 version).
"Mambo No. 5" is everything that "Who Let the Dogs Out" is not, and yet they both have similar characteristics that were incredibly popular in early 2000 — and might be the reason that "Who Let the Dogs Out" even had a chance to thrive. They both have a kind of jaunting rhythm to their chorus that jerks listeners back and forth.
In "Mambo" it's something like "Jump up/ and down/ and move it all around." It's swinging. We hear this same kind of jaunting rhythm behind another hit 2000 song, Britney Spears's "Oops!…I did it Again." The jaunt is also in "Who Let the Dogs Out," but instead of shining through in a backing rhythm or a melody, it's an even more pared down version, like in N*SYNC's "Bye Bye Bye." It's just men yelling. "Who? who? who? who? who?"
That jaunting rhythm is the only reason I can even imagine that this song managed to ooze into American popular music the way that it did. Because 15 years later, "Who Let the Dogs Out" hardly holds up musically at all. Maybe it never did.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.