Twenty-five summers ago, the Billboard charts were dominated by alternative rockers like No Doubt, Alanis Morissette, Oasis, and the Smashing Pumpkins. But none of those artists had the No. 1 song for all of 1996. That honor instead went to a pop outlier: a Spanish lounge act that had actually been in show business since the ‘60s, Los del Rio.
The flamenco-crossover duo’s undeniably earwormy yet unlikely smash, “Macarena,” was originally released in 1993. But three years later, when the Bayside Boys — the production trio of Mike Triay, Carlos de Yarza, and Jammin Johnny Caride, the latter a DJ at Miami radio station Power 96 — created an English-language remix with that famous Yazoo/Alison Moyet laughter sample, the song became a phenomenon. The “Macarena” remix spent a staggering 46 weeks on the Hot 100 (14 of those weeks in the top spot), which was one of the longest runs in U.S. chart history; it also went to No. 1 in 11 other countries.
“By the time we reached Germany, it sold 10 million copies, in the U.S. 20 million copies, and it was tremendous,” Los de Rio’s Antonio Romero Monge, speaking via Zoom and through a translator from the duo’s hometown of Andalusia, Spain, tells Yahoo Entertainment.
“It started in ‘93 when it reached Mexico, and from there it reached the U.S. in ’96, and then everywhere else. ‘Macarena’ never stopped!” Los del Rio’s Rafael Ruiz Perdigones adds. “We thought that this [success] was a gift from Virgin Macarena.” (Perdigones and Monge are deeply religious; they note that the greatest highlight of their peak “Macarena” era was when they were invited to perform at the Vatican, where they met with Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. The two even played an original Sevillana, or traditional flamenco couplet, that they’d written especially for the Pope.)
Monge and Perdigones admit that they weren’t that shocked by “Macarena’s” popularity — despite it being so out of step with musical trends of the mid-’90s — because they were always “men of great faith” and “always supported the song.” But they had never expected it to spark a worldwide dance craze. In 1996, it seemed like everyone was doing the Macarena — from Olympic athletes, to baseball fans (who set a record for the biggest flash mob of all time, led by Broadway legend Chita Rivera at Yankee Stadium), to even politicians. Hillary Clinton’s enthusiastic Macarena moves at the Democratic National Convention created a sensation in ‘96 and went viral last year, as did Al Gore’s self-deprecating dad joke from his DNC speech (when he demonstrated “the Al Gore version of the Macarena” by standing completely still).
“When Antonio wrote the song, we never thought that, after [Bill] Clinton used it, that it would be played in the Super Bowl, or that in ‘96 the [female gymnasts] from the Atlanta Games would exit doing the Macarena [at the Olympics], or that it was made the queen of European soccer. We had no idea that any of that would happen,” says Perdigones.
Monge and Perdigones, who are both now 73 years old, hint that they have some big plans, including a “special album” and a U.S. tour, for the 25th anniversary of “Macarena” (and 60th anniversary of Los del Rio!), but they “won’t say just yet, because we don’t want to rush things, because things don’t work out when you rush them.” However, one confirmed way that they’ll be celebrating, in their native country, is with their new Airbnb partnership, through which flamenco fans can party like it’s 1996 in a karaoke room-appointed Andalusian villa with Los del Rio themselves, starting Aug. 3.
“They will spend a few days with us and will help us cook a meal, ride horses, play guitar and sing with us, and we will make sure they will be happy with their stay,” Perdigones explains. (And yes, the price of the stay does include a Macarena dance lesson from Monge and Perdigones — which, if you check out Yahoo Entertainment correspondent Lyndsey Parker’s rusty moves in the video interview above, are clearly needed.)
Los del Rio has released 50 albums and roughly 500 songs, and charted other regional hits like “Sevilla Tiene Un Color Especial,” “Soy Un Truhán Soy Un Señor” featuring Julio Iglesias, and “Te Estas Poniendo Viejo, Picoco.” But, as Monge notes, “The one that jumped the Atlantic was ‘Macarena.’” However, unlike some so-called “one-hit wonders” who resent being associated with one signature song, they are grateful for everything that “Macarena” has done for them.
“We work for the music, and we hold onto the simple things in life that keep us humble, because life has many important roles. And we believe that ours is to bring joy to the people of the world,” states Monge, who’s still amazed by all the ways that he and Perdigones infiltrated ‘90s pop culture. “We make songs and hope that they’ll be hits, but what we didn’t expect was that Clinton would use it in his campaign; that was unthinkable. And then the whole world, the five continents, adopted the song. And here we are, 25 years later, celebrating it. … It’s something we can’t explain, but it has been very great.”
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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Jimmie Rhee