I come neither to praise the Baha Men nor even to critique them. My sole duty is to acknowledge them, with the appropriately slack-jawed respect due such a gonzo force of commerce. Some pop songs devour their moment whole, inflecting events in our lives with shades of irony or deepening catharses or simply providing background color to our memories. But not “Who Let the Dogs Out?”–instead mainstream consciousness instantaneously swallowed it whole. I doubt you can remember the first time you heard this song, any more than you can remember the first time you heard “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” or “Rock ‘n’ Roll Part 2.” Regardless, I doubt you first heard it on the radio. Just check out that chart peak above–“Who Let the Dogs Out?” was never a hit. It was always already just kind of there.
Such a feat was hardly accidental. The song began as a regional hit, when Anslem Douglas recorded it for the 1998 Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. (That oughta reel in all the Bakhtin fans out there.) It reached the ears of Steve Greenberg, known then for discovering Hanson, known now as the svengali of the Jonas Brothers. In between, he was stuck with the Baha Men, whom he encouraged to record “Who Let the Dogs Out?” for Rugrats in Paris. More importantly, Greenberg hired a team of sports marketers to peddle the tune directly to sports stadiums–first Mississippi State, then the Mariners, then the world.
The world has not always been happy with its subsequent subjugation. “Who Let the Dogs Out?” consistently tops “most annoying song” lists, a sad fate for its perky blend of electro-hop and tourist reggae. That direct marketing of the chorus hook means the rest of the song, is mostly unfamiliar. we rarely have an opportunity to sing along to “Get back Scruffy/ Get back you flea infested mongrel,” let alone the part where all the doggies are told to hold their bones. I doubt that George Clinton would be proud, but he should be.
Like all the great musical questions — “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” or “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” or “How Do You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul???” — the correct response is not forthcoming. True wisdom comes in pondering the question, rather than seeking an answer. But if you don’t enjoy loosing five canine barks in Pavlovian response to the Baha Men’s inquiry, then I bet you don’t know all the words to the Oscar Meyer weiner song either, and I say to hell with you.