Roman Mars [00:00:02] Every kid learns differently. So, it’s really important that your children have the educational support that they need to help them keep up and excel. If your child needs homework help, check out IXL, the online learning platform for kids. IXL covers math, language arts, science, and social studies through interactive practice problems from pre-K to 12th grade. As kids practice, they get positive feedback and even awards. With the school year ramping up, now is the best time to get IXL. Our listeners can get an exclusive 20% off IXL membership when they sign up today and ixl.com/invisible. That’s the letters ixl.com/invisible. Squarespace is the all-in-one platform for building your brand and growing your business online. Stand out with a beautiful website, engage with your audience, and sell anything–your products, content you create, and even your time. You can easily display posts from your social profiles on your website or share your new blogs or videos on social media. Automatically push website content to your favorite channels, so your followers can share it, too. Go to squarespace.com/invisible for a free trial. And when you’re ready to launch, use the offer code “invisible” to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain. This is a rebroadcast of one of our favorite episodes of all time. If you haven’t heard it before, you’re in for a real treat. Even if you have heard it before, you should listen again because it is really great. This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. On any given day, there are a few different kinds of songs rattling around in my head. Some are just classics–like literal classics. Then there are songs that are just in there that are my own favorite songs that have carved out a space in my brain because I listen to them over and over and over. That’s the song Solidarity by the band Scream. That song is so good. And then there’s this other category of memorable songs: The ones that we all just kind of know–songs that somehow, without anyone’s permission, snuck their way into our collective unconscious and now are just lingering there for all eternity. These songs aren’t necessarily good, but they usually have some undeniably catchy quality to them–a hook that worms its way into our brains and never leaves–like this one…
Baby Shark [00:02:32] Baby Shark, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo. Baby Shark, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo. Baby Shark, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo.
Roman Mars [00:02:35] But I think there’s one song in the last 25 years that exemplifies this phenomenon more than any other. It’s a song that I think nearly every one of you will recognize. It is not my favorite.
Baha Men [00:02:48] Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who, who? Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who, who? Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who, who?
Roman Mars [00:02:55] You did not ask for it, dear listener. But today’s entire episode is devoted to Who Let the Dogs Out. Don’t go. I swear it’ll be good because this is the story about how that song ended up stuck in all of our brains. And it’s actually really complicated. And it goes back decades and spans continents. And in the end, I think it tells us something important about inspiration in how creativity spreads and about whether an idea can ever really belong to just one person. To tell the story, we have brought in the world’s foremost expert on Who Let the Dogs Out.
Ben Sisto [00:03:33] Yeah, it’s an undisputed title.
Roman Mars [00:03:36] This is Ben Sisto. And about ten years ago, Ben was reading the Wikipedia entry for the song Who Let the Dogs Out by the Baha Men.
Ben Sisto [00:03:44] And I noticed this, like, missing citation.
Roman Mars [00:03:46] The Wikipedia entry said that the Baha Men didn’t actually write the song–but that a British hairdresser named Keith had heard it on a trip to Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, and that he passed it along to music producers. But it was all very vague. And that made Ben curious–so curious that he spent the next ten years trying to figure out the answer to what seems like a pretty straightforward question Who wrote Who Let the Dogs Out?
Ben Sisto [00:04:16] And I just kind of got this journalism bug. So, I just kept asking people, “Who let the dogs out?” And here we are a decade later.
Roman Mars [00:04:26] Our story begins in the year 2000 with the release of that song by the Baha Men. I know exactly where I was the first time I heard this song. I saw a game at PacBell Park–that’s what it was called then–to see the Giants play. And before the game, the Baha Men came out and played this song. I’d never heard it before–never heard of the Baha Men. And it might have been already a hit, but it seemed like everyone already knew it. And even if you’d never heard it before, you kind of feel like you know the song. It has a kind of, like, Jungian urtext kind of quality to it. So, who are the Baha Men?
Ben Sisto [00:05:07] So Baha Men are a really hard-working, multi-generational band from the Bahamas. And they’d been playing together in one form or another since the ’70s. They started off as a group called High Voltage, sort of playing resorts around the islands. And they’ve always been known for this style called Junkanoo. And that’s the music associated with, like, a street parade by the same name. And you can think big, bright costumes, hundreds of steel drums, and cowbells and goatskin drums–just like a big party. This is kind of, like, the scene that Baha Men are a part of.
Baha Men [00:05:39] You don’t have to worry or even say you’re sorry when you hear the Junkanoo.
Ben Sisto [00:05:47] They were signed by a young A&R guy–Steve Greenburg–and he stayed with them across multiple labels and break-even releases. And Steve actually ends up being the guy who convinces them to record Who Let the Dogs Out.
Steve Greenburg [00:06:00] The song had a really amazing hook. And I say, “One of these days I’m going to figure out how to do this–do the song right–because there’s something here.” And I just never forgot about the song. I knew that the Baha Men were the people who I wanted to record the song. They just made sense to me. And in fact, I used to keep a diary. And I wrote in my diary, “I’m going to record that song, Who Let the Dogs Out, with the Baha Men and have a big hit all over the world. I’m certain.”
Ben Sisto [00:06:25] This sounds kind of crazy in retrospect, but Baha Men were like, “No, thanks. “The song was already a hit in that area, and they just didn’t think it would be a good look to cover something everybody already knew.
Baha Men [00:06:37] I didn’t want to do the song. That’s why I have to give Steve credit. “I’m not going to ask you to do anything else. It’s just this one song.” And hey, I said, “Steve, conversation is finished. We will do the song.” I’m extremely happy that we did.
Roman Mars [00:06:54] So why did their producer, Steve, care so much about the song?
Ben Sisto [00:06:58] I think Steve is just one of these guys who knows a hit when he hears it. Steve’s also given–for better or worse–the world acts like Hanson. And if there’s a song that’s going to, like, play well in stadiums and on Disney, yeah, he just knows.
Roman Mars [00:07:15] So you said the song was already a hit in the Bahamas. Is that where he heard it originally?
Ben Sisto [00:07:19] Yeah. So, Steve heard the song via Keith Wainwright, who’s, like, my original kind of Wikipedia mystery guy. And Steve Greenburg kind of instantly knew that there was something special about the hook. And that kind of led to him deciding to pitch it to Baha Men.
Roman Mars [00:07:35] Yeah. So, Steve hears the song, likes the song…. Well, doesn’t really like the song, but likes the hook of the song. So, who wrote the hook?
Ben Sisto [00:07:42] To find that out–it’s the late ’90s–so Steve went in, as the one did in the late ’90s, and asked Jeeves. He went to the website and said, “Jeeves, who let the dogs out?” And this led Steve to a message board where people were discussing their vacations and music played at Carnival. And this is where Steve first learns that this track is cut by a guy named Anslem Douglas.
Anslem Douglas [00:08:06] I’m still amazed that after 20 years it’s still out there and playing and new kids–a new generation–is growing up on it. If you don’t know the song Who Let the Dogs Out, you’re living under a rock. Think about it. What other song you know has been out there for 20 years and kids–every child–knows it.
Ben Sisto [00:08:27] So Douglas was actually already a known name in the Bahamas music scene. And he wanted to use his platform to write kind of a feminist anthem, like a song that could be this rallying cry for women who are fed up with, like, the dogs–men behaving poorly on the dance floor. So, do you want to…? We can take a listen.
Roman Mars [00:08:48] Yeah. To his version. Totally.
Anslem Douglas [00:08:50] Well the party was nice, the party was pumpin’ (Hey, Yippie-Yi-Yo) And everybody havin’ a ball (yeah man, Yippie-Yi-Yo) Until the fellas started name callin’ (Yippie-Yi-Yo) And the girls respond to the call I heard a woman shout out “Who let the dogs out?” (Who, who, who, who) “Who let the dogs out?” (Who, who, who, who)
Roman Mars [00:09:11] That is the song.
Ben Sisto [00:09:13] That’s it.
Roman Mars [00:09:16] Wow. I mean, that seems very clear. So, Anselm Douglas wrote that hook. And that’s the thing we think of when we think of this song Who Let the Dogs Out. Although I love the arrangement, actually.
Ben Sisto [00:09:26] Yeah, I did, too. And, you know, Douglas is obviously more in, like the so-called “calypso” tradition. And it’s more like a, you know, take off your shirt, take off your towel, whip it at, like, a high bpm. And the Baha Men is this, like, Americanized hip hop influence. But the Baha Men version retains this, like, Junkanoo undertone, which was really important for crossover movements for the genre.
Roman Mars [00:09:48] So when it comes to the question “who let the dogs out?” the answer is Anselm Douglas.
Ben Sisto [00:09:53] Not quite. Douglas wrote Doggie, but it really wasn’t, like, his idea alone.
Anslem Douglas [00:09:59] I never told anyone I came up with the phrase–never did–because I didn’t. You know, I knew that my brother-in-law was the one who said, “Yeah, you got to do the song. You’ve got to do this song. ‘Who let the dogs out?'” I said, “All right. I will do it.” So, he was the one who encouraged me to do it. So, I give him that credit because he was the one who said, “Do the song.”
Ben Sisto [00:10:17] So Douglas’s former brother-in-law was the host of this deejay mix show Wrecked Shop Radio out of Toronto. And two of that show’s producers were these guys–Patrick Stephenson and Leroy Williams–who were, like, writing promos and jingles for it. And one of those jingles contained the phrase “who let the dogs out?” followed by the sound of dogs barking. And this is late ’95, early ’96.
Wrecked Shop Radio [00:10:42] At the front of the office, I used to go, “Who let the dogs out?” And Maurice would be out there–he’d go, “Who, who, who, who, who!” And I’d go, “Who let the dogs out?” And you’d hear the dogs go, “Who, who, who, who, who!” And then we brought that, and Patrick was like, “Put that all together.” That’s how that vibration came out.
Ben Sisto [00:11:00] It was very hard to track these guys down. But after years of begging and calling and DMing, they eventually produced these original recordings.
Wrecked Shop Radio [00:11:08] Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who, who!
Roman Mars [00:11:23] Yeah. So that’s really it. That’s, like, the chorus right there. That’s it. Wow.
Ben Sisto [00:11:27] Yeah. I mean, that’s the hook. But this part kind of gets a little fuzzy because, well–one–it’s 20 years ago. But people involved have different accounts. The long-short is that Stephenson and Williams kind of on a handshake agreement told Douglas, like, “Okay. Use this. Write a song. Go down to Carnival.” But they didn’t think it was going to become a big hit. And they didn’t really know much about, like, protecting publishing rights at the time.
Wrecked Shop Radio [00:11:51] We were so in love with doing the music and being creative, but we were passionate about creating and not taking care of the business. And the business bit us in the end.
Roman Mars [00:12:01] Wow. So, they, like, sort of handshake deal allowed Anslem Douglas to make this Carnival song of Who Let the Dogs Out called Doggie. And then it’s the one who gets licensed to the Baha Men to make Who Let the Dogs Out. So, did Stephenson and Williams know anything about the licensing to the Baha Men?
Ben Sisto [00:12:23] Not until they heard it on the radio.
Roman Mars [00:12:26] Oh, that’s rough.
Ben Sisto [00:12:29] Yeah. I mean, for a song so happy, it’s a very dark moment.
Roman Mars [00:12:32] Oh my God. Oh my God.
Wrecked Shop Radio [00:12:34] I’m going to a Jamaican restaurant and hearing this record that we did and, like, the hook. And I’m hearing it on the radio. “Oh, yeah, we wrote that.” And other people are making so much money off this thing. Yeah, it was after you found out that someone else was making money off your idea.
Ben Sisto [00:12:51] So there’s no official ruling. But Douglas signed an affidavit asserting that Stephenson and Williams were the original authors of the hook that his work was based on. That gives Douglas the rights to move forward with his own version and licensing.
Roman Mars [00:13:06] Okay. So still, let me try to get this all straight. So when it comes to Who Let the Dogs Out, there’s Steve and the Baha Men, who made the super popular version that most people know, there’s an Anslem Douglas, who made the version from the Bahamas called Doggie that was directly covered and licensed by the Baha Men, and then there’s these deejays who, you know, had this brilliant innovation of bearing a rhetorical question with the dogs barking. And so that’s an incredibly complicated set of people and versions and rights and rights holders and people fighting. It’s just kind of stunning.
Ben Sisto [00:13:47] Well, actually, there is more.
20 Fingers [00:13:49] Who let them dogs loose? (Woof! Woof, woof-woof) Who let them dogs loose? (Woof! Woof, woof-woof)
Roman Mars [00:13:58] What is that?
Ben Sisto [00:14:00] That is a remix of a song called You’re a Dog, which is by a group called 20 Fingers, featuring the singer Gillette. And that came out in ’94. It was a follow up single to their global mega-hit, Short Dick Man. Do you remember that song?
Wrecked Shop Radio [00:14:21] No, it doesn’t leap immediately to mind.
Ben Sisto [00:14:25] Well, I mean, as I kind of just implied, Short Dick Man was in fact huge and this big, big global hit. And yeah, people were paying attention to these artists and stuff coming out of the Chicago scene. They were sort of like Douglas; they wanted a way to, like, make a fun record that hit back against some of the misogyny that was going on in dance music at the time. Manny Mohr, who is part of the 20 Fingers writing and production team, just felt very frustrated by all that. So that’s kind of where You’re a Dog comes from.
Roman Mars [00:14:57] So this song was released in 1994. Does that mean that they are, like, legally the authors of the song Who Let the Dogs Out?
Ben Sisto [00:15:05] So here we kind of need to maybe shift gears and talk about copyright for a sec. So, when you’re considering a copyright infringement claim, there’s two areas you really want to focus on, and they’re access and similarity. The latter, similarity, is pretty straightforward. It’s like, “Do these things look or sound the same?” But even if two things seem very similar, which of course is subjective, courts will recognize there’s a finite number of ways to arrange notes and words. So, you also have to consider this concept of access, which in short means was the alleged infringer aware of the plaintiff’s work? Like, what’s the line between copying and coincidence?
Roman Mars [00:15:48] Okay. And so, did the Canadian deejays hear this song by Gillette?
Ben Sisto [00:15:55] Stephenson and Williams claimed to have never heard of the song or anything about 20 Fingers. Based on Gillette’s charting and billboard and stuff, I find that a little tough to believe. But I have to take them at their word.
Roman Mars [00:16:08] Right. And so legally, does Gillette and 20 Fingers have a case that their copyright had been infringed?
Ben Sisto [00:16:15] I think they did. But at the time, their label didn’t want to pursue it. You know, there’s a joke about copyright being the right to be held up in court until you’re bankrupt. And if you’re, like, an indie label or something like that, you might not have the resources and assets to sue a major label, who can just kind of treat their legal expenses the same way one might, like, marketing costs. You know, it’s kind of all the same pot as long as you have a net positive result.
Roman Mars [00:16:45] Okay, that makes sense. So, I guess the deejays are the ones with the legal claim to the song because they weren’t challenged by 20 Fingers. But 20 Fingers can say that they are the original authors of the song.
Ben Sisto [00:16:58] Not so fast, Roman.
Miami Boom Productions [00:17:08] Who let the dogs out? (Who, who, who, who, who!) Who let the dogs out? (Who, who, who, who, who!)
Roman Mars [00:17:08] Who are these people?
Ben Sisto [00:17:15] This is Miami Boom Productions of Jacksonville, Florida, with their song Who Let the Dogs Out, which was written and recorded in 1992.
Roman Mars [00:17:24] Oh my goodness.
Ben Sisto [00:17:28] This duo is Brett Hammock and Joe Gonzalez–their stage names at the time Be Nasty and Miami Jay–who are basically just cool teenagers. And they want to write, produce, and perform Miami based music. That was it. That was everything to them.
Brett Hammock [00:17:43] I actually had someone call me, and they’re like, “Hey, I heard you and Joe’s song on the radio.” And I was like, “No, you didn’t.” He was like, “Oh, yeah, I swear to you. Who Let the Dogs Out. I just heard it on the radio.” We flipped it on, and I’m just thinking, “Somebody ripped off our track.”
Roman Mars [00:17:55] Wow. So, this is another set of people completely blindsided by hearing the Baha Men’s Who Let the Dogs Out on the radio.
Ben Sisto [00:18:05] Completely. And there’s actually this kind of amazing story of where they came up with the hook. So, these guys are driving around Florida in their parents’ Chevy Astro van. They’ve taken the backseats out to make room for extra speakers, and they’re blasting this album, Kings of Bass, by Bass Patrol. On that album, there’s a song called Da’ Mad Scientist. And very, very low in the mix–you can barely hear it if you’re not looking for it–there is a sample. And Brett and Joe didn’t know what it said. They’re making up lyrics. And at some point, they just said, “Who let the dogs out?” And it kind of stuck.
Brett Hammock [00:18:41] I just started throwing my arms out. “Who let the dogs out?”
Joe Gonzalez [00:18:44] He was trying to annoy me, driving.
Brett Hammock [00:18:46] And he didn’t take me as mocking him. He started doing it, too! So, we’re jumping around, hopping around, and singing this song we just made up. And I looked at him. I said, “You know, that’s a pretty good hook.”
Ben Sisto [00:18:56] That sample is actually saying, “Who’s rocking this dog’s house?” And it comes from Pump Up the Party by Hassan. We should take a listen to this one. It’s not exactly the same. I would argue the Miami Boom stuff is transformative enough to be considered a new work. But you can really hear the seeds of it.
Hassan [00:19:16] Who’s rocking this dog’s house? (Who, who, who, who!) Who’s rocking this dog’s house? (Who, who, who, who!)
Roman Mars [00:19:32] So this is the thing that Miami Boom heard and turned it into their version of Who Let the Dogs Out?
Ben Sisto [00:19:39] Correct.
Roman Mars [00:19:40] You can see how it’s a progenitor, but it does seem like the leap between the two versions is greater in this one, as opposed to a lot of the other ones that we’ve heard today.
Ben Sisto [00:19:50] I would say this is more an instance of influence than copying.
Roman Mars [00:19:54] Right. Okay, so Miami Boom wrote this song in 1992. And was it released? Did other people hear it?
Ben Sisto [00:20:04] Very few. And I only became aware of it because they had posted it to YouTube, which isn’t really great for copyright dating purposes, right? Who knows when it was recorded? But after kind of earning their trust over a couple of years and stuff, they eventually produced a bunch of stuff, like old fliers… And one of the best things they produced was floppy disks that had the original vocals and samples from the recording session. In that box of floppies, there was even the original receipt from, like, the Kmart where they bought them in Florida. So that was one way of dating it. Then I took those disks to a data preservation company in the UK called KryoFlux, who helped me identify the hardware that would have been used. And then I found a deejay who had this piece of hardware. And we opened them up. All the samples were there. And this deejay and producer–his name is Mishnah–he’s also from Florida, he knows a lot about Miami bass, and he kind of verified for me that there is no way that this was fake.
Roman Mars [00:21:22] Once you determine the veracity of their song–that it was out there in the world–does Miami boom also feel like they’re owed something in terms of the copyright of Who Let the Dogs Out?
Ben Sisto [00:21:33] They definitely do. And I think they also want credit given to their studio engineer. Her name was Mamadou.
Brett Hammock [00:21:39] When I think about the times making this music, it was phenomenal. It was the best times of my life. The bottom line is I know where we believe it came from. There’s three names missing from that song, and they’re sitting right here. We should own that song. Yeah.
Roman Mars [00:21:58] The story is fun because the song is kind of funny and light and it’s a carnival song, but there’s a real sadness to this.
Ben Sisto [00:22:06] Yeah, it’s difficult as an artist to think about people who aren’t given proper attribution. You know, like, being cut out of a financial deal is one thing, but to be unknown when your song is known globally, I think, hurts.
Roman Mars [00:22:24] Yeah. Okay. So, I feel like I need to recap here a little bit. So, let’s go through all the versions. So first, here’s the Baha Men playing the version that we all know.
Baha Men [00:22:33] Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who, who?
Roman Mars [00:22:39] Which they got from Anslem Douglas in the Bahamas.
Anslem Douglas [00:22:41] I heard a woman shout out “Who let the dogs out?” (Who, who, who, who)
Roman Mars [00:22:47] Which he got from the Canadian radio deejays in the mid-nineties.
Wrecked Shop Radio [00:22:51] Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who, who!
Roman Mars [00:22:56] But before them, Gillette and 20 Fingers wrote this version in Chicago in 1994.
20 Fingers [00:23:00] Who let them dogs loose? (Woof! Woof, woof-woof) Who let them dogs loose? (Woof! Woof, woof-woof)
Roman Mars [00:23:02] And before that, Miami Boom wrote this in 1992.
Miami Boom Productions [00:23:11] Who let the dogs out? (Who, who, who, who, who!) Who let the dogs out? (Who, who, who, who, who!)
Ben Sisto [00:23:21] Yeah. Roman, I hate to keep doing this to you, but there is more.
High School Football Stadium Chant [00:23:27] Who let the dogs out? (who? who?) Who let the dogs out? (who? who?)
Roman Mars [00:23:33] So what is that?
Ben Sisto [00:23:34] Yeah. After I started doing some research and getting a little press, this guy, John Michael Davis from Dowagiac, Michigan, learned about what I was doing and got in touch. And he told me this story that starts in 1990 in Dowagiac. And then, it was sort of, like, a down and out place. It had this nickname, the Dogpatch. And the town really needed something to rally around. So, Jonathan tells me this, like, Rudy-like tale of high school football where there’s a Hail Mary pass and he just starts chanting, “Ooh! Ooh! Let the dogs out!” And then the whole stadium starts chanting it. And then, yeah, it just happens. I should preface and say that’s how he remembers it. Other people from this football team don’t remember it that way. Some people told me a guy named Keith, the Funky Bus Driver, came up with it. It’s kind of a mystery, but what’s important is that this team blew up. They won the state champion, and this chant was their motto. So as part of the research, we visited Dowagiac. And just, like, locals were like, “Oh, what are you guys doing here?” “We’re researching Who Let the Dogs Out.” And people just started giving us VHS tapes and, like, old Silkscreens, and there’s just all this stuff there with Who Let the Dogs Out on it from 1990. This team’s coach was named Bernard Thomas, and he was so beloved, they called him Saint Bernard. His players were, like, his dogs. And it just made sense.
Roman Mars [00:25:09] So is the assertion that they’re making that this football chant traveled down to Miami to inspire Miami Boom.
Ben Sisto [00:25:20] I think they’re not sure where it traveled to next or how. But get this, Joe from Miami Boom is originally from Michigan until he was, like, eight years old or something. So, I plotted this Google map of all the places the chant appeared in Michigan after the Dowagiac Chieftains had this great victory here. And that map formed a near perfect circle around Joe’s hometown. So, I was like, “Are you kidding me?” So, it just, like, was so clean. So, I got in touch with Joe, and he verified for me that he was there that summer visiting family. But he says he’s got absolutely no memory of hearing the chant. But also, when I pressed him with the evidence, he wasn’t, like, overly defensive about it.
Joe Gonzalez [00:26:09] I feel like I will never allow to publicly say, “I wrote that song you know called Who Let the Dogs Out.” What I can say is, in 1992, I wrote a song called Who Let the Dogs Out. If you want to hear it, it’s on YouTube. You know, that’s all I can ever say.
Ben Sisto [00:26:25] So as it turns out, “Who let the dogs out?” “Let the dogs out,” “Let some dogs loose”–these are all phrases that actually pop up here and there in regional high school sports long before someone recorded a song–before Stevie B. So, I’m scouring all these old newspaper archives. The earliest I’ve been able to find was from 1986. The Austin Reagan High School in Austin, Texas–their team, the Raiders, used it.
Austin Reagan High School Pep Rally [00:26:53] Who let the dogs out? (Who? Who? Who? Who?) Who let the dogs out? (Who? Who? Who? Who?)
Roman Mars [00:26:59] Holy moly.
Ben Sisto [00:27:01] Yeah, that’s from a pep rally. And it’s just a weird, like, couple of seconds embedded in this much longer video chronicling the football team. It’s been on YouTube this whole time.
Roman Mars [00:27:15] And what year is that?
Ben Sisto [00:27:17] 1986.
Roman Mars [00:27:18] I mean, that sounds more like the last version–you know, like, the final version–than even some of the ones in between.
Ben Sisto [00:27:24] Roman, it’s a wild ride.
Roman Mars [00:27:31] Oh my goodness. Oh, my goodness. So, have we finally reached the bedrock of Who Let the Dogs Out? Do we actually know who let the dogs out at this point?
Ben Sisto [00:27:43] Well, this is as far back as I can go. The title of the Baha Men song doesn’t have a question mark in it. And I realized after looking into it all this time I just have to accept that maybe it’s not a question. It’s probably unanswerable.
Roman Mars [00:27:59] I mean, when you started this, did you think it would be this hard to determine who wrote a single song?
Ben Sisto [00:28:06] No way. I think if I had known, I would not have done this. But, you know, it was a nice surprise. And there’s been a lot of nice surprises along the way. I got to meet all these, like, cool people and producers. Maybe I would have done it again.
Roman Mars [00:28:21] Yeah. There are all these sort of ways in which people borrow and they take in information. It becomes processed in their brains. Maybe they spit it out as an homage, or maybe they don’t know where it comes from. I mean, do you think about, like, how a song is passed between different people? Are some of them lying, or are none of them lying? I mean, like, where do you sort of stand in everyone’s story, in this story?
Ben Sisto [00:28:49] I don’t think anybody in the story is lying. And I actually think people have been pretty forthcoming and open to the notion that you can hear something and that it’s just in there subconsciously until it’s ready to come out. I think one of the big myths we tell ourselves about art is that it’s made by individuals. And that myth is sort of what the art market is propped up on. I mean, from my own experience, I vividly remember being 20 at art school. I have this idea in a woodshop class to make a box. And the box was going to have an audio tape that contained the sounds of the box being made–just, like, youthful, conceptual daydream or whatever. And this was my idea until, like, years later, I learned that Robert Morris created a work in 1961 called Box with the Sound of Its Own Making. So, it’s like, “I don’t know, did I get the idea from him? Was it coincidence? Was it copying?” Like, I just can’t tell you. And I think that’s what’s cool about all the dog stuff–it’s just about the very nature of art and life. And I think that all these ideas apply to every piece of creative work ever made.
Roman Mars [00:30:06] Oh, that’s so cool. Well, I really appreciate you taking us on this journey. And, you know, maybe we’ll never know the answer to who let the dogs out, but the question is still worth asking.
Ben Sisto [00:30:16] Well, thanks for having me. I’m surprised any time people want to hear me talk about this. But, yeah, it was a lot of fun. Thank you.
Roman Mars [00:30:49] It certainly surprised me to learn that Who Let the Dogs Out doesn’t actually have a question mark, but titles that are grammatically questions without actually being written as questions are surprisingly common. More on that after this. This episode is brought to you by Starfield. Embark on an epic journey through the stars in Bethesda Game Studios first new universe in over 25 years. In this next generation role playing game, you decide who you are and what you will become. The most important story is the one that you tell. Captain your own ship as you venture through the settled systems, exploring over 1,000 planets while unraveling humanity’s greatest mystery. For all, into the Starfield. Visit www.starfieldgame.com to learn more and preorder. Rated M for mature.
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Stephen Dubner [00:32:14] Are you curious about the hidden side of everything? Then I have the podcast for you. I’m Stephen Dubner, host of Freakonomics Radio. Every week we hear from some of the world’s most fascinating scholars and thinkers as we tackle a variety of topics, like why the best employees can make the worst bosses, why the banana is the most interesting fruit in the world, and why we dread air travel even though it’s a miracle. Go ahead. Listen to Freakonomics Radio wherever you get your podcasts.
Roman Mars [00:32:47] So I’m in the studio with Chris Berube. And you’re actually in town.
Chris Berube [00:32:50] I am. I’m in Oakland, California.
Roman Mars [00:32:51] That’s amazing. It’s so good to have you here.
Chris Berube [00:32:54] It’s great to be here.
Roman Mars [00:32:54] And you helped us put together this episode on Who Let the Dogs Out. And one of the things that is kind of remarkable that is hard to convey in a podcast is that there is a kind of quirk to the title, Who Let the Dogs Out. And that is that it isn’t a question. It doesn’t end in a question. Who Let the Dogs Out is just the end of it. There’s no question mark at the end of it.
Chris Berube [00:33:16] Yeah, it’s a statement of fact, which is really strange. And actually, when Ben was talking about the question mark, it reminded me of something that happened to me a year ago. So, I was hanging out with my friend Liz, who’s a movie producer. We watch a lot of movies together. And she’s like, “Hey, have you seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” I tried watching it as a kid. It’s really scary when you’re a little kid because they’re very mean to the cartoons. So, I was like, “You know what? Yes, let’s give it another try. Let’s put it on.” So, she turns the movie on, and then immediately I’m like, “Oh, there’s something really weird about this movie.” And she’s like, “Oh, the humans and cartoons are interacting?” I’m like, “No. That is fine. That is logically consistent to me.” There is something else, like, right when the movie starts that really bothered me.
Liz Watson [00:34:01] It starts with a very lovely kind of jazzy, low, blue note. And then the movie’s titles fade onto screen. It’s literally the first visual of the film. And it’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit!” Except instead of a question mark, it is phrased with an exclamation point at the end. So not “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, but “Who Framed Roger Rabbit!”
Chris Berube [00:34:25] So that’s my friend Liz, who I watched the movie with. And she told me there’s a very specific reason for that. And it’s because the director of the movie, Robert Zemeckis, gave this interview where he said there is a superstition in Hollywood that if you put a question mark at the end of your title, the movie will bomb at the box office. And when you think about it, there’s lots of examples that back that up. So, like, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a statement of fact.
Roman Mars [00:34:51] Okay.
Chris Berube [00:34:52] What’s Love Got to Do with It with Tina Turner is also a statement. And what’s weird about it, though, is this is not a superstition that everyone follows. So, there’s lots of examples where they don’t use the question mark, and there’s lots of examples where they do.
Liz Watson [00:35:07] Say for example, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner–I think that came out in 1967. It’s a huge, huge hit. It’s got Spencer Tracy. It’s got Sidney Poitier. It’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” no question mark. And I always took that as an example of a movie that–okay–they followed the rule. Contemporaneously, you have Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which is, like, Liz Taylor’s huge, huge, huge comeback–massive, massive, massive hit. You have They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? starring Jane Fonda. That’s got a question mark. That’s a huge hit.
Chris Berube [00:35:36] So it’s not precise. So, you have movies like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which do really well. But then you have all these other movies at the same time, which are also doing well. So, Liz and I were looking through all these titles in history and trying to figure out some pattern or some rhyme or reason to why you put in a question mark. And what we noticed is that there’s lots of dramas that don’t use question marks. So, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape–really serious movie. But comedies use them all the time. So, Dude, Where’s my Car? That is a question. O Brother, Where Art Thou? That’s a pretty goofy film. That is also a question. And Liz’s theory about this is that the question mark really sets you up for a certain kind of mood.
Liz Watson [00:36:21] I would say sort of zaniness or wistfulness. It’s sort of like one or the other. So, you have What About Bob? which has a question mark at the end because it’s kind of like, “What about Bob?” And it makes you feel kind of, like, cheerful and goofy. Like, you’re waiting for the punchline. You’re waiting for the shoe to drop. It’s like being told the first half of a joke.
Chris Berube [00:36:39] So ultimately, there’s kind of no rhyme or reason to this. Like, there’s lots of movies with question marks. There’s lots of movies without question marks. But what Liz explained to me, which is interesting, is it really is in keeping with how the movie industry makes decisions–that one thing does really well, and then they kind of try and guess if that thing is going to do well again. So, she says it’s part of this bigger pattern where people are trying to guess things in this industry where success can sometimes feel totally random.
Liz Watson [00:37:08] You can’t fully predict how people are going to act. And so, people get very, very into these, like, nitty gritty sort of, you know, like, “Oh, people don’t like leads with blond hair this year.” “That remake flopped. We’re never going to make remakes for, like, 15 more years.” “That musical did really well, so now we’re going to do 30 more musicals.” I mean, these kind of superstitions are just trying to put lightning in a bottle and trying to, like, apply any kind of rhyme or reason to what is ultimately such a multivariate and shifting public mood that will put or not put money in your pocket that you’ll latch onto stuff like question marks in the titles, which is, like, the equivalent of wearing the same pair of shorts for every NCAA finals game you play in.
Chris Berube [00:37:55] So ultimately, there’s kind of no answer to the mystery except to say that all creativity and art is a mystery.
Roman Mars [00:38:03] And what, I think, I take some kind of delight in is the potential that there’s these, like, sweaty people in suits really vexed over whether or not question marks should go next to the title or not.
Chris Berube [00:38:17] Absolutely. And, like, “What is this telling our audience if we are telling them, ‘Dude, where is my car?’ as a complete sentence.”
Roman Mars [00:38:27] I know. Oh, I kind of love it. So, I guess so much of what we do on the show is to think about all the thought that goes into things. And often the result is, like, a beautiful object or, you know, a functioning street or a curb cut or whatever. And this is truly like deck chairs on the Titanic.
Chris Berube [00:38:50] This is truly: “We don’t know how this works.”
Roman Mars [00:38:53] “We don ‘t know what’s going on. It probably means nothing.”
Chris Berube [00:38:56] “But we’re going to make all sorts of decisions.”
Roman Mars [00:38:58] “There’s going to be a meeting about it.”
Chris Berube [00:39:01] “It is a whole meeting to decide whether or not, “Dude, Where is My Car” is a statement or a question and if that is going to influence whether a teenager is going to go see that movie.
Roman Mars [00:39:12] Oh, I love it. I love it. Okay. Well, that’s a mystery unsolved. But, you know, I’ll now think of it whenever I see a poster and someone deciding that this is a declarative statement versus a query, which is awesome. Cool. Thanks, Chris.
Chris Berube [00:39:29] Thanks, Roman!
Roman Mars [00:39:37] This episode of 99% Invisible was produced by Ben Sisto and Chris Berube. Edited by Emmett FitzGerald. Mixed by Sharif Youssef. Music by Swan Real, with barking from Carrot Riddle Real. RIP Carrot… you were a good boy. There is a cool documentary about Ben’s investigation called Who Let the Dogs Out, and it goes into a bunch of detail we couldn’t fit into this episode, and it is delightful to watch. It’s available now for rent or purchase on all the VOD platforms, and as of this rerun, it’s streaming on Peacock and Tubi. Special thanks to Brent Hodge, Aly Kelly, and Jasleen Kaur for providing audio from their movie for this episode. Also, thanks to Liz Watson for the story about Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and to Avery Trufelman, who saw the documentary and insisted we do this story. Kathy Tu is our executive producer. Delaney Hall is our senior editor. Kurt Kohlstedt is the digital director. The rest of the team includes Jayson DeLeon, Martín Gonzalez, Christopher Johnson, Vivien Le, Lasha Madan, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Kelly Prime, Joe Rosenberg, and me Roman Mars. The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stephan Lawrence. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM Podcast Family. Now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora building in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. You can find links to other Stitcher shows I love as well as every past episode of 99PI and 99pi.org.
Swan Real [00:41:16] Okay, Carrot. Lie down. Good boy, Carrot. Say, “Stitcher.”
Carrot Riddle Real [00:41:20] Woof!
Swan Real [00:41:23] Good. Say, “SiriusXM.”
Carrot Riddle Real [00:41:28] Woof!
Swan Real [00:41:28] Good boy.