When historians sit down to write the strange tale of the 21st century, the internet will probably give them a lot of trouble.
Take “The Hampsterdance” for instance: almost 20 years after this strange internet phenomenon got its start we all know the song by heart. And if you’re old enough to remember the website, those dancing hamsters are burned into your brain. But why did we become obsessed with these adorable rodents? The answer is pretty surprising.
It all started with Deirdre Lacarte, an art student who was living in British Columbia, Canada in the summer of 1998. Lacarte, her sister, and her friend started a friendly competition: they would each start a website and see who could get the most visitors (spoiler alert: Lacarte won).
LaCarte’s entry to the contest was a GeoCities web page with dozens of dancing hamster gifs. Later, she added a looping song in the background, which was at the cutting edge of HTML design in those early days of the internet.
The sped-up nine-second loop of “Whistle Stop,” best-known as the song from the opening credits of Disney’s Robin Hood, combined with the hamsters to become an instant sensation. At first, LaCarte’s site got about 4 visitors per day, but almost overnight The Hampsterdance became a global hit.
LaCarte had been inspired by her own pet hamster, Hampton Hamster, when she designed the site. But the silly music and dancing rodents had a universal appeal.
Just before the year 2000, the number of visitors to hamsterdance.com started to skyrocket. By June 1999, the site celebrated its 17 millionth visit. Part of The Hampsterdance’s viral success came down to its prank potential; eight years before Rickrolling became the internet’s favorite practical joke, co-workers were tricking each other into visiting the dancing hamsters.
With the Hampsterdance being featured on bumper stickers and internet provider commercials, it was only a matter of time before the song took on a life of its own. A group called The Boomtang Boys produced their own version of the song, with rapper Erin Andres voicing “Hampton the Hamster.”
Over the years it became Radio Disney’s all-time most played song, after topping the charts in Canada reaching spot #4 on the Billboard Dance Chart. Better businessmen than musicians, the Boomtang Boys seriously capitalized on their one big hit. Their later discography includes The Hampster Dance Party, Hampsterdance Hits, and A Very Hampsterdance Christmas.
While LaCarte doesn’t get a cut of the song’s royalties, she’s managed to turn her website into a store for Hampsterdance t-shirts, CDs and other merchandise. Plus, she gets the satisfaction of knowing she created one of the web’s first – and best – viral sensations.
But hey, if you’re dying to visit the classic site one last time, it’s still here too.
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