SXSW Review: ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’

There’s only one song like ‘Who Let the Dogs Out.’ Or is there? Whatever the answer to that question, Ben Sisto: whose life has been consumed by said query — is the undisputed world expert on the annoyingly catchy pop-culture relic by the Baha Men. Having amassed a collection of over 300 items related to the tune and studied the song for over 8 years, he enters the documentary Who Let the Dogs Out to examine how and when the song was written, and who really let those canines out.

Sisto’s quest began when he was updating a way to fix an incomplete citation on the song’s Wikipedia page. The obsessive-compulsive need to remedy this quirk caused him to enter down the biggest Wikipedia rabbit hole that’s ever happened.

Sisto, who’s aware of his near insanity, is quite engaging, funny, and self deprecating. Much of the documentary switches between Sisto giving a presentation in a live audience and him interviewing varying subjects who all claim to have written the song. The documentary stretches from the present day to 1990 (and really, beyond).

In fact, Who Let the Dogs Out spans several continents and states, from Washington, to the Caribbean, to England, Canada, Florida, Michigan, and even Texas. Sisto weaves through years of copyright lawsuits, centered around the refrain of the song: ‘Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof, woof.’ And with each regression into the past, with each sample of a song that sounds very similar to the pop phenomenon, the more absurdist the film becomes.

What’s most intriguing about the documentary and the song, isn’t necessarily the amount of people who claim to have written the mammoth pop hit, but the number of people who actually had the same idea over the span of a couple decades. The documentary truly tracks the connectivity we have as humans.

Almost no idea is born out of the ether. Hit songs are hits song because we all feel as though we have written that music and said those words to ourselves, and in some cases, we have even recorded them.

So when Sisto talks to Isaiah Taylor, Steve Greenberg, Jonathan King, Anslem Douglas, Patrick Stephenson and Leroy Williams, B-Nastie and Miami J, and even the unassuming John Michael Davis, and they all unflinchingly claim to have written the song, it’s a testament to the personal connection of music and how a communal idea can be shaped to new interpretations and meanings dependent upon said lifestyle or culture.

The tidy 66-minute documentary demonstrates not only what makes a hit song a hit, but what makes us human. And while it never truly answers the question of ‘who let the dogs out,’ the journey to the center of this unsolvable mystery is worth making.

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