When DJ Casper picks up the phone, it’s like getting a direct line to a messiah, or the Moviefone guy. You know he exists of flesh and blood, but speaking with him is the miraculous proof that he is out there. “DJ Casper?”
“That’s me,” confirms the voice of every middle school function I have ever attended.
That was nearly 20 years ago, but current middle-schoolers are hearing his voice, too, right now, on TikTok, where there are currently more than 331 million views on videos hashtagged with the name of his 2000 dance hit the “Cha Cha Slide.” (“Slide to the left/slide to the right / criss cross! criss cross!”) The evergreen tune fired up in late-nineties Chicago clubs is a simple series of instructions, stated, confidently, on a spacious tempo with beats that might come with the pre-set metronome features on an electronic keyboard.
It’s loose enough that you could interpret “take it back now y’all” as an invitation to pull a backflip or just inch your walker back a step. You’ve probably seen a cat, or a professional dance crew, do it.
But after an uninterrupted history of bringing joy to all, a spate of news headlines has lately blighted the “Cha Cha Slide.” A handful of TikTokers have set the song to handheld videos showing them swerving across the yellow highway lines and stomping on the gas pedal when DJ Casper commands “right foot, two stomps.”
They represent a minority of TikTok’s “Cha Cha Slide” content—which includes a lady with a horse, a father/son duo, LittleMisssJae, a trampoline slide, a soccer team from Paraguay—but google “Cha Cha Slide” today, and the top headlines pull up terms like “dangerous” and “likely to maim.” (Although even this is not new; see YouTube circa 2008).
That’s not the “Cha Cha Slide” DJ Casper wrote, and given its tendency to inspire one trend and wedding dance and commercial and comedy sketch after another, it’s not the one that will prevail. DJ Casper agreed to tell me about the genesis of a phenomenon to outlast the internet.
Gizmodo: I apologise, I know you’re probably sick of talking about the “Cha Cha Slide” by now!
DJ Casper: Hey, I’m never sick of the song. It’s still doing what it’s supposed to do.
Gizmodo: Does it surprise you that the “Cha Cha Slide” is still viral?
DJ Casper: Well, of course. It’s always a surprise to see that people still love a song that came out twenty years ago like it’s brand new.
Gizmodo: I heard on the podcast Every Little Thing that it began as a set of lyrics written down for your nephew...
DJ Casper: Mmhm, he worked at Bally’s, he was an aerobics instructor. I wrote it for him in 1998 as a workout.
Gizmodo: You had just written lyrics, no music?
DJ Casper: Yes, it was just the steps.
Gizmodo: Did you have any concept of what the dance would look like when you wrote it?
DJ Casper: I just did it and sung with it. I’d move to the right and say “to the right! To the left. Take it back now y’all.” Did it like that.
Gizmodo: How did you get that record deal with Universal?
DJ Casper: Well I couldn’t release that very first version because it had music from someone else–it was Jaydee’s “Plastic Dreams,” an old house song from back in the days. We couldn’t get the rights to use it, which is why I went in and grabbed the live band. That’s why [in the commercial release], you hear “This is something new: the Casper Slide Part 2, featuring the Platinum Band.”
After it took off through the aerobic exercise, I decided, I’m going to keep this going because people like to do easy stuff, stuff that people are telling them to do. After I recorded it with the live band, I started taking it to the clubs, and from there it just spread, it went crazy. A lot of people are going out to the clubs and can’t dance, so they tend to sit there. But when they hear the “Cha Cha Slide,” they’ll get up and try that.
People started calling the radio station, and the radio station didn’t know about it. The program director for WGCI, Elroy Smith, asked around and asked around, and he ended up following them to me. I went down there and took a copy of it to [Smith], and then it started snowballing from there, people started raging about it. He sent it to some people from Universal, and from there, it just went straight on.
So many people were calling about the song that he wanted to shoot a video. He made an announcement on the radio saying we were going to be shooting a video at the Click–it was called the Click back then. We had hundreds and hundreds of people show up for the video shoot, but everybody couldn’t get in, so when Universal came and reshot the video outside, I made sure everybody got in on it.
Gizmodo: I read that it was inspired by the Chicago stepping movement.
DJ Casper: Well I don’t think it was inspired by the Chicago steppers’ movement. It was inspired by a guy Charlie Green who actually had the original “Bus Stop” that came out. [Sings “Bus Stop”]. It was done off of people’s choice back in the day. So that inspired me to keep stuff alive like this.
Gizmodo: I heard from a segment on Chicago Tonight that after the song took off, you’d get off a plane, and there would be ten thousand people waiting for you.
DJ Casper: Yeah I went out to London to do some of the big shows–“Top of the Pops,” some of the clubs. When I got off the plane at Heathrow, there were about ten thousand people just waiting, and I was like, wow. This is some greeting, here. And once I got to London, I shot a new video out there–it was “Oops, Upside Your Head.” You remember the old song? I redid that. You can see in the video the thousands of people who came out.
Gizmodo: Why do you think it got so big in the UK? It was number one in England, Ireland, and Scotland for a while?
DJ Casper: Yes, it stayed number one for 15 weeks. I actually knocked Britney Spears out of first place when she had the song Toxic.
I think it took off in Europe because they love dance music. If you notice anything they do in the club–you can have an old slow song, and they end up putting a dance track behind the slow song and making it huge.
Gizmodo: What’s your favourite interpretation of the “Cha Cha Slide”?
DJ Casper: When I see the young kids trying to do it. That brings a great feeling inside. When you see that the kids like it–it’s kind of educational. It teaches them left from right, it teaches them how to count–you say one hop, five hops. To see the young generation doing it, that’s what really does it for me.
One time, I went to Turkey to do a bat mitzvah, and they had over 3,000 kids. And they were just enjoying themselves.
Also, I did the Disney Kids Awards in London [at the Royal Albert Hall in 2004]. They told me to just sit in the audience and enjoy the awards. They ended up giving me an award, and when I went up to accept it, they asked, “how about you give us a little rendition of the ‘Cha Cha Slide’?” And when I started doing it, they had thousands of kids come out on the stage. I was like oh my goodness. I was almost in tears, just to see how happy the kids were to be on stage with me. Once I got done, they gave me a big group hug, and it felt so good to know that the kids really enjoyed themselves. It was just amazing. The good part about it is to see the parents knowing that if they listen to something that I’ve created it’ll be something positive, it won’t be anything negative.
Gizmodo: I find it very heartwarming to see what a wide variety of people come together around it.
DJ Casper: Right, it’s like a unite song.
Gizmodo: About TikTok...
DJ Casper: What is it, TikTok.com?
Gizmodo: Yes, it’s a massive karaoke app–it’s really popular amongst teens in particular. Basically it gives you 15-second clips of music, and you can make videos of yourself dancing or doing whatever you want. But I mention it because there are some news reports now that parents are worried about kids swerving their cars to the “Cha Cha Slide” on TikTok. I was wondering whether I could get your thoughts on that?
DJ Casper: I’m downloading TikTok now. Let me see here…[Pauses] Where they’re driving in the car going across the yellow line?
Gizmodo: Yes. It doesn’t seem like it’s in the spirit of the song...
DJ Casper: That’s definitely not the spirit of the song, and that’s something that I would not endorse anyone to do. I don’t want the “Cha Cha Slide” to be in any way, any part of negativity. I did see there were some guys on YouTube who did a video pulling out different guns, and I contacted YouTube and had them take it down.
I don’t like to be involved in situations like that. I don’t endorse any of that at all. My music was meant to be for people to enjoy themselves in a positive way. And that’s all my music. So the challenge that they’re doing with these cars–I wouldn’t endorse that at all. And I would hope that TikTok would take that down. Not only are they playing with their lives with these cars–it’s raining out there, anything could happen.
Gizmodo: I’m glad to hear that from you. On a positive note–how did the song change your life?
DJ Casper: Well I got a chance to see the world. I’ve been all over the world with this song, and people get to know me, and I get to know them. And to see people enjoying themselves and having a lot of fun in a positive way is always a plus to me when it comes to music.
Gizmodo: What’s your general philosophy of music?
DJ Casper: Music is supposed to sooth the saddest soul. You’re supposed to be able to listen to music and just clear your whole mind. I want people to enjoy themselves. That’s why I keep my music positive. I have maybe 100 different songs, and none of them have anything about drugs or guns or killing and fighting or calling ladies out on their names–it’s all on a positive note to make people come together and enjoy their life. I don’t even listen to any new school hip hop. Their message is nothing but girls, drugs, money, guns. I don’t endorse that in no type of way.
Gizmodo: Can we anticipate any upcoming releases?
DJ Casper: Actually I do have a new album that came out in January–the name of the CD is “Let’s Do It.” I have a whole lot of different dances on it. It’s a pretty fun album.
Gizmodo: Thank you, DJ Casper.
DJ Casper will be celebrating the twenty-year anniversary of the “Cha Cha Slide” on May 16th. You can check out his radio station here.