How A Chain Email Convinced The World ‘The Ketchup Song’ Was An Ode To Satan
Was it simply an innocent pinger anthem? Or was it a secret campaign to get children to worship the devil?
School discos were the most important dates of the social calendar at my primary school. We’d pile into our school gymnasium at 6.30pm, where the sports equipment had been swapped out for streamers and a disco ball, while someone’s slightly older cousin sulked in the corner enclosed in a makeshift DJ booth.
When we weren’t gravitating toward the snack table to eat Doritos and drink Coke, we’d stand with our backs against the wall, staring out in the empty abyss of the dancefloor. A couple of people would be pushed into the centre by their asshole friends before quickly scurrying away. It was next to impossible to fill the dancefloor — until the DJ put on ‘The Ketchup Song’.
Before complicated TikTok dances, before ‘Gangnam Style’ and even Soulja Boy inspired thousands of truly cursed dance videos around the world, there was ‘The Ketchup Song’. Despite being almost entirely in Spanish and having a completely nonsensical chorus, the song was inescapable throughout the English speaking world in the early 2000s. The dance from the music video became a hit around the globe; its easy repetitive moves almost on par with the ‘Macarena’ at the time.
But as its popularity grew, a rumour began to spread that the pleasant, mindless bop was actually an ode to Satan designed to tempt children to worship the devil. So were we unwittingly dancing to a love letter to Lucifer? Or was it all really just about a guy high on pingers? We decided to finally take a closer look.
Friday Night, It’s Party Time
‘The Ketchup Song’ was the debut single by Spanish pop group Las Ketchup, and feature on their debut studio album Hijas del Tomate — which translates to ‘daughters of tomato’.
A quick note about tomatoes: the group’s unrelenting obsession with them is due to the fact that the members, Lucía, Lola, and Pilar Muñoz, are all daughters of flamenco musician Juan Manuel Muñoz Expósito, best known by his stage name, El Tomate. (I would pay an extremely large sum of money to get a tour of the Muñoz household to see to what degree tomatoes have infiltrated their home decor.)
The track was released in 2002 and immediately became an international hit. It topped music charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and at least 20 countries across Europe. It sold over seven-million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time. For a frame of reference, that’s as many copies that ‘Another Bites The Dust’ by Queen sold. The world had ketchup fever, even if we had absolutely no idea what we were singing.
Being a child at a school disco in Australia, I just sang a probably offensive bastardisation of the Spanish lyrics (“you know why my honey?/And a boogie and a boogie with me!”). We all did.
Rumours of ‘The Ketchup Song’ being a devil-worshipping song began to spread via a far-reaching chain email (the 2002 equivalent of going viral) which broke down the lyrics of the song and concluded it was basically a love song to Lucifer. The rumours spread so far that one Mexican TV station banned it from playing.
We should note, of course, that this piece isn’t the first time the song has been broken down and pored over for demonic references — just last year writer Michael Di Iorio concluded in Tone Deaf that it was indeed very Satanic. But let’s have a look at it for ourselves, shall we?
The Devil Is In The Detail
The conspiracy about this song falls mainly into two parts: its Spanish title (‘Aserje’) and the content of the lyrics. Some have tried to claim that the song was hiding subliminal messages in its backmasking, ‘Yvan Eht Nioj’ style — which, oddly enough, is also a catchy popular song featuring three honeys singing ‘nonsensical’ lyrics on a beach. A second conspiracy perhaps?
The backmasking strategy could never be proven, and in their defence, literally all songs sound creepy as fuck when played backwards.
Conspiracists say that breaking down the Spanish title of the song, ‘Aserje’, is your first clue into its devilish nature. The theory goes that in Spanish, ‘a’ means ‘to’, ‘ser’ means ‘be’, and ‘ereje’ means ‘heretical’, so the title of the song could mean ‘to be heretical’, or in opposition of the church.
The supposedly damning lyrics start in the first verse:
[See what’s coming around the corner]
Mira lo que se avecina a la vuelta de la esquina
[Diego comes dancing]
Viene Diego rumbeando
[With the moon in his pupils and his seawater suit]
Con la luna en las pupilas y su traje agua marina
Satan-haters interpret these lyrics to signify the devil dancing around the corner. Being “around the corner” is supposed to be a prophecy that the devil is on his way and will be coming to earth pretty soon. Although the Spanish translation of devil is ‘diablo’, the name does bear a slight resemblance to Diego — who in this song allegedly acts as the devil’s messenger.
‘Rumbeando’ can mean partying, prowling, or dancing — all things that the devil loves to do. Adding to this, his “seawater suit” is the devil’s favourite colour (blue) and the moon pupils are just an added layer of creepy.
The next verse is really where believers say Satan comes in.
[And where else there is no room for a soul, there it gets to be cane]
Y donde más no cabe un alma allí mete a darse caña
[Possessed by the ragatanga beat]
Poseído por el ritmo ragatanga
Having no soul is classic devil stuff. But the idea that Diego has no soul and it’s replaced with cane (aka torture or pain)? And that he’s ‘possessed by the beat’? Clearly, it’s time to burn Diego at the stake.
The chorus is a bit of a stretch, but this chain mail was certain that it was a call to leave your earthly body and give yourself to Satan. There isn’t a direct translation of this phrase into English, so the chain mail decided to look a little closer.
De jebe tu de jebere
It starts with ‘Aserje’, so if we believe the interpretation, ‘to be heretical’. They claim that ‘ja’ could be pointing to ‘jehova’ in the Bible, and that “de jebe tu de jebere” can be understood to mean ‘stop being yourself, leave your being’. So the chorus could read as ‘be heretical to Jehovah, stop being yourself, leave your being’.
…Or Is He?
The chain email did the rounds online for a while, but the claims never really stuck. And in a shocking turn of events, the song didn’t usher in the Dark Apocalypse.
Las Ketchup never outwardly denounced the theory (classic Satanists) and the song has continued on — a one hit wonder that will trigger a fight or flight response in anyone that was around to witness it the first time.
So what’s its real meaning then, if not an ode to the devil? If we’re taking the song at face value (and going by the story Las Ketchup have stood by), the song is a humble tale of a suave flamboyant dude named Diego who just wants to dance.
Revisiting the first verse, the moon is in his pupils because he’s high as fuck and his eyes look like dinner plates. He rocks up to the club wearing his favourite aquamarine shirt and is just there to party. He’s actually good mates with the DJ, so as it’s about to hit midnight he wanders up to the booth and requests his favourite tune.
[And the DJ who knows him plays the anthem at 12]
Y el DJ que lo conoce toca el himno de las 12
[For Diego the most desired song]
Para Diego la canción más deseada
[And he dances it and enjoys it and sings it]
Y la baila y la goza y la canta
But the problem is, Diego doesn’t speak English, so the only way he can request this banger is by trying to sing the chorus in Spanish. And so he gets in the DJ’s ear and sings:
Aserejé ja de jé de jebe
tu de jebere sebiunouva
majabi an de bugui
an de buididipí
As the story goes, the song he was actually trying to request was ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by The Sugarhill Gang. Listening to the song, you can hear the similarities in the beat and phrasing. Plus you can totally see what Diego was going for, trying to sing, “I said a hip hop the hippie the hippie to the hip hip hop, and you don’t stop”.
So depending on who you believe, ‘The Ketchup Song’ is either about a hot guy named Diego who was high on pingers and just wanted to listen to The Sugarhill Gang at his favourite club — or it’s a club banger worshipping the very personification of evil itself, and that Las Ketchup were using to recruit children into the Church of the Night.
Either way, this enigmatic song and its embarrassing accompanying dance moves will live on forever. It’s only a matter of time until the TikTok teens discover it and make it their own.
Dani Leever is a pop culture writer based in Melbourne. They tweet about their dogs, feelings and gay stuff at @danileever