Before the days of apartment raves, hearing the muffled nightcore-inspired mix through your walls, or even the Doomer remixes, the internet was a different place. Some of us wax nostalgically, remembering those times fondly and wishing to return to those halcyon days. Amidst these memories, a song emerges; the BGM for our early internet antics. Sparkling and extravagant, the song inspired a generation of people. Not simply limited as an internet phenomenon, but a cultural movement that left a lasting impression on an entire generation. Proof of this is evident in the recent resurgence of content related to it. Though the context of the times have changed, the feelings the song invokes are nevertheless the same. This is an ode to Caramelldansen (Speedycake remix).
Let’s return to a simpler time; where we weren’t yet living in a post-Flash world and old internet forums still mattered. An internet much different, where communities were not as connected and everything you stumbled across was a novel piece of art. Online communities were still in a somewhat primitive state where information was not as readily available as it is today. People used usernames to uphold the precedent of anonymity, nothing was taken seriously and it was all “for the lulz.” The internet had not become as intertwined with the flipside as it has in recent years. It felt like a unique world where normal rules didn’t apply. Smaller userbases resulted in the insular nature of some communities and in-jokes ran rampant, many of which have become legendary memes as time has gone on. This was the golden age of the internet. A more decentralized internet was the source of many fond memories for many people much like myself when I first started getting online. While I wasn’t old enough to be into or experience the height of the popularity of things such as the original Caramelldansen meme, the Golden Age of /b/ or the Haruhi boom of 2006, I still enjoy learning about these times and appreciate them as relics of better days. I guess I just like living vicariously within the rose-tinted nostalgia for times I would have otherwise lived in.
The origins of the flash animation were in the 18+ PC game Popotan which was released in Japan on December 12th, 2002, later adapted into a 1-cour anime series that aired between July 17 and October 2, 2003. While the context of the eroge and anime itself are largely inconsequential for this discussion, I wanted to mention a few important staff members that would go on to be legends within the realm of otaku media. The first of which being character designer Poyoyon Rock (Watanabe Akio), known for his work on the Monogatari Series and Nurse Witch Komugi-chan anime as well as the Grisaia no Kajitsu game to name a few. Alongside UNDER17 in the musical credits, now-legendary denpa singer Torormi performs an insert song entitled “Mii-tan no Mahou de PON!” as well as is the seiyuu for Mii on the original 18+ PC release of the game. This will be important in a bit. Interestingly enough, Momoi Haruko performs as Mii’s seiyuu on the all-ages version of the game on PS2 released in early 2004. Another important cast member is seiyuu Kadowaki Mai, whom you might recognize as the voice of Illyasviel von Einzbern from a little-known series called “Fate Stay/Night.” Her role as Mare for Popotan was actually her second role as a seiyuu for a major character in a bishoujo game, the first being Asagiri Aiko in Prism Palette developed by Broccoli in 2001. She would have the role as Illya in Deen’s anime adaptation of Fate Stay/Night released in early 2006, later reprising her role in the all-ages Réalta Nua version of the Stay/Night game released in April of 2007 for PC. Besides the important cast behind Popotan, the opening movie of the game features the source of the now-iconic loopable animation used in the ever-popular “Caramelldansen (speedycake remix)” video.
From Sweden with love
The original song was released by now-defunct Swedish music group, Caramell, from their second studio album “Supergott.” Caramelldansen meaning “Caramel dance” in Swedish. The group performed music primarily in Eurodance and Swedish pop which is evident in the style of the songs from the aforementioned album. While it doesn’t seem to have been received all that well by critics on modern platforms, the true legacy of the song might be within the remixes it has received.
Caramelldansen, known in Japan as "Uma uma dance" (ウマウマダンス), gained a bit of traction in the mid-2000’s due to Flash animation, dance covers and memes shared via Nico Nico Douga. In Japan, "Dansa med oss, klappa era händer" ("Dance with us, clap your hands"), was popularized as a misheard lyric to mean "Barusamiko-su Yappa irahen de", or "I don't want any Balsamic vinegar after all" (in the Kansai dialect). This is similar to the English-speaking misheard lyric trend with the song, such as the line “cat fucking a handbag.” These things reinforced the popularity of the meme within Japan. In the spring of 2008, Toromi, Mii’s seiyuu from the eroge, released a cover of the song on her EP “とろ★ウマ” (TORO★UMA) titled “キャラメルダンセン -とろ美ヴァージョン-” (Caramelldansen - Toromi Version) at the doujin even M3. As a result of the cult popularity within Japan, music distributor Quake Inc. gained the rights by the original Caramell producers, Remixed Records, to distribute remixed versions of the popular song in Asia. This included Caramelldansen as well as a collection of other popular remixes from internet meme songs at the time. This boosted the popularity of the song into the mainstream as it topped international charts within Japan during the first two weeks after it was released. On May 1, 2008, Remixed Records released the sped-up remix of the original “Supergott” album on Apple's iTunes storefront called "Supergott Speedy Mixes" followed by the single "Caramelldansen Speedy Mixes." On March 2, 2009, Caramelldansen was awarded single of the year in the 23rd Japan Gold Disc Award in the international section category.
The remix most commonly associated with Caramelldansen was done by DJ Speedycake and has an interesting story behind its creation. He released the song coincidentally around the same time as the original flash loop was first posted by Sweedish user Sven. Caramelldansen historian, Ruakuu, wrote a blog recounting the extensive history of the meme within the early days of the internet, in which he interviewed DJ Speedycake to learn about the origins of the remix:
Ruakuu: Where does your name come from?
Speedycake: "The name comes from my normal internet alias and then tacking on speedy in front of it after a few live mix sessions that mostly were in the 150+ BPM range. I thought it was suitable at the time. The place where I started my net broadcasts was the first incarnation of #/b/radio located at the Rizon IRC network"
Ruakuu: When did you released [sic] the sped up song and where did you post it first?
Speedycake: "The song was created on an accidental mixing mistake where I was transitioning the song, completely neglecting to check the BPM difference and turning on the key pitch lock. So when it came for me to start the track, well it was squeaky and high pitched. After the broadcast I had several requests for the song, however the song didn't really exist in the form that I mixed it in so I released it under the same sped up conditions and posted it on the /b/radio BBS (4chan). From there the song spread onto 4chan's /flash/ board from which it was almost a daily thing for people to request what song it was and a link to download it which I supplied"
DJ Speedycake’s remix was released in early 2006 where it was originally posted on 4chan. Due to the popularity of the song and the meme on the imageboard at the time, this was the version of the song most commonly used when creating animations or videos. Originally referred to as "Popotan Dance" or "Popotan Dansen." After the second half of 2006, Caramelldansen began to be found in Flash archives and popular communities at the time such as Hongfire and 4chan.
I find the remix to be significant since, as Speedycake noted, the song was accidentally sped-up and pitched to be in the 150+ BPM range. While pre-dating the widespread popularity of Nightcore during its release, Caramelldansen (Speedycake Remix) was likely one of the first exposures many younger internet users had with this new internetcore style of music, if you will. Nightcore as a genre was originally pioneered by a Norwegian music duo for a school project in 2001. They defined nightcore as "we are the core of the night, so you'll dance all night long" with their website proudly declaring “Nightcore is hardcore.” The group primarily released pitch-shifted versions of trance and eurodance songs, much in line with the type of music Caramell was releasing, and usually between the ranges of 160-180 BPM. Their style has been commonly compared to happy hardcore or bubblegum bass due to the sped-up nature of the tempos, energetic pop-y feel and of course, the high-pitched vocals. In tandem with J-Core’s popularization within Japan and online underground hardcore scenes, this style of music would influence many producers and begin the draw in fans during the latter half of the 2000’s. Nightcore’s music started to be uploaded and gained popularity on Youtube around 2006 and 2008 which falls in line with our timelines here. As such, we have the accidental nightcore-esque remix of Caramelldansen which gained traction just as these new trends were on the rise, all thanks to easy shareability provided by the then-new video sharing platform.
Around this time, short animated GIFs from the anime’s opening were distributed over the internet. Prior to the loopable GIFs we know from Kyoto Animation’s Haruhi, Chuunibyou and Lucky Star, Popotan was all the rage. The easily loopable animation sequences in the opening was almost asking to be shared online and used in forum signatures. The amount of credit not being given to Studio Shaft for likely starting this trend before the internet even really took off is criminal! Anyways, eventually some of these clips were converted into flash loops and sound was added to them. According to Ruakuu’s write-up: “The oldest and most noticeable of those clips is one where Mii is doing a solo dance. This later on became a loop with sound called miidance.swf.” This animation doesn’t feature the Caramelldansen song, but was significant because it was what would lay the groundwork for the popularization of the anime and game within certain circles on the internet.
The earliest mention of Popotan on the English side of the internet is an Animesuki thread called “Most kawaii intro” from November 14, 2003. The user Sesshoumaru begins the thread: “What intro do you think is the most kawaii (cute)? I cast my vote for Popotan :)” Many other users all seem to agree Mii is the cutest and is what makes the opening top-tier kawaii. On the third page, user Anlushac11 said: “About the only thing more Kawaii than Popotans intro is Popotan the Game's intro” which was significant as being the first time the game’s opening was mentioned online. This is quite interesting, especially since in 2003, bishoujo games and eroge were not even within the conversation most of the time within otaku circles. While after Kanon (2002), it was before the more mainstream popularity of the KyotoAni KEY trilogy. So the fact that Anlushac11 knew what an eroge was, let alone Popotan, a niche otaku-oriented 18+ game, is fascinating.
The original Caramelldansen flash loop was created by user “Sven” from Sweden during the beginning of 2006. The animation was originally posted to his personal website but later found its way onto 4chan, where its popularity gained much more traction. In a mail exchange with Sven, Ruakuu learns the background to the animation’s origins:
Sven: "The gif-animation was, if I remember correctly, taken from /gif/ at 4chan. I tried some different tracks, found the song that I thought was appropriate, fiddled a bit in Audacity and added it to my page along with all the other loops. And as I wrote on Wikipedia, I didn't know the loop had started such a meme until just a couple of months ago, which took me totally by surprise. As I added the loop to /f/ on 4chan at the same time I added it to my page, there is a big chance that the majority of views and spread is thanks to 4chan."
Ruakuu: Did you use the sped up version of the Caramell song made by Speedycake or it’s just coincidence it came out almost at the same time?
Sven: "About the song, I had the full album of Caramell in my music collection (where I got it from the beginning I don't really remember, but a qualified guess would be that I got it from a friend through a LAN/filesharing-gathering). I had never heard of the Speedycake-remix until I read the Wikipedia entry."
"Well the loop turned out a little over the top, very "cute" and very "japanish", which made it look like something that actually could have originated from Japan (in my own opinion anyway). I then added "ANIME LOL!" (actually reads "ANIME LOL KAWAII ^_^" now, since I had to rewrite the whole site thanks to a server crash a while back) as the title of the page, to give it even more "over the top" feeling. That the loop became popular, especially in Japan, I find quite ironic. :)"
The meme began to gain much more traction after August 8, 2006 when a user called npdcb posted the Caramelldansen flash on hongfire.com, though he claims to not remember where he found it. Though in all likelihood, it was probably from 4chan or Animesuki. After this, more variants of the flash were made and posted to similar early-internet communities and art sharing sites such as Deviantart. However, the real popularity began in early 2008 where a noticeable increase in Caramelldansen Youtube videos began to be uploaded. Many of which were re-uploaded from a similar platform in Japan called Nico Nico Douga. As mentioned before, the popularity of Caramelldansen began early on in 2008 within Japan thanks to the remix album and animations, though the popularity outside of Japan occurred within a close span of time all things considered.
I found Caramelldansen in 2017 thanks to my obsession with internet nostalgia at the time. For a month or so that summer I listened to the Speedycake remix on repeat for hours on end as BGM to my Internet Archive dumpster diving and Animesuki perusing. Watching classic otakucore anime like Genshiken, Lucky Star and rewatching Haruhi while pretending I was living in a time that wasn’t infested with a more mainstream popularity of what I was enjoying. I liked the idea of being into this weird internet thing and it being completely incomprehensible to an outsider. I installed a Windows XP theme on my MATE desktop and customized some Firefox CSS to make it look like I was still using version 3.0. Modern design trends disgusted me and I rebelled with nostalgia. My bookshelves were slowly filled with anime DVDs released by defunct companies. I searched the internet for old TV-rip fansub DivX AVI files that were hardsubbed and less than 480p. My old iPod Nano 2nd Generation was fished out of my closet and loaded with pre-2010 anime openings, classic J-pop and of course, Caramelldansen (Speedycake remix). Eventually finding myself listening to Fukkireta, Triple Baka, “Alice Stole the Precious Thing” and then “Nico Nico Douga Ryuuseigun (CHAOS VER.)” And the BGM to my summer dreamscape was the rainbow-tinged, cutie head-shaking, internetcore, blingee sparkling, looping Flash Animation and internet legend-- Caramelldansen.
In recent years there has been a resurgence of the remix during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically around April 2020 according to Google search trends. I remember being thrown for a loop when I saw those wonderful “Guy blasting Caramelldansen out his window” and many quarantine rave videos. It was like deja vu, I’ve been in this place before, back again in 2017 watching endless videos playing the same upbeat song. It still made me feel the same things in 2020 and then in 2021 as I write this. I think the reason this meme was popularized once again in the mainstream was because of the scary implications of a quarantine. During such times, we will retreat into our memories and indulge in some comfy nostalgia. For many, especially those older than me, Caramelldansen (Speedycake remix) was what defined their adolescence. It was the BGM playing on Winamp as they first experienced falling down internet rabbit holes, registering their first IRC nickname, posting on GameFAQs and finding memes that nobody else knew about. The internet was a secret club and this was our inside joke. However, now with the widespread use of the internet and ubiquity of memes within popular culture, it’s hard to separate the two. Inside jokes are no longer kept a secret; 4chan memes quickly find themselves on reddit and within the news before you know it. Nothing is sacred anymore. And consequently, the resurgence of Caramelldansen (Speedycake remix) was a painful reminder of these trends. In 2008 this meme seemed like this weird niche thing only you and your friends knew about, even though thousands were experiencing the same thing. But it was still an “internet thing.” You’d giggle late into the night in front of a 4:3 monitor under the cover of darkness despite having to be up for school that morning. Now the meme is representative of the popularization and general trend of memes. Dug up from the fever dream of 2008, it now takes center stage to a global audience. Even if it was edited after-the-fact and no Caramelldansen quarantine rave actually happened in Italy, millions of people still watched that video. The COVID-19 pandemic facilitated an environment where we could still blissfully enjoy indulging in the nostalgic song while chasing the fears away. The type of music we used to listen to behind closed doors in our youth suddenly found itself on a global stage.