Joke ringtone is inexplicable phenomenon
By Adrian Turpin
Britain is set to have its first
number one hit inspired by a ringtone. Adrian Turpin traces the growth of a
phenomenon from Scandinavian internet joke to international irritant.
London: It wasn't quite an apology. But almost. "I don't know what to say," said
Erik Wernquist. "Really I don't. Some people obviously think this thing is worth
History has a precedent for Swedish innovators who have had cause to regret
their creations. Alfred Nobel endowed his peace prize as an act of contrition
for developing dynamite. Wernquist's crime against humanity is of a different
order, although Britain's commuters, teachers, parents and television viewers
He is the man who put flesh on the Crazy Frog ringtone and began its
transformation from a Scandinavian internet joke to a multi-million-pound
If you hadn't seen or heard Crazy Frog (which seems hard to believe), you would
not immediately take him for a frog.
Unlike most amphibians, he is blue not green, walks on two legs and has a belly
button. The latter seems a bit superfluous for a creature hatched from spawn,
but then so does the 1950s-style motorcycle cap.
Between the creature's legs there used to hang a small blue set of genitals
(more like an epiglottis than a penis), but after a deluge of complaints to the
Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) this has been discreetly covered with a
black blob, at least on television.
Crazy Frog's rivet - now playing on a train or bus near you - is the constipated
phut of a badly serviced East European car driven by a boy racer who has just
passed his test: "a ding ding ding dinga ding ding..."
The fact that this makes anyone over the age of 18 want to stick their fist
through the television screen and grab him and his little blue nadgers has
clearly not harmed his prospects. To date, the company Jamster has made more
than £10m from people downloading Crazy Frog ringtones.
As if that weren't enough, this week a CD version of the song produced by the
German dance act Bass Bumpers has been outselling Coldplay's new single by more
than four to one.
More than 400 000 copies of the single - which splices the frog theme with
Harold Faltermayer's Beverly Hills Cop theme tune, Axel F - have been ordered,
according to the label Gut Records.
On Sunday, Britain will have its first-ever ringtone-inspired number one.
"Kids obviously find it cute and cool," said Gennaro Castaldo, a spokesman for
the HMV record shops, attempting to explain the phenomenon, "but students and
even office workers seem to be drawn by its kitsch, ironic appeal. The only real
issue is whether the record label can press enough copies to keep up with the
No one has been more surprised at Crazy Frog's success than Daniel Malmedahl, a
24-year-old computer salesman from Gothenburg in Sweden. Malmedahl was 17 when
he decided to record an impression of his friends' motorbikes on his computer.
Why? Just because.
"We had mad laughs because it's so characteristic, this two-stroke engine sound.
My friends found it funny when I started imitating it," Malmedahl said.
Before long, a friend had posted it on the internet where it was seen by a
Swedish television researcher who invited Malmedahl to "perform" the sound live,
and that is where ordinarily his 15 minutes of fame might have stopped.
But the sound was already beginning to strike out on its own. On one internet
site, the Insanity Test, the sound was set against a picture of a red Formula
One racing car. The joke - if that's what it was - was that anyone who looked at
the two together for a minute and started to laugh, was insane.
It took a long time for the sound to attach itself to a body - which is where
Erik Wernquist, a 27-year-old designer of 3-D graphics, who had taken the
Insanity Test, enters. He decided to draw an animated frog to mouth the sound.
"I wanted to make something that made an annoying noise and looked annoying," he
Accurately, Wernquist called his new creation The Annoying Thing. Posting his
work on the internet, he appealed for the person who created the sounds to come
forward. When Malmedahl rang him, he was initially suspicious. Only when he
performed the familiar phut-phut tune on the phone did he believe him. Nobody
could fake that.
One of the strangest things about the whole Crazy Frog story is that the two men
who created it haven't even met.
So is Crazy Frog anything more than just another novelty record? After all, Gut
Records were the label responsible for Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy For My
Graham Brown is the chief executive of the consultancy group Wireless World
Forum (WWF). Does he like Crazy Frog?
"I'd rather not talk about that. They're one of our clients."
"What Crazy Frog tells you," he says, "is that young people have a lot of liquid
cash and they're spending it less and less on traditional forms of music."
The figures are astonishing. The amount spent globally by young people under 25
on mobile phones is $100 billion a year.
Brown says children spend eight times as much on mobile phones as they do on
music. Recent research by the WWF shows that this year young people in the UK
will spend £150m on ringtones, ring-back tunes and downloading songs directly on
to mobile phones.
The average British teenager now spends £26 a year on ringtones. The record
industry has been slow to catch up," says Brown.
In Britain, it is not just the frog's nudity that has led to complaints to the
ASA but the volume of adverts. The watchdog has shrugged its shoulders and said
it does not have the power to legislate.
Crazy Frog haters should prepare to be bombarded by similar campaigns for a
hateful menagerie of unlovable anthropomorphic characters, like the sickly
At least Wernquist has shown a little contrition.
"I don't want this to be what I'm remembered for," he says. As for Malmedahl: "I
have a lot of sounds," he says. - The Independent