Top of the hops
Life as a frog comes with few
advantages. One is that you have special, flush-fitting ears that cushion the
sound of anti-social croaking, and protect you from the pestilence of the Crazy
Frog ringtone. Mother Nature was merciful when she fitted frogkind with its
lugs, but humans got no such break.
And, consequently, no escape from this: "A ding ding ding ding dididing ding
bing bing pscht, Dorhrm bom bom bedom bem bom bedom bom bum ba ba bom, Bouuuuum
bom bom bedahm, Bom be barbedarm, Bbrrrrrimm bbrrrrramm bbbrrrrrrr-rraammmmm
ddddddraammm, Bah bah baah baah ba wheeeeeee-eeeee-eeeee!"
It's on the train, in the street, all over the television. And as of today it is
top of the charts - the first mobile ringtone ever to reach Number One. How did
this happen? The pop cognoscenti have been confidently predicting for months
that Coldplay, everyone's favourite gloom-drenched, middle-class niceboys, would
seize the top spot with their long-awaited Speed of Sound. Instead we have a
singing frog in biker leathers. And there are still seven months until
Which leaves plenty of time for the first Crazy Frog murder, Crazy Frog divorce,
Crazy Frog unfair dismissal case, and mass outbreak of Crazy Frog phone rage.
You used to think that a fly buzzing around the bedroom was irritating? And Loyd
Grossman's nasal drawl got on your nerves? They sound like Debussy next to the
Crazy Frog, and here's the really grim news. The ringtone takeover of popular
music has hardly begun.
The average British teenager now spends more on ringtones - around £26 a year -
than on CD singles. For that kind of money you want something that sets you
apart and, frankly, a restrained burble-burble doesn't cut it. Mobile phone
fashions change faster than you can say Rebecca Loos. The market needs gimmicks,
and, to the anguish of the happily-burbled mainstream, that is where Crazy Frog
The rogue amphibian was spawned, so to speak, seven years ago by Daniel Armdahl,
a 17-year-old Swedish computer salesman possessed of an otherwise unpromising
talent for impersonating motor-bikes. Well, the nights are long and dark in
Gothenburg and you have to fill them somehow. One day, bored with doing his big,
smooth, 1450cc Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, Daniel grew his repertoire with
the sound of a constipated two-stroke moped. He recorded it onto his computer
and played it to his friends: "We found it very, very funny," he says. "We
laughed until we cried."
The mirth might have been contained had not one of the friends posted the sound
onto the internet. It was heard by a Swedish television station, which excitedly
booked Armdahl to perform it live. Its renown spread and eventually came to the
notice of Eric Wernquist, a 27-year-old graphic designer, who liked it "because
it was so irritating". He added a blue-hued animated frog character in a flasher
pose, and put it on his website. Now Crazy was set to take a giant leap for
The American-owned ringtone company Jamster acquired the rights to the sound and
graphics, began advertising it on MTV and youth-oriented television shows, and
millions of customers have been downloading it ever since. "Wherever we have
launched, " says Markus Berger-de Leon, the company's chief operating officer,
"it has been number one in the ringtone chart. We are working on this 24/7." And
then the real problems began. An obscure German dance duo, Bass Bumpers, adapted
the ringtone to a version of Harold Faltermayer's Beverly Hills Cop theme, and
released it as a single. Last week it was selling at the rate of 25,000 a day -
four times faster than the hapless Coldplay's lovingly crafted effort. "It isn't
surprising that it is heading for Number One," said Gennaro Castaldo of HMV
records. "The only issue is whether the record company can press enough copies
to meet the demand."
Actually, that's not the only issue. The success of Crazy Frog has nightmarish
implications for the record industry. For a start, it signals a profound change
in the way that music is marketed. Already, WH Smith and Walmart, owner of Asda,
have stopped selling CD singles. Teenagers prefer to download songs directly
from the internet to their iPods, MP3 players or mobiles. Another German group,
the Panda Babies, recently became the first band to release an album only as a
ring tone. Dressed in furry suits they described themselves as "four pandas for
a better world", and have been duly hailed as "the future of music publishing".
Look at it this way. Last week EMI blamed much of a £21 million drop in its
annual profits on delays to Coldplay's forthcoming album. The entire cost of the
Crazy Frog release is estimated to be less than £25,000. Dorhrm bom bom!
None of which means that the Crazy Frog wouldn't look better under a car tyre.
Real frogs, or some of them, can croak at 105 decibels and be heard three miles
away, which is why their hearing systems are cleverly designed to prevent them
blowing their eardrums out. Denied such defences, humans are without an escape
from the frog ringtone and the consequences of its infuriating ubiquity.
Their plight is well-chronicled on a BBC website: "I have been gnawing my fists
off as a result of this infuriating noise," complained one correspondent. "Any
time I hear it I can tell exactly the type of personality of this person, and I
want to smack them across the head," fumed Brian from Dublin. Is there an
alternative? Millions of them. As the mobile universe expands, the simple
summons of the phone has become a sub-branch of popular culture..
There are ringtones that offer to help you quit smoking, find a girlfriend,
combat the onset of baldness, and catch more fish. Tens of thousands of Japanese
women recently signed up for a ringtone that claims to increase the size of
their breasts. Invented by one Hideto Tombabechi, an "alternative lifestyle
guru" credited with rehabilitating members of the AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult,
the bust-booster ringtone is said to help "mind and body commune unconsciously".
One woman told Japanese television: "I listened all the time for a week.
Incredibly my bust grew from 34 to 35 inches. It was awesome."
Everybody's in on the act. Earlier this year the London Symphony Orchestra,
founded in 1904 and the spiritual home of Edward Elgar, Thomas Beecham and André
Previn, became the first major orchestra to record and sell ringtones. The
choices available to punters include the Grand March from Aida, Beethoven's
Ninth and the theme from Thunderbirds.
The British Library is hungry for business, too, offering the pick of its
100,000 recordings of bird and animal noises. Serenade your date with the
delicate trill of a nightingale, impress your business pals with the earthy
mating cry of a warthog, show you're hip with the basso profondo croak of a fat,
slim… No, no! The frog market's already cornered. And worse is on the way. For
the industry is united in predicting that Crazy Frog's success will ensure an
invasion of even more annoying characters making ever more intolerable noises.
What does all this say about us? Martin Skinner, a psychologist at Warwick
University, believes that ringtone choice can be an accurate guide to
personality. The simple burble, he suggests, points to practicality, the popular
Mission Impossible theme to insecurity, and the music from M*A*S*H to
sentimentality. In other words, there is a whole world of possibilities out
there. And one thing is certain. It is time to forget Coldplay. The future
belongs to pondlife.