What your ring tone says about you
By JIM FARBER
A ringtone does far more than
alert a cell-phone owner to the dull fact that someone's calling. Those
sing-song notes send a loud and clear signal to everyone around you about who
you are - or at least who you want people to think you are.
They work like a wink, a code sent out into the world to announce your taste,
your personality and often your sense of humour, luring in whomever lies on your
Given the wide variety of human types out there, you'd think our choice of
ringtones would convey a vast and confusing variety of messages and meanings.
In analysing the nation's most popular ringtones, I found that the overwhelming
majority fall into rigidly focused categories that, taken together, convey a
stunningly narrow message.
It goes something like ...
"I'm a super hot sex machine who likes to party hardy, so watch out, mother ..."
Looking over Billboard's list of top ringtones week after week drives this point
home with numbing regularity. And the results have more resonance than you may
think. A top ringtone can generate hundreds of thousands of downloads per week.
Top tones move in the millions, in some cases generating more money for the pop
stars who created them than they cull from their albums.
While the overarching message conveyed by these tones is that of a, shall we
say, healthy ego, the specific identities implied by the ringtones can be broken
down into six focused categories.
So, what does all this strutting and preening mean about us collectively?
"Americans have to be the most egocentric people in the world," says the rapper
MIMS, a man who has benefited from the ringtone craze more than most.
Then again, it helps to remember that many people use these tones ironically.
They're meant to get a giggle. Also, by far the biggest market for ringtones is
teenagers, which explains the proliferation of hip-hop joke and novelty songs,
which double as the dominant sellers in pop today.
Examples: My Humps, Black Eyed Peas. A slutty, strutting ode to one's own body
parts. 90 weeks on the chart and counting.
This Is Why I'm Hot, by MIMS. The title couldn't make its message any plainer.
Small wonder it's the No. 1 title of the year, with sales of over 1 million.
Don't Cha, Pussycat Dolls. A proclamation that the cell-phone owner is sexier
than whoever's boyfriend/girlfriend may be listening in. 77 weeks on the chart
and still holding strong.
`I LIKE TO GET HIGH'
Because I Got High, Afroman. The title says it all. 108 weeks on the chart, and
still in the top 5.
2 Step, Unk. Features lyrics extolling smoking pot and drinking Grey Goose. Last
week's No. 1 ringtone.
We Fly High, Jim Jones. The Harlem rapper's anthem of lofty living. The sixth
most popular jingle of 2007.
Buy You a Drank, T-Pain. The lyric is all about getting someone drunk enough so
that you can have your way with them. The second most popular ringy-dingy of the
year. It recently spent seven weeks at No. 1.
I'm a Flirt, R. Kelly. A come-on anthem by America's most notorious horndog. The
fifth most popular ringtone of the year.
Candy Shop, 50 Cent. Treating sex as a purchasable sweet. 120 weeks on the chart
with no letup.
`I'M STUCK IN THE PAST AND PROUD OF IT'
Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin. The FM staple and original power ballad. The
second most popular ringtone of all.
Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Southern rock's proudest hour. The third
most popular ringtone of all time. 135 weeks on the chart, and still in the top
10 last week.
The Super Mario Brothers Theme. Dates back from when Nintendos were new. The
fourth most popular ringtone of all time.
`I'M BAD AND/OR COOL'
Theme From The Pink Panther, Henry Mancini. Retro-cool of the highest order. 136
weeks on the chart with energy to burn.
Bad Boys/Theme From Cops, Inner Circle. The classic outlaw theme song. After 132
weeks, it's still on the chart.
Theme From Mission: Impossible, Lalo Schifrin. A vintage TV take on hip that
later bred the cool movie franchise with Tom Cruise. The seventh most popular
tone of all time, having spent 124 weeks on the chart so far.
`I'M A ROCK STAR'
Party Like a Rock Star, Shop Boyz. Hip hop's salute to rock-'n'-roll acting out.
Shot to No. 1 on its first day out. The 17th most popular ringtone of 2007 so
Rock Star, Nickelback. Neo-grunge's ironic salute to the classic rich, spoiled
and out-of-control character. After 33 weeks on the chart, it holds in the top