Kaela Kimura appeared to turn on a corner on early-2010 song “You Bet!” Working mostly as a J-Pop sponge and absorbing whatever popular musical trends landed on the charts before, “You Bet!” stood out by not being chained to an existing Japanese sound. Six months later and out of the sky drops “Ring A Ding Dong,” the stylistic opposite of “You Bet!” Long gone is the “shit” shirt featured in the video (sadly no longer online) and the backing rock band, here replaced by a Sound Of Music dress and two friendly chaps twirling umbrellas around. “You Bet!” plowed forward with guitars – “Ring A Ding Dong” dances around like an actor in a Disney show soundtracked by rinky-dink electronics and bells. “You Bet!” sold Kaela Kimura. “Ring A Ding Dong” sells phones.
Despite the radical differences between the two tracks, “Ring A Ding Dong” does manage to continue one tradition established in “You Bet!” Kimura once again manages to avoid being tied to another artist’s sound, instead placing herself in a bigger sonic box. “Ring” is her most J-Pop song yet, if you define “J-Pop” the same way an American sketch comedy show would – cheesy, dancey and a little annoying. Don’t read that the wrong way, because it’s easily the best annoying song of the year thus far in Japan.
As mentioned, “Ring” serves as a glorified advertisement for Japanese cell phone giant NTT Docomo and the opening, at first listen, seems to have been written specifically to replace “marimba.” Just watch the commercial featuring the song and note how Kimura actually becomes a phone. Like any good cell phone sound or pop song, “Ring” manages to be simultaneously catchy and deeply annoying the more you listen to it. The chorus of “ring a ding dong” repeated ad nauseam over a bed of light bells and squiggly synths excites and grates, like going on the “It’s A Small World” ride for the first time. I like the song playing out of my phone, but I also want to answer as quickly as possible.
(Quick aside – I am not knowledgeable enough regarding mainstream Japanese pop to know if this happens frequently…but what’s up with all the great pop songs this year coming courtesy of ad tie-ins? Two of the best pure pop tracks of 2010…Perfume’s ” Natural ni Koi Shite” and now “Ring A Ding Dong…” shill for products. I’ve got no real beef with it, but does it have to be this obvious? I don’t need “…presented by Taco Bell” stapled on to a great tune.)
“Ring A Ding Dong” doesn’t really get going until long after you’ve answered the call. The chorus might be the stuff great, fluffy pop is made of, but it’s on the verses where Kimura’s latest really shines. Credit the production, which wrangles in a bunch of noises apt for a tacky German souvenirs (chimes, bells, string plucks, the goofy squanky bass) and manages to make something charming out of it all. Then there’s that beat, a shuffling little thing semi-reminiscent of “Mambo Number 5” (!) which is really just a way of saying it’s essential to making this song get caught in your head. Kimura’s vocals, catchy yet kinda too cutesy at the chorus, just sound great on the verses. She vocally skips along to the surrounding sounds and even injects a slight sense of sadness into the song when she raises her voice. The chorus will be the only part you hear all summer…it’s already hit the top spot on the Music Station charts…but spend some time with the rest of it. I just hope it doesn’t become the default ringtone for the next couple months.