Hate Apple’s ‘By the Seaside’ alarm tune? You’re not alone

Jun 23, 2024, 9:10 AM

Apple's "By the Seaside" is perhaps one of the company's most controversial tunes, drawing the ire ...

Apple's "By the Seaside" is perhaps one of the company's most controversial tunes, drawing the ire of many iPhone users on social media. (Hispanolistic, E+/Getty Images)

(Hispanolistic, E+/Getty Images)

New York (CNN)One morning at 6 am, Gyaltsen Moktan woke in a panic.

It was 2019. He worked at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet and was responsible for opening the restaurant each morning. So he set a wakeup call on his iPhone.

Then Apple’s “By the Seaside” alarm sound went off. Moktan chose the jaunty, cheerful tune available as a ringtone and alarm on many of Apple’s devices, thinking that the song’s easygoing melody would make waking up a peaceful experience.

That bet soured. “The alarm is mocking you in a way. It’s kind of like a horror movie, where they do the nursery rhyme before doom,” said Moktan, now an English teacher in Tokyo, Japan.

“By the Seaside” is perhaps Apple’s most polarizing alarm and ringtone, evoking comparisons to nails on a chalkboard, the word “moist” and screaming children on a plane.

In the past, phones had only one sound: the shrill, continuous ring of a landline. With so many ringtones now available, though, the sounds say more about how people express themselves — and what can cause stress and anxiety.

You probably think you don’t know “By the Seaside,” but you do. On YouTube, there are extended versions, rap versions, versions played on various instruments.

Some people think it’s a great ringtone. And other people say, Oh, my God, it’s terrible,” said Carlos Xavier Rodriguez, chair of music theory at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, of the divisive tune. “You love it or you hate it.”

From knocker-uppers to chirping birds

People have been trying to use sound to wake up reliably for centuries, relying on everything from church bells to roosters.

Some people used to employ the services of knocker-uppers, or workers paid to wake customers by tapping on the door or window with a stick, until the 1970s in some parts of Britain.

The first known alarm clock in the United States was invented by clockmaker Levi Hutchins of Concord, New Hampshire in 1787, but his clock rang just once at 4 am.

In 1874, French inventor Antoine Redier patented an adjustable mechanical alarm clock. Seth Thomas patented a mechanical wind-up one a couple years later, and the electric alarm clock was invented by the end of the 19th century. (Its inventors probably didn’t expect the iPhone.)

Alarm clocks have evolved further since then. Some high-tech ones these days are designed to emit light mimicking sunrise, waking users gently with a soft glow and relaxing sounds such as birds twittering or the lilt of a flute.

What is wrong with this song?

Boston Flake, a 15-year old Utah high school student, says that “By the Seaside” is the only alarm that can wake him up every morning for school. Far from a morning person, he has tried creating alarms himself that are mash-ups of songs, blaring sirens, horns and booming bass lines, to no avail.

“It’s kind of a love-hate relationship,” said Flake. “Sometimes I’ll hear it in my dreams, and I’ll get a little jolt and start freaking out.”

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

There are musical elements to “By the Seaside” that make it difficult to listen to, says Rodriguez. There’s no discernible key. The song doesn’t end on a downbeat, so there’s no feeling of resolution when it briefly pauses before repeating.

But a bigger factor of users’ emotional responses is the “uncanny valley” element to the tune, says Rodriguez. The uncanny valley phenomenon is the uneasy feeling people have towards life-like, but not quite human things such as robots, dolls or even clowns. “By the Seaside” has an electronic, cheesy sound of a Casio keyboard that is reminiscent of computerized music eerily devoid of human touch, Rodrigo said.

The alarm sound’s critics are vocal with their displeasure: “if ur alarm is ‘by the seaside’ you are one unserious” person, says one viral post on X, using a somewhat spicier word than “person.” It has received 160,000 likes and more than 15,000 reposts, with many users weighing in with their own thoughts. Some claim that the tune sends them into a “flight or fight” response. Others say the tune gives them heart palpitations and that it fills them with dread.

So controversial is the nautical jingle that it’s even spawned internet lore. Rumors have circulated on social media that pop singer Adele wrote the tune and that it has made her more money than her entire discography combined. Ryan Meadows, the creator of Fake Showbiz News, confirmed to CNN that he started that rumor.

“We like to think (Adele would) find the joke funny. Perhaps it might even inspire her to compose a suite (of) ringtones for the iPhones of the future!” Meadows, who goes by a pseudonym, wrote in an email to CNN.

Representatives for Adele did not respond to requests for comment.

To be sure, the tune has its supporters. Krystal Roxas, a biopharmaceuticals quality systems specialist in San Bruno, California, used to wake up to the default “Radar” alarm. She switched to “By the Seaside” in 2018 after moving in with her boyfriend, who complained that her then-alarm sound made him anxious in the morning.

She has been a faithful listener since. “I love ‘By the Seaside.’ I don’t know why people hate on it,” said Roxas, 34. “I actually let it play out until it’s done. I do a little dance in bed.”

Moktan, 26, concedes that he believes users’ hate for the alarm might stem from the fact that people just end up hating whatever wakes them up. He once tried to set Bill Withers and Grover Washington, Jr’s “Just the Two of Us” as his alarm, before changing it because he began disliking the song, he says.

“I have yet to find an alarm I like,” Moktan said.

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Hate Apple’s ‘By the Seaside’ alarm tune? You’re not alone