The cult of airpods
"Don't talk to me, I'm rich": How Airpods went from memes to must-haves
Words— Marc Richardson
On Christmas, I unwrapped a small box that would change my life. Inside was a piece of technology—well, two, I guess—that I had initially been skeptical about, but had come to admire and desire in the months before. I was not alone. Many had underestimated just how important it would become—if not from a technological perspective, then from a cultural one. I'm talking, of course, about AirPods, the small, wireless white earbuds which are at the centre of a cult-like sociocultural movement at the moment.
If you’re very confused about the fact that people are suddenly flaunting their AirPods, fret not—such confusion is very much understandable. When AirPods were first introduced by Apple, they weren’t necessarily “cool”. Instead, they were just another gadget presented to the masses as “revolutionary” by the Cupertino-based megacorp. And, like many of Apple’s gizmos, they seemed wholly unnecessary—Apple’s wired earbuds were perfectly good and there were already a number of Bluetooth headphones on the market, albeit most were over-the-ear.
They were also incredibly expensive compared to the earbuds we’d grown accustomed to—they still are, actually. Normally a higher price point can be a contributing factor to something becoming cool. But, in the case of AirPods, the high price point and redundancy with what was on the market already made it so that AirPods were seen as a luxury.
It wasn’t just that they were a luxury and didn’t represent the pinnacle of cool, they were arguably—from their release in December 2016 until recently—the antithesis of cool. They were accoutrements for people who had money but didn’t know how to spend it—finance bros who rise and grind and let everybody know about it. They were, in other words, a scarlet letter.
So what changed? How did we go from that to AirPods being the hottest accessory at the moment? How did they go from pas du tout chic to chic enough to warrant Dior cases?
Well, as with all things these days, it started with a meme. Yes, memes really do have the power to impact even the biggest tech company in the world. The gist of the many, many memes revolving around AirPods was that users weren’t able to hear those around them. AirPods became shorthand for “I can’t hear you, I’m too rich” and, honestly, some of the videos are downright hilarious.
The meme-ification of AirPods may explain how they entered our collective consciousness, but it doesn’t necessarily explain why people would want to wear them. If people were laughing at something, would you think, hmmm let me go spend a few hundred bucks on that very thing? Probably not.
But, consider that the AirPods memes started in the tail-end of 2018, a time when things are embraced for not being cool. Vêtements built a literal fashion empire on hawking referential and ironic clothing; the Met Gala is set to be based around the theme of “camp”—not the outdoor kind, but the kind laid out in Susan Sontag’s 1966 essay. In other words, as things stand, kitschy is chic and the uncool is cool.
Me: *walking into a bar*— ryan tallant (@taIIant) December 26, 2018
Bouncer: “ID please”
Me: *puts in my AirPods*
Bouncer: [thinking I’m a celebrity] “Right this way sir”
What the spread of AirPod memes did do, however, is create a sort of self-aware and self-deprecating “fan base”—if one can call it that—eager to join in on the fun. There was a way to wear AirPods that didn’t make you look bad and that was by embracing what AirPods said about the wearer.
People began posting selfies with pithy captions, like “don’t talk to me I’m rich”. They were tongue-in-cheek—an admission that, yes, I probably look like I take myself too seriously, but I swear I don’t.
It became almost a badge of honour. No, actually, it became the latest way to flaunt one’s faux wealth—It’s almost as if millennials have realized that they have no way of winning the rat race their parents ran and wearing AirPods is a way to subvert that—they’ve co-opted something that was so beloved by those who were leading the race. The only difference is that the rise and grind captions are ironic for the new class of AirPod heads. The little, wireless earbuds have become the most woke of flexes.
And, of course, there was the celebrity factor. Everybody’s favourite style avatar, Jonah Hill, has been photographed a number of times chatting away on his AirPods, as have countless other athletes, actors or just generally successful people.
Still, part of the internet’s fascination with AirPods remains decidedly humorous in nature. After the political consultant Roger Stone was arrested by the FBI in late January, there was a race to Photoshop “waves and AirPods” onto him—something that has become a meta-trend within the AirPods movement.
Some looked upon the memes and rapidly emerging AirPod culture as a ploy to generate sales in the lead up to the holiday season. But it shows no signs of abating any time soon.
Plus, AirPods are more than a two-hundred-odd dollar joke. They’re actually kind of awesome. There’s no jumbled mess of wire when you pull them out of your pocket. You can leave your phone at your desk while you go refill your coffee mug. And, yes, you do look more important, so people will leave you alone, which—if you’re selectively social, or actually busy—is a great thing.
AirPods are no longer reserved for finance bros; nor are they a “streetwear flex” as GQ proclaimed in the above-cited article. The cult of AirPods welcomes members from all walks of life. All we ask is that you please leave your wires at the door.
Top image courtesy @seinfeld2000