Let’s face it: most new electronic are boring. Not that they’re not cool and impressive, but nobody’s losing their mind over the newest iPhone anymore. That’s just how it goes — you change the world and it becomes the new normal. It’s rare to have a device that really gets people talking. Maybe the only one in recent years has been Apple’s divisive AirPods, the $160 headphones whose appearance can be clocked from, and I’m spitballing here, roughly a quarter-mile away.
The argument for AirPods is that they sound good and they let you use your phone hands-free — and, perhaps most importantly, they are a status symbol. They identify their owner as living on the bleeding edge of technology. The argument against AirPods is that they look extremely dorky, it feels like anyone who wears them is bragging about being able to afford them, and they make anyone who takes a phone call on them look like they’re talking to a ghost (and also, what if you lose one of them). They’re the modern version of the Bluetooth headsets everyone was making fun of a decade ago.
The AirPod jokes wave has crested once again though; a popular variant involves people scared or confused by headphones with wires. “There’s a meme going around saying that AirPods users are rich and anyone who don’t own one is broke,” @YngReaper, an AirPods meme fan told me. One popular tweet on the subject — which went wide on Twitter and got stolen by meme thief @fuckjerry on Instagram — comes from @nevergaveafuc.
Here’s a TikTok joke about it from user @dougmar, tweeted out by user @iMunchtheButt with 44,000-plus retweets.
So AirPods are back. The jokes have since expanded further, combining AirPods with the black “wave” hairstyles shopped onto anime characters and historical figures. Over DM, @nevergaveafuc explained that the recent resurgence started on “Anitwitter”, a multiracial subculture on Twitter composed mostly of “people who talk about anime/manga/gaming/ but there’s also a lot of memes offensive and wholesome alike.”
In his interpretation, the AirPods signify wealth and the waves signify “drip,” slang for looking good, as @nevergaveafuc put it. Many of the edits are accompanied by the caption “drip or drown,” a phrase popularized by hip-hop artist Gunna. Last year he told Billboard, “Drip is your attire, the clothes you wear. My drip today man, I got on a Saint Laurent hoodie, some Balmain’s and some Chanel shoes because it’s Friday. I drip everyday, all week, but weekends I’m really putting that shit on.”
“You cant really explain whats funny about it beyond they just make you laugh [sic],” said @nevergaveafuc. “Like, for instance, MLK Jr. having in AirPods and a [do-rag]. You can’t put your finger on what’s funny, but it just makes you chuckle.”
The AirPods/wave meme is also rooted in the tradition of flippant Photoshops. There’s, for example, the offline tradition of Photoshopping faddish jewelry and contemporary clothing onto Martin Luther King Jr. in order to advertise club nights over MLK weekend. The once-popular Tumblr blog punkd-edits altered celebrity photos to give them sleeve tattoos covering their necks and arms, new hair colors, lip piercings, and ear gauges. A cringeworthy edit of the Seinfeld cast as hipsters went viral last year, alongside the caption, “RT to die instantly.” The “deadass” meme rose out of Black Twitter, imagining fuckboys in Timberlands and fitted Yankees caps — fashion signifiers akin to AirPods and waves in terms of sheer symbolic weight.
The AirPods/wave meme seems to be following the same trajectory — a powerful combined effort by Anime Twitter and Black Twitter to produce vivid, inexplicable Photoshops.