Will Kellogg regards his headphones with a degree of shame. In New York City, where people proudly brandish their bright-white wireless AirPods, he listens to music through a “do they even make those anymore?” wirebound set. As the 26-year-old administrator for a Brooklyn theater company confessed: “I still use corded headphones.” In late December, he vented his perceived aural inferiority in a Twitter missive, framing a recent quote by Catherine Zeta-Jones — “I will not apologize for being rich, beautiful and famous” — as something AirPod owners might say to a poor soul like him.
Mr. Kellogg’s riff is just one entry in a large, still growing library of tweets based on the meme that, when it comes to sound, AirPods are the superior tech/fashion status symbol. Most of these viral tweets satirize the idea that AirPod owners flaunt their affluence. “Just bought some AirPods and then I got a call from Bill Gates asking to hang out this weekend, it feels nice being in the top 1%,” reads a 2018 tweet from Miami college student Miguel Amaro that’s amassed over 15,000 likes. Though Apple’s $159 headphones were released in December 2016, this recent wave of internet jokes seemingly has propelled them to a new level of desirability. Amaro, 19, who subscribes to that cause-effect theory, said he’s observed more and more people with AirPods “since it became a meme.”
Apple does not release sales figures for AirPods, but Google Trends, the search engine’s in-house index, charted that interest in AirPods in terms of Google searches was more than nine times higher this past Christmas than it was at the same time in 2016, right after their release.
Though design nerds have fetishized the clean look of Apple products since Steve Jobs’s early days, the AirPods’s trendiness seems to be a pure internet-age phenomenon. For starters, their unmistakable appearance — like crystallized globs of sweat that dangle from each ear — is ripe for meme-ifcation. And that $159 price sits right in the sweet spot: just expensive enough to impress, but cheap enough that young, digitally savvy people can actually buy them.