The ebullient image of Lil Buck dancing through a city when Apple first promoted AirPods on TV in 2017 was a direct reference to the whirling silhouettes of those early, iconic iPod commercials—except this time, the white earbud wires looked like they’d been snipped, leaving the dancer free from the tangle and, apparently, the confines of gravity. The earpiece’s white pod form, on the other hand, remained identifiable. For years, this design flaw drew a lot of ridicule, with critics drawing parallels between AirPods and sperm and insect pupae.
When Apple first promoted AirPods on TV in 2017, the image of Lil Buck dancing through a city was a direct reference to the whirling silhouettes of those early, iconic iPod commercials—except this time, the white earbud wires looked like they’d been snipped, freeing the dancer from the tangle and, apparently, the confines of gravity. The white pod shape of the earpiece, on the other hand, remained recognizable. This design fault has been mocked for years, with detractors drawing comparisons between AirPods and sperm and insect pupae. By the release of the second-gen and AirPods Pro versions in 2019, HBO’s Big Little Lies was utilizing AirPods to distinguish the power mothers from Shailene Woodley’s less wealthy role (who wore regular ole wired ones—more on them in a moment). In a study of 100 teenagers later that year, The Strategist discovered that AirPods were second only to a phone in terms of goods they couldn’t live without.
The third-generation AirPods, which were unveiled at Apple’s presentation on Monday, are a $179 Goldilocks choice that sits between the $129 second-gens and the staggering $249 Pros. There are a few medium-interesting features, like “spatial audio,” which the manufacturer claims are responsible for bringing one’s music to life “with sounds that surround you,” which did not sit well with this audio laywoman who is quite convinced that is how hearing works in general. But, with AirPods reportedly accounting for 57 percent of the “high-end hearables” market, Apple knows it doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel; looking over the existing AirPod options, you get the distinct impression of perusing a wine list and being predictably steered toward the second-tier Sauvignon that feels both pronounceable yet just superior enough to the house white, thanks to the cunning powers of consumer psychology.
Nonetheless, Apple’s slick slideshow succeeds in making spectators painfully aware of our period of AirPod domination since its introduction five years ago—as Apple’s sleeper success, millennial status symbol, and all-around wearable flex. Even if you’re not the type to be enticed into keeping up with the Jobs-worshipping Joneses, the Q4 drop prompts yet another decision about whether to (a) cave in and finally get a pair, or (b) covet a shinier, non-earwax-crusted version that appears capable of transforming you, finally, into the type of person who listens to Yo-Yo Ma at home or goes running in the rain, for those of But here’s the kicker: now that the newest AirPods release has proven that they’re no longer quirky or novel, their cultural impact is only going to fade as the trend pendulum threatens to swing back. That means, for anybody who refuses to give in or simply does not want to pay for another pair of gentrifying white ear pupae, I have some excellent news: You now have a great excuse for opting out of AirPod madness, since using wired earbuds again may now be considered a style option.
I understand. Yes, I am aware! Of course, numerous ordinary people have been doing it all along, but Bella Hadid broke them out again in December 2019, while Lily-Rose Depp and Dua Lipa were also photographed out and about with the telltale cords dangling only last month. You know what they say: three things form a trend, but three It-girl sightings may spell the end of AirPod country. (In a way, the white wired buds’ persistent visual intelligibility is a great full-circle moment for Apple; I suppose we’ll have to spend the next trend cycle figuring out how to completely break Tim Cook’s chokehold.)
But if you prefer to draw your style inspirations from non-celebrities, rest assured that wired earphones have gained a certain cachet among the TikTok set, where Y2K nostalgia has resulted in the development of a “wired earbuds aesthetic” and a hazy anti-establishment attitude by association. Even if the idea of calling earbuds “vintage” makes you want to pull every premature grey out by the hair bulb, the good news is that you don’t have to be a Gen Zer to wish for simpler, pre-2016 times, and wearing a pair of wired earbuds can be beautifully ahead of the trend, exactly on-trend, or delightfully anti-trend in that way.
It speaks something about you and your aptitude for sheer practicality from wherever you’re standing. (N.B. Having just converted to the wired version due to subway-related circumstances, I can attest to the newfound joy of utilizing the cable as a bait to pull one’s phone out of the depths of one’s big-ass work bag rather to digging about arm-deep in its contents for hours every day.) I’m sure the Hadid sisters and I have the same problem.) Whereas AirPods used to make a statement in and of themselves—mostly about your discretionary income and ear shape—they’ve grown so commonplace in the last five years that the tide has begun to shift. Meanwhile, the wired earbuds may be seen as a throwback, sarcastic decision, or at the very least a rebuke to one tech company’s yearly hype cycle. The wired-earbud fad may really be anything you want it to be.
Imagine what you could do if you didn’t have to worry about whether an expensive piece of equipment might fall out of your delicate head flap. Because let’s face it, if they aren’t AirPod Pros, they aren’t quite as thrilling. Even if they are, the people surrounding you are generally stressed—that is, unimpressed—as they wait for their Pods to fall into the sewage grate.