New year, new headphones. This appears to be the case as Apple’s Airpods Max fast becomes the chunky, oversized flex of the moment. Celebrities such as Bella Hadid, Timothée Chalamet, Sarah Jessica Parker, and others have adopted the over-the-ear headphones as their off-duty wardrobe staples. When worn over a cozy beanie or a pulled-up hoodie, the headphones signify a casual and unfussy luxury. Yes—the street style moments seem to say—I can wear my $549 headphones outside the house without worry.
I’m willing to go out on a ledge, here. I predict the Apple Airpods Max could become the Starbucks cup, à la the early-aughts, of 2023 off-duty celeb moments. My biggest reason: They’re sort-of impossible to miss. If the wired headphones and original Airpod in-ear headphones offered Millennial-aligned minimalism, the Airpods Max feels like Gen Z-flavored maximalism.
Which seems to be exactly the point. Released one year after the departure of Johnny Ive, Apple’s long-time chief design officer, the headphones feel like a bold new direction for the company’s expanding line of accessories. During his tenure, Ive repeatedly expressed his love for clean, simple product design. None of that can be found in the Airpods Max with its dramatic headband, oversized cushions, and space-age charging case. The original Airpods offered observer delight in having to examine someone closely to spot them, almost like a piece of stealth wealth. While the Airpods Max, by contrast, please in their smack-dab ostentation. They even come in a poppy array of colors, much like the iMacs and iPod Nanos of the early aughts. And, in case you haven’t heard, that bygone era is trending in fashion and beyond.
But, perhaps more impressively, the in-demand accessories are fast evolving into something more than a functional (and spatial audio-equipped) way to listen to music on your commute. They are becoming a status symbol, too. This is proven through social media becoming littered with people longing for a pair. And not just for listening to music. But also to feel aligned with their favorite celebrities. In one TikTok video—which has racked up over 13,000 views—a user shows off her personal Pinterest board of stylish people wearing the “it” item. “Everytime I see someone wearing them, I say to myself, I need them,” they say. To others, the headphones seem to typify in-your-face wealth: “not the Airpods Max!! oh she rich rich,” a Twitter user jokingly responded to a photo of singer Madison Beer wearing a pair.
And who better to lean into all of this trendy maximalism than supermodel Bella Hadid? She posted a video to TikTok (and later, Instagram) explicitly centered around her wearing a pair, rapping along to Ice Spice’s viral hit “Bikini Bottom.” She balanced out the flashy design of the elephantine headphones with sleek, wrap-around sunglasses. The post, uploaded on Tuesday, feels like a major key change for someone who, only two years ago, proudly embraced the modestly priced in-ear wired headphones. (Which even, at one point in time, were included for free with iPhones and iPods.) But times, and tastes, change.
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