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Most popular memes last a few days or a few weeks before late night talk show hosts and corporate social media accounts squeeze every last ounce of humor out of them. But on a few occasions, two memes will gloriously combine, combusting into a virality neither could have achieved on their own. Recently, the internet saw two of last year’s favorite memes, AirPod flexing and wave checks, take on new life through Photoshopped images that dominated Twitter feeds.
If you’re always online, you may have already seen (and been confused by) a few.
THANOS WAVE CHECK— سعد (@SAAD4LUIZ) January 15, 2019
THANOS WAVE CHECK pic.twitter.com/fTjyZjrCIX
It’s understandable if you’ve already forgotten about both AirPod flexing and wave checking, what with 2019’s January feeling like it spans 30 years. Here’s a quick refresher:
While Apple launched its wireless Bluetooth earbuds AirPods back in 2016, it took two years before they gained viral popularity online, and not for reasons Apple would have wanted. After scores of people received them for Christmas and showing them off online, it became a tongue-in-cheek joke that only the richest could afford them. While AirPods cost about as much as other wireless headphones at $160, something about their distinct look—both dorky and immediately recognizable—and how ridiculously easy they are to lose made for the perfect punchline.
On the other hand, wave checking began as a similar if much more sincere flex. The hairstyle had always been a status symbol in the Black community, both because it’s difficult to maintain and shows you have a killer barber, but in 2018 its hype sky-rocketed. June saw North Carolina’s first-ever Durag Fest where visitors competed to see who had the freshest waves. Later in October, students at historically Black colleges and universities began staging elaborate “wave check” ceremonies. Videos of these ceremonies went viral. At the center of a chanting crowd, students would slowly remove their durags to flex the dopest waves you’ve ever seen.
While unrelated, something about the over-the-top hype for both memes made them seem like a match made in heaven, and it captured the internet’s attention. According to Know Your Meme, the first Photoshopped image combining them (adding both to former President Barack Obama) came from Instagram user professorpumpp on January 5. From there, no one was safe. Everyone from politicians to historical figures and dinosaurs starting sporting killer waves and AirPods, often accompanied by the caption “drip or drown,” a phrase popularized in a song of the same name by rapper Gunna. (Drip means swag.)
The meme particularly caught fire among Twitter’s anime and manga fans, who began Photoshopping their favorite characters in the style, often adding bling and designer clothes. Twitter user and comedian Khairy, @OMGits_Khairy, saw the overlap as an opportunity. He challenged users to share their “best anime waves” in a wave check thread that nearly 16,000 people liked. A meme that had more or less stuck close to Black Twitter and Instagram was now part of the mainstream conscience.
WAVE CHECK THREAD!!!— Read my Bio (@OMGits_Khairy) January 15, 2019
Drop your best anime waves pic.twitter.com/tTJEwLqsMy
Nothing beats this pic.twitter.com/lG1sdAF97s— Sucka Free Sunday (@RotanZaman) January 15, 2019
You gotta come properly if you gonna come at all pic.twitter.com/5ET7B6ScYt— ☹ Hood Therapist ☹ (@MosesMind) January 15, 2019
“When I tweet out memes and videos, I always try to blend ‘black twitter culture’ with anime,” Khairy told The Daily Dot. Since the static Photoshopped images would be difficult to make into a wave check video like the ones at HBCUs, he decided a Twitter thread would be the next best way to create that same sense of ceremony. “So instead of having a crowd hype you up, you would have black twitter and anime twitter hyping how dope your anime waves are.”
In the last week, new iterations have gotten increasingly elaborate. No longer content with just Photoshopped images, users have begun editing videos—the longer, the better—that slowly lead up to the punchline of characters revealing waves.
Looks like 2019’s already shaping up to be the year of the drippiest wave checks.
Alyse Stanley is a video game and culture reporter based in Virginia with words at Polygon and USGamer. When she’s not writing about memes, she edits Unwinnable’s monthly magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @pithyalyse.