Why The Celebrity Headphones Trend Is Idiotic

At the end of December, a PR agency representing American footballer Tim Tebow's new signature line of Soul brand headphones — model number SL300, $US299.95 retail — emailed us to invite us to a CES event at which Tebow himself would be showcasing his headphones and "speaking with the media". The event was total bullshit. Just like celebrity headphones.

The email invite said members of the press should arrive at 9am sharp. At 8.55am, when I stepped off the elevator on the 31st floor of the Venetian hotel to walk to the suite in which the event was being held, I was greeted by a line of people snaking far down the hallway. I took my place in the line and waited, assuming that it wouldn't be long before all the media people assembled were led into a room to perform the strange 21st century task of asking a middling football player questions about some expensive headphones with his name on them. But then it hit me.

It started when I realised that one of the gentlemen directly in front of me was carrying not a voice recorder or a reporter's notebook, but a football. A few spots in front of him were two men in combat fatigues — Why are military journalists here, I wondered to myself — and directly in front of them was a man in a sweatsuit clutching a folded-up University of Florida jersey.

These people weren't tech reporters, they were football fans.

As if on cue, Gizmodo's editorial fellow and my photographer for the day, Nick, held up a message he'd written on his phone for me to read, so as to avoid saying it out loud: "Everyone here is just old and weird and into sports."

If you've ever been in a Vegas hotel, you know that they tend to get very strict about rules and regulations. The casino business is massively profitable, and to keep it that way hotel managers understandably operate by the book. Thus it wasn't long before security guards were swarming the line and demanding that everyone clear out of the hallway in order to avoid violating fire codes. In an effort to stop their "media" conference from being crushed by the fuzz before it even began, the Soul people cut a deal with Venetian security: they would squish as many people as possible — about 25 or so — into the suite and everybody else in line would have to disperse. When it became obvious that the men in uniform would not be a part of the chosen party, they were allowed to go to the front of the line, and for a moment sports fanaticism and gadget obsessiveness and patriotism all came together in a distinctly only-in-America kind of way. "Thank you for your service," a woman in a mobility scooter called after the two soldiers as they eagerly strolled past her.

Nick and I just narrowly missed making it into the suite, and as the doors swung shut in our faces, a young man who was in front of us and had been next in line to get in whispered to nobody in particular, "Seriously?" Yes, seriously. (I'd later find out that that guy's dad had gone in, leaving his son outside to wait. Thanks, dad.)

After some quick talking, the Soul people allowed me, Nick, and "anyone else from the press" to hang around outside the suite and wait to interview Tebow once he was done with the group showcase. It turned out that Nick and I were the only press people left in line, and the dozens of Tebow fans surrounding us ambled dejectedly down the hallway, away from their Christian Jets quarterback king. In a shrewd move, one man claimed to be friends with the soldiers inside, prodding the soft spot Soul leadership obviously had for servicemen and winning himself the right to wait behind Nick and me. Later, when the soldiers emerged, however, the man didn't follow them or talk to them at all, meaning I think he was totally lying about being friends with war veterans in order to meet Tim Tebow and have him sign a couple footballs he had packed in a rolling suitcase. Tebow makes monsters of men!

Nick and I and the #1 Tebow fan dude waited and waited some more. We waited as at least five people late to the event walked up, autograph markers at the ready, only to be turned away by a curt security guard. We waited when the showcase let out and smiling people — press and civilian alike — poured out of the suite, followed by Tebow himself, looking collegiate in a blue oxford shirt and a cream cardigan. We then waited as Tebow breezed past us into a suite next to the one he'd been in previously, and we waited after that, not fussily, of course, because waiting is a common feature of CES. Eventually, fully expecting to wait some more, I asked a middle-aged blonde woman with a gentle voice and a clipboard how much longer I'd have to wait before the interview.

"Oh, you haven't heard?" she asked me.

"Heard what?"

"Tim decided he's not going to do one-on-one interviews today," she said. "I'm sorry."

I went and gathered Nick, who was at that point shooting pictures of Tebow's SL300s, and we left.

I don't really give a shit that I didn't get to interview Tim Tebow. Celebrities like him have boilerplate answers to all the questions you're going to ask them about their headphones anyway, and in the event that you throw them a curveball — someone suggested I ask Tebow how his headphones sounded on the bench — they're coddled by a team of publicists and managers who swoop in to steal them away. I also don't give a shit that a bunch of football fans came to an ostensible press event and treated it like a fan convention. Good for them. I hope they either enjoy their signed footballs or earn a handsome price for them on eBay. I don't even give a shit that I waited around a hotel hallway for an hour for nothing. The only thing I really care about is that all the clowns running these kinds of operations quit pretending like they're in the technology business and start admitting they're in the celebrity business.

No consumer electronics sub-industry was more chockablock with nonsense this year than that of celebrity headphones. 50 Cent was here to talk about his headphones, as was Lemmy and the rest of Motörhead in support of their punnily named Motörheadphönes (har har). Snooki was here shilling her headphones, which come adorned with animal prints and dangly feathers — "They're about fashion," she told me — and Soul, the maker of Tebow's line, announced this week a new series of Usain Bolt-sponsored headphones, the "Run-Free" model, which come in a black and green colorway as a "tribute to Bolt's home country of Jamaica."

A pair of Snooki's earbuds, made to resemble dangly earrings.

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new, to be sure, and aside from the fact that celebrity worship is pathetic, I could care less if companies want to pay actors and athletes millions of dollars to use and pretend to like a specific piece of electronic equipment. But let's stop trying to coax ourselves into believing that celebrity headphones are about technology, and should thus be displayed at the world's largest technology conference.

I'd be willing to trust Tim Tebow's opinion on, say, football cleats or Bibles. But why should anyone care what he has to say about headphones, particularly headphones that simply mimic the look and bass-heavy sound quality that already made Beats by Dre wildly popular? At least Snooki's headphones, as hideous as they are, and as ignorant to the science behind them as she is, look different than other headphones. That's a selling point, I suppose, and one that goes a little bit beyond the fact that the person marketing them is a famous reality show "guidette".

In the end, Tim Tebow was probably right to baulk at the idea of doing an interview with me. What illuminating thing was he going to say? What illuminating thing could I ask about his headphone line? Maybe he understood perfectly what I should have understood before I even went to his hotel suite that morning: He's just a guy being paid a lot of cash in the hopes that all those fans who had lined up to get him to sign their footballs might also one day shell out a few hundred bucks for headphones in order to be a bit more like their favourite quarterback. There's little more to it than that, and there's practically no technological innovation. Regular people like famous people and want to throw their money at them, and it's been like that since the concept of celebrity was invented. Sometimes you don't need the most cutting-edge ideas to get rich.


Comments

    I actually enjoyed your article and thought you made some good points.

    However, I was left wondering why you so willingly play your part in the what you yourself describe as a farce?

    Why don't you just opt out of the pointless media event about the pointless product, deny the promotional firms the media coverage they're looking for, and spend your time on meaningful interviews about meaningful products?

      My guess is that he was sent by his boss/editor/parent company.

      Last edited 13/01/13 12:23 am

      Meaningful interviews about meaningful products? At an electronics show? Ha ha ha.

      Meaningful interviews about meaningful products? At Gizmodo? Ha ha ha.

        No no, the author actually has a valid point. He's legitimately disappointed at the fact there was nothing to report on worth note, as opposed to say Hopewell who pretends to know what he's talking about after googling a topic and regurgitating what he's read into the pages before us. At least this guy was doing the legwork.

        wasting your time reading a site you obviously don't respect? ha ha ha.

      Unless you write independently (and clearly this is still a good topic/product to write about) journalists just go where they're told.

    Marketing to the morons.
    It's not about celebs it's just about marketing.

    Yep, you're an idiot if you pay the $100+ extra to buy something with celebrity branding and some bright colour. People willing to pay these exorbitant amounts are far better off joining the real idiots who end up spending thousands on DACs/amps and quality cans without the branding.

      Bahaha, let me guess, you're one of those guys who are fine with their Ipod buds and itunes Mp3?

        No, he's probably not, but spending $100+ on headphones can be worth it, if it's not covered in a celebrities name or beats by dre.

        Nope I use Brainwavz M3's with my phone and Beyer DT250's on my PC. Many people I know think I'm crazy spending $300 on my 250's. Spending hundreds more on DACs and amps is a smart move if you want to get the most out of your quality cans... However it is a very expensive hobby which is very hard to turn back from willingly. I know many people who have spent more on audio than their car, which is generally a poor allocation of their income they could be saving.

        I can almost guarantee those ipod buds (which actually turn out to be fairly decent headphones, for their price) are going to be better than any headphone which is going to sell itself on a celebrity endorsement by a footballer. These are not high quality items being sold here folks.

    Haha, good article. My friends who work for (big chain here) always chuckle and share stories about the "Beats by Dre" dudebros who happily slap down huge dollars for a well-advertised product when they could pay half as much for better. It's sheepism at its finest.

      ugh that just reminds me of walking into my local jb hi fi and noticing they now have a mirror in their headphone section, think about that for a minute.

        They have a mirror at your JB for the headphones? That's just sad, it's not a gym.

        Yeah, I noticed that last time I was at JB as well. Very disappointing.

    "could care less"

    ASDHASILUGFSELIFSDHFSEFHLAEPIDAF

      Like having my eyes stabbed with rusty sporks.

      Come on Angus, you're better than that :(

        Gah, thought it was reading LH for some reason

    As dumb as "Beats by Dre" are, I at least understand them. The man's a rapper, presumably he has some degree of knowledge about how his music sounds and how other people's music sounds, so it doesn't sound like a stupid idea to get him to design a pair of headphones for you. (The fact that they're apparently crap is kind of incidental.)

    But why on earth would you want a pair of headphones from a guy who plays football? What possibly insight could he bring?

      Dr. Dre is more of a producer than a rapper, working with NWA, The Doc; Snoop Dogg among others, his solo works are also regarded for its production over lyrics introducing the subgenre of g-funk.

      Yeah I was thinking the same, Dre is actually a big time producer who has produced some of the biggest hits of the last 2 decades, so I can kind of understand that he might at least have some cred when it comes to knowing what sounds good (not that I'm endorsing his over-priced fashion accessories) but a football player? Really? Shouldn't he have his own line of sports ware or something.

      Last edited 14/01/13 9:44 am

    I much prefer my Planertronics gamecom over my pair of Beats Solos. Lucky they were free with my HTC one X

      Yeah i believe it, I bought a pair of Samson SR850s on the advice from someone on these Gizmodo comments, they cost $40 off ebay and sound better than my mates $200+ solos. They were just bought as a stop gap until I could get some decent ones but I'm now tempted just to stick with them.

    Love all the comments from people saying how good certain headphones sound, when probably all they are listening to for the most part are crap MP3's anyway, you might as well listen to a tin can on a string. GIGO.

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