This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.
A few months ago, my friend told me a story about an altercation he had with a major label rapper in a bathroom. For legal reasons, we can’t name the artist. But let’s just say he’s a dorm-room rotation regular: the sort of guy who could’ve written “Trap Queen,” “Going Up on a Tuesday,” or any other consummate rap radio banger. So, my friend walked into the toilet to find the rapper hiding there, smoking a blunt, and standing on a hoverboard. Levitating a few centimeters off the ground and surrounded by a cloud of smoke, he leered into vision: “Shhh. Don’t tell anyone I’m in here.”
This should be something bizarely futuristic, but in 2015 it's not an uncommon sight. Because, the biggest trend of the year isn’t Instagram house, grime, or the mutated peaceful-noise-tronica of Arca. No: the biggest music trend of the year is a toyish looking piece of plastic on wheels known to most people as a hoverboard, and in the last quarter of 2015, these things have become a bit like prized, majestic stallions of status for rappers, EDM stars, and the rich kids of Instagram. Think of the hoverboard as the Pegasus of millennial mythology, except instead of having wings and divinity it has built-in speakers and flashing LED lights.
Maybe you live in the middle of nowhere, and you haven’t have seen these little rolly fuckers out on the street yet. But you’ve almost certainly seen them on your daily jaunts into the world wide web, because they’ve been as prevalent on social media as “Hotline Bling” memes, change.org petitions, and avocado on toast. They might not have been called hoverboards—some call them rap scooters, sky walkers, future foots, mini-segways, or the less attractive but more accurate “self-balancing two-wheeled board.” In the UK, some call them swegways.
2 Chainz, Wiz Khalifa, Skrillex, Ty Dolla Sign, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Soulja Boy, Migos, and Jennifer Lopez all posted videos of themselves riding around on them, gliding eerily with motionless bodies, like haunted waxworks from a Madame Tussauds you would actually queue up for. Soulja Boy started selling his own line, and North London grime don JME became a bit of a UK swegway del boy, flogging them for £400 a pop via the Boy Better Know online store, undercutting the UK shops who were trying to flog them for £1,000 plus.
Young Thug rode around on one in his Vogue shoot; JME’s subsequent video for “Test Me” featured his whole crew drifting circles in a warehouse and they even permeated the visuals for Missy Elliott’s comeback single “WTF (Where They From)”. VICE’s Drew Millard reported that during a segment of a Wiz Khalifa show, a shirtless, mariachi-pant wearing Wiz, four dancers, and Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, conducted some sort of synchronized hover dance. For a moment in time, our collective infatuation with the hoverboard was peak—it was all those Back to the Future fantasies very tenuously realized IRL. Wherever you turned, you’d hear the ambient whirr of a youngling on the move. Like the great Mustard beat of yesteryear, the board was omnipresent, spinning in a semi-circle at the intersection between fashion and music, where all great youth culture is born.
Just like with all trends young people become fascinated by, suddenly the confused adults got scared—suspicious about the sight of motorized kids blazing down pavements at a reckless and haphazard 6 MPH, blinding the elderly by their fluorescent foot level headlights. London’s Met Police issued a warning that hoverboards were banned from public use, and can only be rode on private roads or pavements. New York followed suit, with the NYPD tweeting: “Be advised that the electric hoverboard is illegal as per NYC Admin. Code 19-176.2.” And in the worst heist of all time, two hundred imported hoverboards were seized and confiscated at Glasgow airport. Hoverboards basically became the Snapchat generation's equivalent of the illegal rave.
Pretty soon, things turned violent. Wiz Khalifa—the Russell Brand activist of #hoverlife—was forcefully bundled off his by police in LAX before scream-tweeting, “I stand for our generation and our generation is gonna be riding hover boards so if you don't like it eat a dick!” It was as if these boards had become some sort of civil right, rather than just a viral item, 2015's answer to the cronut.
The hoverboard's popularity quickly became its downfall, and the equivalent of Topman running a line of t-shirts with your favourite band on started to happen. Jason Derulo rocked up to the EMA Awards riding one, like a divorced dad arriving at a singles night on a motorbike. Then came J Staxx. Haven’t heard of him? You’re lucky. He’s made one of the worst music videos I’ve seen this year.
Where JME’s “Test Me” or Missy Elliott’s “WTF (Where They From)” used the hoverboard as an addition to an already great production, J Staxx made the poor-man’s rap chariot the centerpiece of his track. He raps about sipping codeine on his hoverboard; he raps about spilling codeine on his hoverboard. The only thing more boring than an average dude confirming he takes drugs, is an average dude confirming he takes drugs using technology available from Argos. It’s the sort of tactic you imagine a born again first-year university student employing in the smoking area of a club in an attempt to sound "fleek."
In one video, J Staxx gave us an insight into the hoverboard’s future: nothing more than a latch device to be flogged as a gimmick. Alas, the cult of the hoverboard has come full circle. Fallen from such high heavens as the very pinnacle of rap, when the hoverboard makes news now, it’s usually because someone was mugged for one in Enfield. At the start of the year, it was alien-technology from the future, now they’re sold alongside Union Jack mugs and selfie-sticks on Oxford Street like they’ve always been part of the furniture. Today, a man in Mitcham stole a crate of Lucozade from the Co-Op while riding one. And look: Here’s a young person taking a shit without getting off.
It's the first time since the great micro-scooter haul of the early 2000s that a wheeled-device captured the attention of generation Y. But, I'm afraid, the death-knell is nigh. Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps next year, when Kanye eventually drops SWISH, the debut video will arrive complete with visuals that feature ‘Ye rolling around on a rap scooter. But that’s unlikely. Trends are fickle. That’s the point of them. If they stuck around forever then we’d still be wearing K-Swiss tongue twister trainers, listening to nu-rave, or posting pictures on MySpace.
If we can take anything from the rise and fall of the hoverboard, it’s that our culture moves faster than ever these days. Like, really really fast. Faster than 6 MPH. Even too fast for capitalism: this thing was made illegal and uncool before the shops even had the chance to really sell an affordable version. I guess that’s okay though. Just like the Macarena and Hugh Grant getting a blowy from a prostitute will forever be locked in 1995, and MySpace and new rave will forever be locked in 2005. So 2015 will come to be defined by a hoverboard that didn't even fucking hover.
You can find Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil