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Yanny vs. Laurel Is “the Dress” for Your Ears

Photo illustration of a person listening.
Pick a side.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Thinkstock and Alan Diaz-Pool/Getty Images.

Yanny or bust, Yanny forever, Yanny or get the hell out. How is it that I feel so strongly about a name I’d never heard of until 10 minutes ago, but on which I now am willing to stake my reputation? Welcome to the new regime, where (at least for the next few hours) the only thing that matters is Yanny vs. Laurel.

To backtrack a bit, this is not an Edward vs. Jacob–style love triangle debate, and it has nothing to do with beloved performer and composer Yanni. To understand Yanny vs. Laurel, plug in your headphones and listen to the clip below:

Do you hear “Yanny” being said over and over, or is it a string of “Laurel”s that greets your ears? Some people hear one, others the other, and while science will no doubt emerge to explain why in the coming hours and days, what’s clear for now is that this is weird as heck. How can the same tape sound different to different people??? Is it an age thing? Is it like in The Polar Express when only children can hear the silver bell (and thus can believe in Santa)? If so, tragic! Or is it like whistles only dogs can hear? Are humans basically just less sophisticated dogs? Reports from inside Slate allege that if you keep listening over and over, you might eventually hear the other name, but in my eardrums, Yanny continues to reign.

As in many a young adult novel, in the war that is Yanny vs. Laurel, you cannot dictate your fate; instead, it’s determined by some mix of genetics and destiny—what you hear is the team you’re on, and by virtue of how blindingly obvious the answer seems to you, you will immediately begin to regard members of the opposite side with a mix of skepticism and disdain. This battle is bound to pit brother against brother, YouTuber against influencer, actual person named Laurel against her own.

As Yanny vs. Laurel has come out of nowhere to take over the internet, you may be reminded of the last time the web came to blows over a seemingly simple division: Feb. 26, 2015, aka the day of the Dress, when we all fought over a picture of a dress that, due to a trick of lighting, could be interpreted as two completely different color schemes. Black-and-blue partisans faced off against white-and-gold adherents, and because it was before the 2016 presidential election broke both the internet and the world, those of us who were there can look back at it with something like nostalgia. (Though, does Gen Z even remember the dress at all? Google it, kids.)

In truth, we’ve all secretly, maybe even subconsciously, been waiting for the next Dress, something fun and non-toxic we can all freak out over together. BuzzFeed’s committed trawling of Tumblr is what surfaced the Dress and excavated it from a niche community to the entire world—but this illusion needed no gatekeeper to help it break through. The way Yanny vs. Laurel is playing out shows us a bit about how the internet has evolved since 2015: No one media outlet owns the story; instead, it traveled through several realms of the social internet, sometimes in stolen form reposted by influencers and other social accounts, and before it got even bigger, bloggers like me already had to pounce on it, ready to declare it the next Dress. Sometimes, we only hear what we want to. And the thing we want to hear today is apparently Yanny or Laurel. (But for real, it’s Yanny.)

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