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What Is Vaporwave?

People are talking about vaporwave art, music, and videos – but what is vaporwave, anyway?

New trends in music pop up every single year, and one of the trends that had begun to emerge in the late 2000s was vaporwave. Unlike many other trends, vaporwave is still going strong today. 

That being said, most people over the age of 30 don't know what vaporwave is. Is it a fashion statement? Is it a form of music? Is it a sign that your kid has finally gained an interest in classical sculptures? 

Most commonly, people use the term to define a specific genre of music. But, it's really hard to limit vaporwave to just music. In fact, it's just wrong. It's more than that. It's an aesthetic, a social statement, and more.  

If you're reading this, you're probably wondering what is vaporwave as a subculture, as a movement, and even as a music genre. Here's the truth of what vaporwave is, straight from a fan. 

Vaporwave As An Aesthetic

You're probably wondering what is vaporwave aesthetic - or at least, why people keep talking about it. 

The idea of vaporwave aesthetic is one that can be hard to understand. It's the overall vibe of both vaporwave music and vaporwave-style artwork. Vaporwave is not necessarily gloomy, but it is sad. It's contemplative, and undoubtedly nostalgic for a time when things seemed simpler. 

Common themes in vaporwave include 90s corporate commercialism, Windows 95, Akira, old anime shows, and 80s-style color themes. The artwork both pokes fun at pop culture's frivolous attitudes toward things, and also somehow manages to embrace it. 

If the description of vaporwave art sounds confusing, that's because it is. It's contradictory in nature, but at the same time, still has a unified theme. For most people, it's something that you need to see in order to fully understand. 

That being said, it is possible to put the emotion vaporwave elicits into words. One forum user explained it as such:

"The deconstruction and reassembly of cultural tropes from other periods is analogous to the feeling of hesitant nostalgia the generation who grew up in those eras now feel. We're left with a lot of broken Nintendo consoles, trashed CRTs and old computer vaporware..technology which at the time made up our entire world but now makes little coherent sense.

The melancholy this invokes is reflected in the way this music is produced, including the cultural context surrounding it. What was once shiny black plastic is now sun-bleached and brittle, the consumption moved on elsewhere and we're left with hazy memories, more like a feeling or an aesthetic than past reality. In this way the music parodies consumerist culture and highlights our states of transient interest and trends. That is vaporwave."

For many, that idea and emotion is all too present in their own lives. Somewhere along the way, we lost ourselves in a world of yuppie commercialism – a world where everything seemed like magic until you realize it's fake. A world where everything is replaceable, where memories alone seem to get lost in a haze while you ask for more, more, and more. 

In that way, vaporwave sometimes acts as a wakeup call, as well as a gentle hug from someone who understands that distaste for consumerism that seems to have taken over everyone's lives. 

What Is Vaporwave Music Like?

Reddit's r/Vaporwave forums jokingly call vaporwave the "music of abandoned malls," and to a point, it actually fits the overall mood of vaporwave music pretty well.

Most of vaporwave music involves music from the 90s and 80s that was slowed down, sampled, and remixed. Most of the time, the music will involve elements of smooth jazz, pop, and "elevator" music - all remixed into a slow, hazy, and often somewhat haunting piece.

Some good vaporwave music artists include:

  • MACINTOSH PLUS/Vektroid
  • Blank Banshee
  • Saint Pepsi
  • George Clanton
  • Internet Club

You might notice that the majority of the music you'll hear under vaporwave's umbrella is pretty spooky. That's normal. Vaporwave is a mellow, mesmerizing, and somewhat haunting aesthetic. 

Extremely upbeat music in vaporwave is out there, it's just somewhat uncommon. There are some vaporwave artists that have made upbeat music as well - including Saint Pepsi. Even when vaporwave has happy elements, the same haunting nostalgia and hypnotic beats still permeate the songs. 

It's worth noting that most vaporwave isn't really the type of music you dance to, nor is it the kind of music most people would blast from cars. It's music that's meant to make you relax, think, and maybe just get lost in your own world for a while. 

Vaporwave Isn't Dead, But...

If you've been listening to vaporwave for a while, you already know what is vaporwave all about. You know it's a commentary on our consumerist society. Lately, you also may have noticed that there's a lot more critique about it than there used to be. 

One of the biggest complaints that you'll hear about vaporwave is that it's a dead genre. It's not a critique that is even brought about by all the people who ask, "What is vaporwave?" It's not a comment that's brought about by a dearth of listeners or recording artists, either. 

Rather, the critique is that vaporwave is no longer "alive" because the very corporations and consumer groups that the music lambasted have adopted it. But, does that really mean that it's dead, or does that just mean that vaporwave has reincarnated into something bigger? 

Vaporwave isn't dead, but it's not the underground music movement it once was. Whatever it is, it's something that resonates with people on a level that few other genres do. 

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