Is Vaporwave Dead?

Rising star in journalism, Louis Yates reports on his thoughts on the music cyberculture that is vaporwave…

The Battle for the Heart of Vaporwave – Is the Genre Dead?

Last year, vaporwave was taking over the music scene. It arose because of the frustrations we creatives felt due to globalisation, capitalism mass manufacturing and the political mess we see today.

But is vaporwave now dead? We challenged our Rising Star in Journalism, Louis Yates to find out…

For the uninitiated, vaporwave is best described as corporate lounge music that accidentally went crazy while on holiday in Miami. For the more artistically inclined, think Andy Warhol if he was born in the 90’s and got his hands on editing software instead of a paint brush.

The cult genre was created on the internet in the early 2010s. It generally consists of slowed down, chopped and screwed samples of 80’s R&B, jazz and elevator music. Less prevalent elements include computer sound bites, synthesisers, looping and echo effects. When these ingredients are mixed together it results in a transcendental, surrealist sound.

Yet, vaporwave isn’t really about the musicality or lyrics, it’s high concept, unabashedly style over substance. It’s all about the A E S T H E T I C, as enthusiasts like to stylise it. The real beauty of vaporwave is its ability to evoke feeling.

Rihanna using vaporwave imagery

The iconography of the culture is really what matters. Continuous features in vaporwave music videos and album artwork are 80’s junk food advertisements, retro computer graphics, 90’s video games, palm trees, cyberpunk skylines and even Fiji water.

But What is The Point?

It is generally considered that vaporwave began as a satirical critique of consumer capitalism. The brash motifs fuelled by a desire to create a faux utopian concept of an accelerated free market future, mocking civilisations conceivable decline into the twisted worship of brands and spiritual experiences through purchased products.

This interpretation is given further credence through the origin of the genre’s name. It was influenced by the term “Vapourware,” used to describe a futuristic product that is publicised by a company but then never released. This is clearly highlighting consumerism’s tendency to not fulfil its promises.

In addition, the Marxist proclamation “all that is solid melts into air” inspired the name. The phrase describes the principle of an unstable and hollow philosophy (capitalism), describing it as “waves of vapour”. Hence, from two condemnations of commercialisation, the name “vaporwave” was created.

However, scroll through any vaporwave video’s comments and you will find lots of people claiming that the music induces nostalgia, sometimes even for decades they weren’t alive to witness! Could it be that vaporwave in the same vein as the film “American Psycho” has been co-opted by a conservative audience? Therefore, becoming less a tool for consumerism ridicule, and more a homage to capitalism with an endearing sarcastic twinge?

Ironically, the music may have humanised and subverted soulless corporate art through the lens of reminiscence. Its aim now, to create a utopian sense of the economics golden years in which business, media and technology innovated exponentially.

Vaporwave’s retro identity and fixation with distinguished symbols of decades gone by, like the Roman bust featured in the flagship vaporwave song “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” by Macintosh Plus, indicates a reactionary tone to the genre. Nevertheless, some would point to the artificial use of such icons as a critique on consumerisms proclivity to bastardise other cultures’ art for profit.

The intent of vaporwave music videos can also be fought over.

The video for “Enjoy Yourself” by artist Saint Pepsi, (read into that name what you will), involves a crescent moon-faced man seen floating in the clouds towards the heavenly golden arches of the McDonald’s logo, before singing and dancing atop a giant cheeseburger.

Moreover, for his song “Cherry Pepsi,” the video features women ‘voguing’ whilst drinking the beverage, inter-spliced with masses assembling to dance and bond over “the choice of a new generation”.

These works could be considered fetishised glorifications of 80’s advertising, poking fun at the eras clichés in a celebratory manner. Though, they might also be deemed attempts to ironically ridicule manipulative efforts by corporations to falsely present their products as means to innate human desires, such as beauty, companionship and enjoyment.

Whatever side you’re on in the battle for the heart of vaporwave, at least we can all agree on two things, art is subjective, people will interpret it through their own gaze and, that it is a fun genre to listen to… ironically or not.

Oh, Louis, you smart, smart man! Thanks for taking us on a journey through vaporwave (though we sometimes had to read it twice!) So what are your thoughts, is vaporwave dead?

Louis was chosen out of hundreds of applicants as one of the next Rising Stars in Journalism. If you feel you are also the next big journalist, be sure to apply today for your chance to be paid for your work and for it to be featured on our website!f