Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Longevity and Evolution

As an electronic genre, vaporwave emerged online in the early 2010s. Initially, it focused on manipulating and slowing down nostalgic music from the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike many other internet genres with short lifespans, vaporwave has endured for several years. As it evolved, vaporwave gained attention from the general public, journalists, and academics. More specifically, it has been analyzed as a commentary on the aesthetics and politics of modern capitalism. Vaporwave has been interpreted with topics like accelerationism, the impact of late capitalism, repressed memories, trauma, nostalgia, the decline of the future, and the emergence of new fascist aesthetics. These interpretations, which have accompanied the development of vaporwave, have generated distinct definitions of the genre and its meanings. Exploring these interpretations can provide insights into how contemporary online music genres convey and debate meaning.

Interpretative perspectives help establish a coherent identity for a genre. These aspects can be identified and clarified through discussions referencing political stances on contemporary capitalism expressed through artistic expressions. Such discussions are central to genre development, interpretation, and evaluation. Even when there are instances of vaporwave that seem to deviate from established patterns, these patterns, once established, continue to serve as a foundational context for interpreting the genre. Consequently, vastly different and even contradictory forms of music and aesthetics are incorporated into or operate within the realm of vaporwave.

Conversations about music often employ music to articulate particular social narratives. When vaporwave is contextualized as a critical commentary on late capitalism, capitalism’s essence becomes audible, identifiable, and discernible through vaporwave. The work within this genre encompasses various practices: writing and discussing music, creating and sharing archives, participating in collective projects that organize and evaluate releases, and the creative work and behind-the-scenes networking necessary to source material, compile albums, design album covers, and so forth.

As a defining work within a genre, genre works delineate the boundaries of the genre, offer a framework for discussions about what fits within or outside that category, and distinguish subcategories, reinforcing stylistic trends within the genre. Genre works also play a role within a genre. This process typically involves the application of vernacular semiotics, implying a set of more or less explicit conventions, particularly concerning the appropriate sound palette and the correct approach to handling and connecting it with other visual and symbolic elements. Therefore, genre works also necessitate established practices, locations, references, and discourse as shared and representative of the genre.

Additionally, the relationship between written descriptions, dialogues, and the genre is vital in the online context where music like vaporwave circulates. Navigating these interpretative processes can yield productive outcomes. It makes the genre accessible and comprehensible to outsiders, provides resources and inspiration for new creators, and generates discussions that leave a lasting impact as they resonate through the virtual landscape, thus enhancing the genre’s media presence. Expanding the vocabulary and interpretative norms stabilizes the genre. It aligns the semiotics of musical strategies with the broader cultural context, quietly establishing rules that can be followed, bent, or broken.

The Unique Blend of Vaporwave

Vaporwave made its debut in the early 2010s on the internet. Several platforms and websites, particularly Tumblr and, more recently, Reddit and Bandcamp, played significant roles in its creation and initial development. Vaporwave can be described as an online genre that draws inspiration from various music collections while incorporating platform-specific aesthetics and unique cultural elements. Vaporwave compositions incorporate elements such as New Age and smooth jazz samples, advertising jingles, Muzak, background music, and menu selections found in instructional videos and DVDs from the 1980s and 1990s. Additionally, they feature power ballads and easy-listening hits. Standard audio techniques applied in vaporwave include looping, reverb, and pitch shifting down.

From a visual perspective, vaporwave album covers typically exhibit motifs reminiscent of the 1980s or 1990s home computing, early digital graphic design and fonts, pastel color schemes, casual references to futuristic Japanese signage, imagery of palm trees, Roman sculptures, Fiji water bottles, urban nighttime scenes, 1970s and 1980s sports cars like the DeLorean DMC-12, corporate office environments, and perpetually deserted shopping malls. Anonymity holds value within the vaporwave community, with some producers adopting various pseudonyms. However, artist names also convey specific aesthetic qualities. References to technology and consumerism pervade the genre.

Well-known vaporwave producers include 18 Carat Affair, Death’s Dynamic Shroud.wmv, Infinity Frequencies, Lasership Stereo, MACROSS 82-99, Metallic Ghosts, Saint Pepsi, and Waterfront Dining. Perhaps the most renowned vaporwave producer is Ramona Andra Xavier, known as Vektroid, and Daniel Lopatin, known as Oneohtrix Point Never, who crafted the soundtrack for the Safdie brothers’ film Good Time.

Stylistically, vaporwave represents a continuation rather than a radical departure from other contemporary or preceding online genres. David Jimison argues that vaporwave’s aesthetics bear similarities to those of other emerging genres such as Witch House, Seapunk, and Health Goth. Comparisons to other internet-based genres are frequently made in scholarly literature. Laura Glitsos also notes that vaporwave is part of a stylistic “family” that includes genres like witch house, chillwave, and seapunk, which gained popularity on online forums.

What sets vaporwave apart from other genres beyond its specific musical style, is its ability to sustain long-term popularity and visibility. In 2016, vaporwave was the most popular genre tag on the commercial music download platform Bandcamp, with over 7,000 albums tagged as such. Awareness of the genre has been bolstered by ongoing and extensive discussions in online forums and within journalistic and academic circles. Since its inception, vaporwave has continued to evolve, giving rise to numerous subgenres, and has achieved critical acclaim and broad appeal.

Discussions on Ambiguity’s Role

To some extent, what contributes to the allure and fascination of vaporwave is its utilization of diverse strategies, creating an impression that the music engages in playful interaction with established musical symbols, involving elements like irony, intimacy, artificiality, and detachment. It imparts a warm atmosphere to the samples, simultaneously looping them in a manner that accentuates their artificial nature. Incongruous alignments are employed to evoke a disconcerting effect. Samples are used to convey specific meanings, often leaving them in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. The ensuing discussions, centered around this ambiguity and its implications, have become a central element in the consolidation and advancement of this genre.

The source material and the consistent methods of sound manipulation employed within this genre have led to discussions about music’s association with the aesthetics of capitalism—essentially, music designed for commercial purposes. The uncertain and ambivalent approach evident in typical examples of this genre has been interpreted in various ways, notably as satire, irony, and a critical reflection on capitalism.

Issues related to classification have received substantial attention in the fields of popular music and the sociology of music. Genre, the primary system of music categorization, has been a focal point of this discussion, emphasizing how genres are constructed and the cultural and social roles they fulfill. Definitions of genres often revolve around their composition and evolution.

Franco Fabbri proposes that a music genre comprises a series of musical events governed by a specific set of socially accepted rules. Fabbri distinguishes between two categories of rules that govern genres: rules of behavior and semiotic rules. Consistent with Fabbri’s perspective, Simon Frith introduces a conceptual framework of five genre rules, encompassing formal and technical, semiotic, behavioral, social and ideological, and commercial and juridical rules. One of the challenges, as acknowledged by Frith, is that this typology implies a static portrayal of genres with well-defined boundaries despite genres being in a constant state of evolution.

The term “rules” may appear somewhat rigid, rooted in the early music production and distribution context significantly influenced by dominant top-down industry standards. Some researchers prefer “conventions” over “rules,” finding it more appropriate in the techno-cultural digital music era. The concept of conventions can be traced back to Howard Becker’s Art Worlds. As described by Becker, conventions determine the conditions under which art can exist. They dictate the materials to be employed, such as when musicians agree to base their music on notes contained in a series of modes or on diatonic, pentatonic, or chromatic scales accompanied by associated harmonies. Conventions specify the exact dimensions of a work, the appropriate duration of a performance, and the size and form of a painting or sculpture. Furthermore, conventions regulate the artist and audience relationship, establishing their rights and responsibilities.

The Intersection of Music and Identity

As elucidated by David Brackett, conventions of this nature encompass a range of connotations. Genres carry connotations related to music and identity, capable of encapsulating specific emotional qualities such as conformity, rebellion, commercialism, sales, and art for its own sake. They also can encapsulate diverse social characteristics, spanning elements like race, class, gender, location, age, and sexuality. Genres are not simply a compilation of textual features and styles. Genre rules or conventions are not predetermined but rather iterative and dynamic, evolving in tandem with the naming and development of the genre. It fundamentally constitutes a social process.

According to Jennifer Lena, genres coalesce when style, conventions, and purposes crystallize to define a musical community. Genre conventions act as expectations for members of the genre community to engage in discussions and negotiations, particularly in determining whether a particular work falls under that category. These genre conventions are not as explicit as Becker’s elucidation of the art world, nor are they as prescriptive as implied by Frith or Fabbri in their use of the term “rules.” Social groups conscious of and engaged in these conventional practices are mutually constitutive of the genre. It is this mutually constitutive relationship that we wish to emphasize when referring to scenes, or more precisely, online music scenes. Community members actively contribute to how the genre acquires meaning and attains broader recognition.

Vaporwave is an invaluable case study for contemplating this genre because it emerged in a socio-technological context shaped by contemporary internet capabilities. This context is marked by the prominence of forums and platforms where contributions and in-depth discussions about the genre occur and are publicly archived. Vaporwave emerged on these platforms and achieved success in online distribution. What sets vaporwave apart most is the community of artists and listeners who utilize the same platform for music exchange to deliberate on the meaning of the music itself and the various affective strategies employed in its creation and consumption. Online platforms, owing to their accessibility and continually evolving archives, shed light on the tactics used to navigate genre boundaries and definitions.

Genre Perception

Unlike Lena and Glitsos, who emphasize that communities are only sometimes cohesive or entirely present and identifiable, the assumption of stability and resilience in the vaporwave community needs to be revised. The works within that genre mold the perception of a genre community. The continuous articulation and negotiation of shifting boundaries among different social groups and actors through discussions of meaning are a persistent and crucial aspect of genre works. A practical, discursive, cultural, musical, and social process drives, mediates and mutually influences these elements. This dynamic chaos leaves behind residual media, which unifies this genre over time and shapes the impression of the community for newcomers.

It is essential to underline that participants in genre works are highly diverse and fragmented, displaying significant variations in visibility and participation across platforms and over time. The emergence of communities or groups is founded on traces of their digital interactions. Genre articulation encompasses both a cultural assessment process and a social articulation process. Negotiating aesthetic criteria involves interactions that spotlight who is speaking and who is not, claims to knowledge or positions, and varying degrees of their success, as well as how momentum develops around and opposes dominant voices whose opinions are considered significant.

From David Hesmondhalgh’s critical perspective, the genre is a starting point for conceptualizing the relationship between specific social groups and musical styles. Works that articulate genres are those that address social aspects. This stance is epistemological rather than ontological, signifying that the debate is not about the validity of terminology such as scenes or communities but focuses on how and why such terminology is applied.

A pivotal phenomenon shaping the impression of vaporwave as an online music scene is the ongoing discussion of its genre’s meaning, particularly concerning capitalism. Continuous debates about the best way to describe and understand music are inherent and fundamental features of this genre. It is essential to remember that the vaporwave genre provides a means of understanding music and serves as a lens for viewing, interpreting, and comprehending capitalism.

When employed as a tool for critiquing and narrating capitalism, vaporwave conveys a particular construction of capitalism to those engaged with the narratives of vaporwave. The audibility of capitalism is mapped out and extrapolated from the semiotics of music. Consequently, an engaging community is envisioned, inviting readers to join.

Exploring Compensatory Nostalgia

Vaporwave music embodies a sense of nostalgia, particularly toying with longing for experiences that never actually occurred. This yearning for unrealized moments can be better understood by delving into Chris Healey’s notion of compensatory nostalgia. As Healey explains, compensatory nostalgia emerges from the intricate interplay of memory and forgetfulness, a phenomenon pervasive in contemporary Western culture, mainly due to the oversaturation of media. Healey develops this perspective based on the research of Andreas Huyssen, who argues that cultural pressures transform the relationship between memory and oblivion. Huyssen raises questions about whether new information technologies, media politics, and the rapid pace of consumption drive this transformation. However, a substantial portion of the memories widely disseminated for consumption are initially fictitious recollections, making them more susceptible to oblivion than lived experiences. Huyssen’s assertion aligns with the observations of Redditor SockMice, who characterizes vaporwave as a hazy recollection. Born in 1998, SockMice has no memory of the ’90s and only faintly recalls the early 2000s. Consequently, most of their life knowledge is built upon assumptions and vague reminiscences. SockMice illustrates how memories can be generated by and through the media system, often on a personal and individual level, but ultimately amalgamated through collective production and media saturation.

According to Simon Reynolds, this type of compensatory nostalgia represents a unique process within contemporary popular culture. Reynolds argues that the appeal of pop nostalgia lies in the peculiar desire for a glorious past in the present, even though it was never directly experienced. For instance, the track Home Box Office by 18 Carat Affair exemplifies the intriguing interplay between personal and collective memories, alluding to nostalgia with an exaggerated sentiment. The song commences with a prominently featured lo-fi sample, reminiscent of 1980s television theme music—a memory that digital natives may only recall from reruns, typically during daytime TV schedules or indirectly absorbed while older guardians watched television in adjacent rooms. This concept aligns with the sonic aesthetics prevalent in most vaporwave tracks, characterized by reverb that imparts a distant quality as if emanating from an alternate or non-existent space. Specific samples in Home Box Office are challenging to pinpoint but share characteristics with the theme song of Dynasty, featuring synth keyboards, sparse low-density space, and an excessively romantic melody at 99 bpm. In the words of Redditor Arleybob, vaporwave “elicits a strange kind of old feeling because it longs for something that never happened.” Arleybob’s yearning for unrealized experiences exemplifies Healey’s concept of compensatory nostalgia. Vaporwave nostalgia does not center around personal displacement, as in the case of authentic nostalgia stemming from a medical condition in 17th-century Switzerland, where soldiers fighting abroad longed for their homes. Instead, when listening to vaporwave, individuals tap into their reservoir of past experiences but only to “plug into” a complex and collective memory reproduction—a form of play within certain defined boundaries. Memories are sourced from and influenced by the aesthetics of vaporwave to shape this form of compensatory nostalgia.

In another composition by 18 Carat Affair, titled New Jack City II, the artist slows down a sample from the soundtrack of the Sega Mega Drive video game released in 1992, Streets of Rage II. Early 1990s video game soundtracks possess a distinctive yet ubiquitous quality, as they originated from what is known as chiptunes. Kevin Driscoll and Joshua Diaz explain that chiptunes are music created for microchip-based audio hardware in early home computers and game consoles. Born out of technical constraints, these compositions, with their flute-like melodies, square wave bass thumps, rapid arpeggios, and cacophonous percussion, eventually forged a unique style, considered by contemporary pop composers as a matter of choice rather than necessity. Chiptunes became emblematic of video game music aesthetics in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Vaporwave disseminates this widespread and familiar cultural artifact to evoke a collective nostalgia for a time and place that may be recognizable but ultimately unknowable. For Redditor SockMice, vaporwave serves as a foggy window reflecting fragments of childhood memories. Redditor Joshuatx contends that vaporwave can resurrect music once enjoyed but genuinely forgotten or abandoned in one’s memory. Joshuatx goes on to describe how it transports them back to their childhood in Okinawa when they were not fixated on specific artists or music but were enveloped by the background music and aesthetics of toys, television, and other commercial media that surrounded them at the time.

Ersatz Nostalgia in Pop Culture

Svetlana Boym also characterized the allure of pop culture and nostalgic emotions as a form of ersatz nostalgia. She contended that technology and nostalgia have become intricately linked, and this artificial nostalgia arises from unfulfilled promises made by technology. This sentiment is reflected in the term “vaporwave,” which denotes products, typically in the realm of technology, that are promoted to the public but never actually materialize. Boym pointed out that ambivalent feelings permeate popular culture, where technological advancements and special effects are frequently employed to recreate historical scenarios, ranging from the Titanic’s sinking to the demise of gladiators and the extinction of dinosaurs.

Contrary to the belief held by numerous 19th-century intellectuals that progress and enlightenment would alleviate nostalgia, these developments inadvertently exacerbated it. The technology that once pledged to bridge the disjunction and alienation of the modern era and offer a mystical remedy for the pain of nostalgia now advances at a pace far surpassing the longing for nostalgia. This phenomenon is evident in vaporwave’s aesthetics, which draw from various historical periods and locales, blending them with contemporary media mechanisms. Through this process, vaporwave deconstructs and reshapes memories, constructing an experience of imaginary and liminal recollection, where memory exists and does not exist.

Time and temporality become tools for manipulating the construction of memory in this context. In this sense, the construction of time is absorbed into the media system. Within Appadurai’s framework, time is commodified and becomes a part of everyday practice through which nostalgia and fantasy are intertwined in a world of commodified objects. For vaporwave, memory is another object that can be commodified, produced, and endlessly replicated in various forms, engendering a sense of nostalgia for something that may or may not have a place in a specific past.

Contemporary Culture’s Memory Duality

Vaporwave operates within a paradox. Its style invokes elements from the past, such as outdated VHS tapes and old pop songs. However, most vaporwave production relies on contemporary sounds and production tools like crowd-sourced software and digital distribution platforms. Consequently, the vaporwave genre embodies and portrays the digital community’s anxieties stemming from the interplay between memory and forgetfulness.

As Huyssen elucidates, contemporary culture is often labeled forgetful, with its historical awareness either lost or numbed. Conversely, a flourishing discourse surrounds history, memorials, memorization, genealogy, and local history, accompanied by a growing desire to safeguard, document, and record the past. Western society’s memory culture experiences an excess in both remembering and forgetting.

Vaporwave ultimately capitalizes on and broadens the confined space where the past, present, and future coexist. It presents a retro aesthetic but is generated through contemporary data systems. Ultimately, this reconciles the conflicting forces between the old and the new and between remembering and forgetting, resulting in tension within the listening experience.

For Simon Reynolds, the past and the present blend in a manner that renders time malleable and adaptable on the internet. As an exclusively online genre, Vaporwave plays with this pliable notion of time in a perplexing manner, crafting and reimagining the past. In many respects, it showcases the fluidity of time and the subjective experience of the past as a memory, which becomes a wellspring of creativity for various collective narratives.

According to Reynolds, the inherent contradictions in contemporary music give rise to retro-futurism, envisioning that this music somehow remains the future, serving as a bridge to an endless tomorrow suspended in space, pointing toward something unattainable and beyond reach. Reynolds’ assertion pays homage to the vaporwave metaphor, which amplifies this anxiety through the power of contradiction. Rather than being in opposition, remembering and forgetting are inseparable; as Huyssen noted, memory is another facet of forgetting and forgetting is a concealed form.

Aligned with this paradox, vaporwave’s play with memory embodies both remembering and forgetting. The material disseminated by vaporwave is archived but lacks a coherent comprehension of the past. Nothing can be distinctly recalled, but layers of ambiguity and immersion create a process that renders the original work nearly unrecognizable. Huyssen argues that the psychological process of remembering, suppressing, and forgetting occurs in a contemporary consumer society, with which he concurs. It leads its listeners, much like contemporary individuals, to experience a sense of nostalgia as a counterbalance to the gaps in traditional memory.

Evoking Collective Trauma

Vaporwave also allows for the manipulation of memory through the processing or reprocessing of media artifacts that represent instances of cultural trauma. According to Jeffrey Alexander, cultural trauma is a lingering residue in the collective social consciousness when group members believe they have experienced horrifying events that profoundly affect their group awareness, leaving a lasting imprint on their memories.

For example, the Jon Benet track by 18 Carat Affair embodies the typical characteristics of the audio-visual vaporwave style. The YouTube video shows an old spa where a woman gently bathes in flower-filled water, set to an empty rhythm overlaid with bright tones from a synth keyboard. However, upon closer examination, Jon Benet references the assault and murder of JonBenét Ramsay in 1996, a six-year-old girl discovered lifeless in her parents’ basement. The JonBenét Ramsay murder in Colorado became a widely recognized tragedy in the United States, resonating throughout the international media landscape, especially in Australia. In 2016, SBS World News Australia featured a segment commemorating the 20th anniversary of Ramsay’s murder. The case was sensationalized by media speculations, fueled by JonBenét’s participation in child beauty pageants, which many viewed as exploitative. Her killer was never caught, and the crime remains unsolved. Numerous television specials have revisited the murder, reigniting debates about the case. For nearly two decades, it has haunted the Western psyche.

Similarly, vaporwave evokes collective trauma through its empty sounds of booming beats and drum tracks with gaps, expressing various forms of suffering that estrange and isolate individuals. It functions as a hollow soundtrack that shatters the innocence of emptiness, something that cannot be fully grasped by either the media or the community. 18 Carat Affair complements the song with vintage video footage featuring random spa imagery. The juxtaposition of the track and the video underscores the absurdity of the criminal justice system, as exemplified by the JonBenét Ramsay case, and the persistence of an event that culture cannot entirely erase.

As articulated by Redditor RightError, vaporwave represents and constructs a lost world. Therefore, 18 Carat Affair’s song can be interpreted as expressing repression and trauma associated with loss.

However, the reworking and repurposing of Muzak®, which forms the foundation of the vaporwave project, relates to recycling discarded materials as a form of purification or catharsis. Nevertheless, as a genre, Muzak® has long been considered a symbol of poor music because its musical identity has been stripped away to manipulate individuals into making purchases. For this reason, Simon Jones and Thomas Schumacher refer to Muzak® as an example of cultural totalitarianism, perpetuating the ideologies of bureaucratic rationalism and sustaining alienation and false consciousness. Muzak® underscores the blurring of horror by capitalism’s emphasis on superficiality. From the outset, Muzak® has been a cunning trickster in music and art, consistently alienating and estranging.

Vaporwave artists operate within and build their art upon a genre nobody favors. This choice arises because vaporwave artists focus on the uncomfortable or buried aspects of our culture to unearth the remnants of cultural production and the anxieties engendered by these elements.

Symbols and Sounds

Vaporwave also acknowledges the impossibility of memory in the postmodern era, endeavoring to redefine the nature of memorialization to disrupt what later solidifies as the past. Eric Berlatsky’s work, Memory as Forgetting, employs a Lyotardian framework to argue that postmodernism emerges from recognizing that Enlightenment rationalism and scientific positivism are not bound by objective truth and reality. Instead, the contemporary context is exclusively shaped by language games, such as narratives themselves, which generate perceptions of reality that, in the postmodern age, metamorphose into fantasies of realism. Symbols and sounds from diverse forms of art and commerce often appear nonsensical, undermining the comprehensive compilation of historical accounts and satirizing formal narrative structures. Consequently, vaporwave illustrates how perception in the realm of digital listening is a multifaceted phenomenon that implicates dimensions of intimate and social affective memory, depicting them as fractures trapped in a forgotten or confined space.

Within this genre, it is implied that the discourse surrounding music is an intrinsic aspect. Interpretations linking vaporwave to capitalism primarily operate through analogies, figurative language, or poetry. Therefore, while these interpretations may not effectively describe the music, it is not a significant limitation. Instead, their primary purpose is to provoke thought, provide context, and create room for imaginative identification. Consequently, they cultivate collective awareness of the world and the role of music within it. These interpretations utilize the logic of social explanation, offering a portrayal of the world that elucidates why and how music exists.

One noteworthy aspect of interpretive works within the vaporwave genre is that they often portray the genre as revolving around capitalism. This analogical depiction goes beyond merely describing the auditory qualities of vaporwave or the influences it encompasses. Instead, the metaphors used place music within a critique of elements external to the genre’s immediate social and cultural context. Vaporwave is also critically presented as a commentary on contemporary capitalism, and this criticism is purported to originate from within the genre itself. By sampling and remixing commercial music and sounds from the 1980s and 1990s, vaporwave challenges the idealism of an era when capitalism was rapidly expanding. Disappointment with neoliberal economics and unfulfilled techno-utopian promises give rise to resistance within the vaporwave movement.

Fundamentally, vaporwave is regarded as a critical practice that is aware of and conscientiously navigates the pitfalls of sincerity and commercialism that often pervade the realm of online music. This interpretation assumes that uncovering the meaning of music and taking a stance on it is a valid course of action. Evaluations of vaporwave frequently hinge on its effectiveness in conveying the intended meaning and whether that meaning aligns with the writer’s political perspective within the broader social and cultural context. This article underscores the significance of aesthetics and analogy, employing poetic language to evoke the intended political sensibilities within the music. Capitalism emerges as a recurring motif used to characterize the critical stance conveyed by vaporwave as a genre. This interpretation adds depth and nuance to our comprehension of vaporwave and its relationship with capitalism, thereby contributing to diverse discussions concerning the cultural significance of this genre.

Blurring Boundaries

While various music is created and made accessible online, most of it struggles to capture significant attention from audiences. In contrast, vaporwave possesses semiotic and musicological elements that distinguish it and pique people’s interest. Vaporwave has evolved into a genre with a loosely connected prevailing narrative loosely intertwined with the music. This narrative presents vaporwave as a genre centered around capitalism and acts as a vehicle for mobilizing critiques of capitalism. Whether embraced or not, this narrative has substantially influenced the genre’s development.

Vaporwave creations involve crafting descriptions that suggest the existence of precise or referenceable methods for critically representing capitalism through sound, music, imagery, and aesthetics. Vaporwave music is depicted as one such representation, functioning as an expressive language that identifies plays with, parodies, and subverts the surface-level aesthetics and the influences of corporate neoliberal capitalism within workspace and leisure. This perspective underscores how aesthetic, representational, and emotional strategies in sample-based music are grasped and elucidated by those interested in constructing, expressing, and conveying critical viewpoints regarding these domains.

Crucially, the criticism linked with vaporwave predominantly resides within the “product” of the music itself. Vaporwave raises awareness about capitalism by showcasing vaporwave artists who critique it. Consequently, discussions about vaporwave encompass various aspects, including an endeavor to grasp the nature of capitalism or to depict vaporwave as an aesthetic manifestation of a form of capitalism that can be communicated, heard, comprehended, and emotionally experienced.

In the context of positioning vaporwave within a broader conversation about capitalist aesthetics, a noteworthy facet of this genre is that, despite being a representation of the contemporary online music scene characterized by its online presence, geographical dispersion, irony, and reliance on sampling, as well as its origin from the realm of private, participatory engagement, it consistently engages in dialogues about vaporwave as a means or endeavor to render capitalism, consumerism, and corporate cultural homogeneity intelligible, audible, and emotionally palpable as subjects of expressive critique. As a result, the vaporwave project revolves around erasing boundaries—between forms, consciousness, and memory. In vaporwave aesthetics, boundaries seem to naturally dissolve in moments of half-remembered pop culture and collective trauma reintegrated into the mediatized framework of corporate capitalism, offering satirical commentary on Muzak® and memory.


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