What is Vaporwave?


What is Vaporwave?

Vaporwave is not easily defined in one way, as it can refer to a few different things. Vaporwave is a genre of music, it is an art style and aesthetic, and more generally an expression or cultural movement. In this article, we’ll try to define vaporwave by breaking down some of these different pieces that make up the whole of puzzle of vaporwave.

Vaporwave as a Genre of Music

When people talk about vaporwave as a style or genre of music there are a few characteristics that stand out. Vaporwave is a genre of electronic music that emerged in the early 2010s. It has been called the first music genre created out of the age of the internet.

Vaporwave’s sound can be characterized as a combination of elevator music, mall music, and in store shopping music. Vaporwave often employs pitch shifting, looping, and the use of reverb. Vaporwave often uses samples or recycled media clips from the past such as slowed-down samples from 1980s and 1990s pop, lounge, and elevator music, along with synthesizers and other electronic elements.

The use of slowed-down samples and recycled media from the past is intentional to create a nostalgic and retro-futuristic atmosphere. These same characteristics can also represent a commentary on consumerism and commercial culture that really boomed in the 80’s and 90’s.

Vaporwave as an Artistic Style and Aesthetic

The term vaporwave can also be used to define an artistic style and aesthetic. As a artistic style vaporwave is characterized by distinct visuals such as glitch art, 90’s computer graphics, and surreal imagery. Colors and patterns from the 80’s and 90’s are prevalent. Shopping and/or mall imagery is common, and the use of Japanese characters or kanji.

Ancient Greek busts are common artistic elements as they act as a metaphor for modernism, western culture, luxury, and idealism. They represented a promise of prosperity, optimism and a bright future for ancient Greece, yet the civilization ultimately fell.

The art style of vaporwave often incorporates elements from early web design, early computer interfaces, and outdated technology. The point is to create an immersive and visually striking experience that transports listeners to an alternate reality, again referencing an alternative future never experienced.

album cover : Tonight by Color Television

album cover : D​r​e​a​m by bl00dwave

album cover : FEVER by Various Artists
vaporwave - art example
album cover : Hiraeth by 猫-シ-Corp.


Vaporwave as a Cultural Movement

The word “vaporwave”, is a play on the term “vaporware” which is defined in the dictionary as software or hardware that has been advertised but is not yet available to buy, either because it is only a concept or because it is still being written or designed. Vaporwave represents a future that was promoted, advertised, and promised in the 80’s and 90’s that never came about.

In the era of Ronald Reagan we saw the promotion and optimism of American Exceptionalism. A positive outlook for America’s future. The United States was promoted as a beacon of liberty and a vision of a stronger and more prosperous nation was all but inevitable. This future turned out to be nothing more than a concept for most Americans, something advertised but never realized and as such it has become a strong part of defining vaporwave.

Vaporwave represents a cultural movement and a change in the way many people think and view the notions of our promised future from the past. The fact that vaporwave is a genre of music AND an art style, suggest that it is more. It has become a feeling of nostalgia while simultaneously critiquing and satirizing the excesses of capitalism, consumerism, and mass media culture. Vaporwave explores the relationship between the past, present, and future and questions the impact of consumer culture and capitalism on society.