In Defense of Vaporwave

Vaporwave is a dead meme. So far gone that not only does the music genre have its own page on “Know Your Meme,” the place where all memes are put to rest, but it has also lead to the creation of mock subgenres such as Trumpwave and Simpsonwave.  Even Tumblr got a hold of its AESTHETIC early on and has been beating that dead horse ever since. While it’s easy to rip on Vaporwave for simply being pretentious, nostalgic garbage that we need to leave in 2012, Vaporwave’s continued influence, relevance, and transcendence to the mainstream makes that argument harder and harder to listen to. Vaporwave’s mark on the history of music has already been left and its unique sounds and styles are nothing to be ashamed of enjoying, regardless of the jokes that surround it.

For those of you who are confused about what “Vaporwave” even is, Vaporwave is a subgenre of electronic music that began as a joke on Twitter under a different name, Seapunk. Vaporwave uses images and sounds from the 80’s and early 90’s, exists as a sort of critique on the major consumerism push of that time, and revives the nostalgic, yet empty feelings that come with their propaganda. I mean, do you know of any other musical genre that has such a heavy political, satirical, and artistic agenda? Actually, a lot of them do when you really think about it, but that is beside the point. The genre’s artistic integrity peaked when Rihanna included Vaporwave-esque images in her 2012, SNL performance of Diamonds. Fans of the genre were horrified, people who had never encountered Vaporwave before were confused, and that seemed to be the end of it. However, like most unheard of subgenres, its popularity seemed to continue to seep into the mainstream as the years went on, and while the “OG” fans may have moved on, more and more people, including myself, are feeling Vaporwave’s wavy ambience now more than ever before.

Even if you personally are not a fan, it is hard to ignore Vaporwave’s influence on mainstream artists and their recent works. We all love some good old Tame Impala and Azealia Banks, right? Okay maybe the last one is a little questionable, but listen to Tame Impala’s ‘Cause I’m a Man, and Banks’ Aquababe and you tell me what it reminds you of. Even Currents’ album art and the music video for ‘Cause I’m a Man are aggressively Vaporwave-y. But just because something is popular, doesn’t mean that it isn’t complete garbage. A lot of people still argue that Vaporwave is vapid and pretentious because artists in the genre blatantly steal 80’s songs and simply slow them down, no effort required. Sure the most popular Vaporwave song, MACINTOSH PLUS – リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピューis just Diana Ross’ It’s Your Move, extremely slowed down in editing, but any artist or creator knows the old saying, “steal like an artist”. Of course flat out plagiarism is never okay, but all art exists because of what came before it. Borrowing is not only okay, it is encouraged, as long as you are adding something new to improve or revive the piece as a whole. And if we are going to talk about minimal effort being an issue then just look at any country song, which basically all collectively consists of “tractor, tractor, denim jeans, tractor, Bud Light ™, tractor,” before you come after my Vaporwave.

Another big critique Vaporwave encounters is the fact that the genre was created by people who weren’t even alive in the 80’s and early 90’s and have an over romanticized idea about it, to which I give my very 3rd grade response: So what? Who cares if you want to feel things from a time you weren’t alive in? Is feeding into our nostalgia for memories we didn’t even have really that bad? I have always believed the level of snob in the music community regarding taste could be toned down a bit (which I say after I bashing country music not even four sentences ago). It’s okay to like something that everyone else thinks is trash. A genuine passion for something will always win over the snarky comments surrounding it, I promise. I recently spoke with Michael Stevens from Vsauce, a man who actually was alive in the 80’s and early 90’s if that helps with credibility at all, and we spoke about our mutual, embarrassing love for Vaporwave. We realized it all comes down to the phenomenology of the music we listen to. We could sit here and argue technicalities all day but what really matters, in terms of music, is the way it makes us feel when we listen to it. Michael described when he listens to artists like Waterfront Dining, a feeling of hearing a song he heard in a mall when he was a child and hasn’t heard since as if the past is trying to speak to him. I described it as a sort of abandoned theme park feel. Vaporwave isn’t just about feeling nostalgic, it is about going into this utopia wasteland that the commercial 80’s set up for us and feeling what that dreamy, empty shell of a world it exists as today is like.

Now the real question is: did I write this whole article to validate the fact that I unironically listen to Vaporwave? Probably. But now we can all unironically listen to Vaporwave and not feel bad about it together. Vaporwave will always remain wildly unique and could have only sprung up when it did. So be thankful that it exists at all, listen to it as much as you please, show it to your friends and family, and if all else fails, find comfort in telling yourself  “well, at least I didn’t out myself as a real Vaporwave fan by writing an entire article about it…”.


Starter Pack if you are new to Vaporwave:

(I recommend watching the music videos on YouTube for the full effect)

  • Private Caller – Saint Pepsi
  • Hibiscus Pacific – Greeen Linez
  • Vector Graphics – Destine
  • Caterpillar – waterfront dining
  • Closeness – Eyeliner
  • Midnight – luxury elite
  • Bleed – George Clanton
  • Laserdisc Visions – Laserdisc Visions
  • Sim – James Ferraro


– Erin O’Hara

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