Vaporwave: Transcending Music


Olivia Mistretta, Senior Staff Editor

The early 2000’s-2010’s were an interesting time for music to be sure. With the popularity of the internet growing and a new emphasis on electronic software programs to enhance music, the result was years of party music laced with autotune and a signature electronic “sound”. From popular songs like “Tik Tok” by Kesha to ‘new disco/rock’ songs like “Party Rock Anthem”, electronic sound bytes and spliced in computer-generated sounds were added to music that was blasted from every dance club across the country for years. We look back on these songs with nostalgia and remember the good times of having them on in the car or at school dances, but we remember them because they were popular. So what about a genre of music that flew under the radar?

Vaporwave is certainly a niche genre of music that grew from music made in the 90’s and 2000’s. The main thing to know about vaporwave is that most songs in the genre have a distinctly 80’s/90’s feel to them, but instead of the upbeatness songs from those generations had, vaporwave songs are more slowed down and atmospheric. Vaporwave music is made by mashing and splicing together soundbites and music clips, creating songs that are appealing to the senses. It is hard to explain vaporwave in words, and it is best understood by listening to some of the music on Youtube, where most vaporwave songs have been uploaded. Vaporwave albums can also follow a theme or a narrative, some relying on the sensation of nostalgia to create an effect. An example of this would be 猫 シ Corp’s “Palm Mall”, an album that creates the feeling of shopping at a mall in the 80’s while also being…Musical. Interspersed in the slowed down, sensory background track are the hushed sounds of people talking inside of the mall and a distant voice announcing sales going on. This genre is a very elevated form of music to say the least, and it is extremely interpretative.

While one’s first reaction to a vaporwave song could be, “Is this even music? What does it mean?” The answers to those questions can be found by taking a deeper dive into the genre. Some vaporwave songs can simply be those sensory slow-tracks that combine layered sounds like water droplets falling or a sound clip from people talking in the distance of a store with electronic music, but often the meaning is deeper. Many vaporwave artists have stated that their music is supposed to be reflective of society in some way. A common theme would be mass-consumerism that is seen globally today. “World class”, an album by the artist Luxury Elite, has a strictly 80’s feel to it, highlighting a time in history when mall-culture was booming around the world. Many vaporwave themes reflect back on the way people flocked to malls, supermarkets, and other places of business ready to spend and looking for the next best thing. Words like “world class”, “luxury”, “elite”, “top-of-the-line”, and others were used in sales pitches at stores to get consumers to buy goods. Vaporwave artists took note of the mall-boom in the 80’s and how it continues today, and that is why so many vaporwave songs have shopping as the “theme”. Other popular themes for vaporwave artists are video games, Japanese commercials, nature, food, and really anything that can be turned into an aesthetic experience. 

DIY Magazine had this to say about Luxury Elite’s album, “Imagine…a parallel universe in which Tom Cruise’s 1988 hit Cocktail were actually a gritty noir, full of smoke-filled scenes of low-lit bars and brutalist executive suites…World Class – the new full-length from Luxury Elite – is the essential soundtrack to such a film; a love letter to ‘80s America, smooth jazz, lounge music and skyscraper skylines by night.” This description gives people a new look into the music and it is easy to see how vaporwave can paint a picture in someone’s mind very easily.

It certainly is a complicated genre of music, to say the least. But what is it aside from 80’s and 90’s inspired aesthetic music that became popular in 2011? Vaporwave is a community, a group of people who want to sit down and listen to something out of the ordinary. One thing to note is that most, if not all vaporwave albums are sold strictly on vinyl and on tapes. New albums sell out in mere weeks or months, especially if they are well-known artists such as the aforementioned 猫 シ Corp, Windows96, Luxury Elite, or VAPERROR to name a few. For some reason, vaporwave fans enjoy unconventional ways of listening to the music, preferring to buy record and cassette players to boost the 80’s and 90’s feeling they get from the music. 

A quick online search for vaporwave vinyls or cassette tapes that are already sold out on (the site that most vaporwave artists sell their music on) will yield secondhand tapes and records selling for hundreds of dollars. Many vaporwave fans will easily splurge $50 for a new t-shirt for their favorite artist on Vapor95, the most popular online store to buy merchandise for vaporwave creators, and some spend upwards of $300 in one sitting buying cassettes and records. 

The vaporwave fanbase might not be as outspoken or large as a typical musical fanbase, but just because the genre began in the early 2000’s does not mean it is any less popular today. The music is all free on Youtube, luckily, so for anyone interested in taking a deeper dive into vaporwave there is plenty to offer. My personal favorite LP so far is Voyage Futur’s newest album, “Inner Sphere” which combines the sounds of water and nature elements with a beautiful, aesthetic sound. Whether you’re looking to experiment with a transcendental genre of music or just looking for something relaxing to listen to while you’re studying; vaporwave has it all for those seeking a more “aesthetic” experience when listening to music.