How Vaporwave Was Created Then Destroyed by the Internet
To famously quote our generation's most beloved TV show, South Park:
"If you wanna be one of the non-conformists, all you have to do is dress just like us and listen to the same music we do."This article originally appeared on Esquire
Writing about vaporwave in 2016 is almost impossible. Neophytes often seem baffled by the genre, assuming they've heard of it at all. Meanwhile, fans insist that vaporwave is dead. How do you write about music that most people have never heard of and that fans claim doesn't exist any more? Or just as important: why?
I think the continued relevance of the genre is explained in the history of vaporwave itself. Vaporwave arose in reaction to huge economic and social forces that are still very much a part of our lives: globalization, runaway consumerism, and manufactured nostalgia chief among them. There is no other kind of music that explicitly concerns itself with these aspects of our zeitgeist. And if vaporwave still maters, it's because those things do also.
If you've never heard of vaporwave, the slowdown, remixed, and appropriative music genre defined at least in part by an obsession with '80s and '90s consumer culture—the first genre to be born and live its life entirely on the Internet—that's certainly OK. In fact, it's sort of the point. Vaporwave, itself a kind of musical parody of pop consciousness, never strived for mass appeal. It doesn't need our validation. That's true for any artifact of counterculture: mass acceptance would weaken its claim to authenticity. Forcing it into a form fit for mass appeal would dilute its identity. For an historical example, think of the music critic Lester Bangs' quote about how the '60s died as soon as it was OK to have long hair in the Midwest.
That's why signal-boosting vaporwave might seem gauche to some fans and creators. Purveyors of a genre so rarified were almost obligated to bury it alive, to announce its death publicly before its actual time. It seems almost prudent to end the project while the relatively small groups of people passionate about vaporwave are still able to police the borders of the genre's identity. But the reasons for vaporwave being created in the first place are still very much relevant: cycnicsm about capitalism, sarcastic takes on the unachieved utopias of previous decades, consumerism, escapism, globalization, etc. Vaporwave's vision isn't exhausted yet, which keeps it fresh, pertinent, and growing in the form of fractured subgenres like "future funk" and "mall soft".
So vaporwave is dead. Long live vaporwave.