What is Vaporwave?

JD Rinehart

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what is vaporwave

What is Vaporwave? That’s a question I asked myself when I first came across the genre a few years back. I had never heard of it before, but soon after stumbling upon some tracks, I was hooked.

Vaporwave has quickly become one of the most popular genres in the electronic music world, and for good reason.

But what is vaporwave exactly? And why is it so popular? Let’s explore!

What is Vaporwave?

Vaporwave is a musical genre that emerged in the early 2010s. The genre is characterized by its use of retro imagery and nostalgia, often taken from 1980s or 1990s pop culture.

Musically, vaporwave is often based on samples of easy listening or lounge music, as well as snippets of popular songs from that era.

The goal of vaporwave is to create a sense of detachment or irony, often by juxtaposing the music with images that are out of context or have been altered in some way.

vaporwave images

While the genre began as a niche style, it has since gained a small but loyal following among music fans who appreciate its unique blend of camp and nostalgia.

The genre has been described as “a nostalgic view of an imagined or actual past that never really existed.”

Despite its relatively short history, vaporwave has had a significant impact on popular music, and its influence can be heard in a variety of genres.

Characteristics of Vaporwave Music

Vaporwave is characterized by a heavy use of synthesizers, drum machines, and vocoders. The music often has a dream-like quality to it, with slowed-down samples and pitch-shifted vocals.

It also frequently features elements of easy listening and lounge music, as well as snippets of popular songs from the 1980s and 1990s.

Vaporwave tracks often have a slow tempo and are heavily layered. They typically range from two to four minutes in length.

classic vaporwave

The use of samples is an important part of the vaporwave aesthetic, and the music often features snippets of television shows, movies, or video games. These samples are often altered or looped to create a disorienting effect.

The visual component of vaporwave is just as important as the music itself. Album artwork and music videos often feature retro images or footage that has been distorted or altered in some way.

This can include everything from old VHS tapes to vintage advertisements. The goal is to create a sense of irony or detachment from the music.

Why is it Called Vaporwave?

The name “vaporwave” comes from the genre’s signature aesthetic, which is characterized by nostalgia for 1980s and 1990s consumer culture, symbols of communications technology, and futuristic imagery.

Musically, vaporwave is often based on samples of 80s pop music, particularly from Japan and Asia.

The genre’s use of nostalgia and futurism, two terms that can be seen almost as opposites, can also lay a hand in its naming juxtaposition — “vapor” which is like a mist, and a “wave” which is liquid.

vaporwave image
v a p o r w a v e

Who Invented Vaporwave?

The origins of vaporwave are disputed, but the genre is often traced back to the work of American producer James Ferraro.

Ferraro’s 2011 album Far Side Virtual was one of the earliest examples of vaporwave, and it laid the foundation for the style’s distinctive sound and aesthetic.

Since then, vaporwave has evolved and diversified, with new subgenres and offshoots emerging regularly.

Today, vaporwave is one of the most popular genres in underground electronic music, with a vast and ever-growing international fanbase.

Why is Vaporwave So Popular?

Vaporwave is characterized by its use of 1980s and 1990s nostalgia, often incorporates samples from old songs or movies, and has a sort of dreamlike, trance-like quality.

One of the reasons for vaporwave’s popularity is its DIY aesthetic; because vaporwave is primarily made with samples and found footage, it’s relatively easy for anyone to create their own vaporwave tracks.

In addition, vaporwave’s retro aesthetic appeals to many people who are nostalgic for the 1980s and 1990s.

Finally, vaporwave’s hypnotic, dreamlike quality can be very relaxing and provide a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether you’re a fan of the genre or not, there’s no denying that vaporwave is here to stay.

Why Does Vaporwave Use Japanese?

One of the most distinctive features of vaporwave is its use of Japanese language and culture.

This choice is often surprising to newcomers, as vaporwave is typically associated with Western countries like the United States. However, there are a few reasons why vaporwave artists might be drawn to Japan.

First of all, Japanese culture has a long history of technological innovation, which fits well with the vaporwave aesthetic. In addition, many vaporwave tracks sample from Japanese video games and anime, giving them a nostalgic and futuristic feel at the same time.

Finally, the use of Japanese adds an element of mystery to vaporwave, which contributes to its overall sense of detachment from reality.

a e s t h e t i c

Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that Japanese plays an important role in the vaporwave aesthetic.

What is Vaporwave Art?

Vaporwave art is a style of digital art. The style and aesthetic is often characterized by its use of vintage visual effects and iconography, as well as its incorporation of elements from 80s and 90s popular culture.

Vaporwave artists often use Photoshop or other editing software to create their work, which often features bright colors and geometric shapes.

In many ways, vaporwave can be seen as a reaction to the growing commercialization of the internet; by appropriating and re-contextualizing corporate imagery, vaporwave artists subvert the dominant capitalist narrative.

While the style has roots in electronic music and visual culture, it has also been influence by post-modernism, relational aesthetics, and Japanese.

Despite its relatively short history, vaporwave has had a significant impact on contemporary digital art, and its influence can be seen in a variety of styles and genres.

What is Vaporwave Fashion?

Vaporwave fashion is a style that takes inspiration from 80s and 90s aesthetics, with a focus on neon colors, italicized fonts, and images of commodities or technology.

The style is often used as a form of social commentary, critiquing the Materialism and consumer culture of modern society. Vaporwave artists often sample or remix retro pop songs, giving them a dream-like or surreal quality.

This music forms the soundtrack to many vaporwave videos, which are often filled with footage of cityscapes or corporate environments.

While vaporwave fashion has its roots in underground internet culture, it has recently begun to enter the mainstream, with celebrities and fashion brands taking notice of the style.

Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that vaporwave is having a moment.

Synthwave vs Vaporwave

Synthwave and vaporwave are two popular styles of electronic music that emerged in the early 2010s. Both genres are characterized by their use of retro synths and drum machines, as well as dreamy, ethereal melodies.

However, there are a few key distinctions between the two genres. Synthwave is largely inspired by ’80s pop culture, with many tracks featuring familiar elements from movies, television shows, and video games from that era.

In contrast, vaporwave takes a more ironic approach, often incorporating samples from corporate advertising and other aspects of consumer culture.

While both synthwave and vaporwave share many commonalities, the two genres occupy different spaces within the electronic music landscape.

Is Vaporwave Dead?

In recent years, there has been much debate over whether vaporwave is still a viable genre.

Many proponents argue that the style has become too derivative and stagnant, while others believe that it is still evolving and has plenty of room for growth.

There is no clear answer, but one thing is certain: vaporwave continues to be a fascinating and polarizing force in the world of electronic music.

While it is true that the genre has lost some of its originality, it remains an important part of the electronic music landscape.

Thanks to its DIY nature, vaporwave continues to be a breeding ground for new and innovative ideas. As long as there are people who are willing to experiment with sound and visuals, vaporwave will continue to thrive.

Popular Vaporwave Songs



Nmesh – Dream Sequins

Additional Resources to Vaporwave