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Music, just like other forms of art, comes in waves. Trends come and go but nothing is truly gone forever. And as we’ve seen in the return of disco in Lady Gaga’s single “Stupid Love,” genres that have come and gone always find a way to resurface in some way or form. One genre, in particular, that has made a return but somehow also flown under the radar is Vaporwave.

Vaporwave, a subgenre of electronic music, that was defined by its acceptance of kitschy internet aesthetics coupled with the influences of smooth jazz. And while that already sounds like a lot, it also contains the shades of influence chopped and screwed style popularized in the Houston hip hop scene. The vaporware scene peaked in the early 2010s but remnants of the genre helped define pop music of the present day. If you want to know more about this, read on for quick run-through of vaporware and its lingering influence on music today.

Rise and Fall of Vaporwave

Photo: Daniel Oliva Barbero – “Evolution” and life in vaporwave flavours., CC BY 2.0

To track the rise of vaporware we’ll have to go back to 2009. 2009 was an odd time for music as trendy genres such as chillwave, witch house, and seapunk emerged and had their time in the spotlight. These genres disappeared as fast as they had risen, only for a new one to quickly take its place. Vaporwave originated on the internet as a semi-ironic spin on chillwave. Other than the music, vaporwave is identified by its use of nostalgic graphics that border on the tacky-side. These aesthetics were partly responsible for the success of the genre as the vaporwave style was soon all over the internet as it gave them something that no genre had at the time: virality.

And this virality spread to other industries as well. Vaporwave in fashion became particularly popular with brands such as Vapor95, which produced one of a kind pieces by the lead vaporwave designers of the time. In the gaming industry, vaporwave’s impact was evident in the new styles and retro aesthetics that designers adapted to attract new players. Foxy Games’ online slots pay homage to this genre with an array of vaporware-inspired cover art featured on games such as ‘Neon Rush’ and ‘Brazil Bomba’. Unsurprisingly these same aesthetics crossed over into the world of art. Vaporwave in art was also incredibly prominent during the peak of the vaporware trend, making use of software that manipulated images to make them look glitchy and distorted.

Lastly, the genre had prominent stars during its time in the limelight. Rappers such as Yung Lean and Lil B the Basedgod embodied the genre through their music and overall personas. The lo-fi production coupled with the odd lyrics, talking about everything from milkshakes to playing Mario in Tokyo, were indicative of the bizarre nature of the genre that made it inaccessible to most people, which in turned denied it the mainstream success that many argue that it deserved.

Future of Vaporwave

Billie Eilish performing at Pukkelpop 2019 (Photo: crommelincklars, CC BY 2.0)

Despite its brief run, vaporwave has managed to influence newer artists. The vaporwave aesthetic and elements of its sound can be found in the work of multi-grammy winner Billie Eilish. The irony and edginess of the genre can be heard in the early works of Tyler the Creator and the Odd Future crew. Indeed, it wouldn’t be fair to say that vaporwave was just another trend that has come and gone. While the world back then couldn’t understand its appeal, it lives on through these new artists that carry its legacy.

Cover photo: By Daniel Oliva Barbero – “Evolution” and life in vaporwave flavours., CC BY 2.0

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