Something that unites Vaporwave and all its progressively more experimental and bizarre musical offshoots (aside from the pointless and pretentious online mannerism of typing with spacing between letters which has been done throughout this article simply to achieve A E S T H E T I C, something song titles, YouTube comments and Tumblr posts are rife with simply to achieve the latter) is not only the ridicule but the appropriation of Commercialism and Capitalism through humour and a surreal, tongue in cheek sense of nostalgia.
Popular songs being taken, chopped up, and resampled, into something vaguely recognisable and set to commercial imagery, is both dicey copyright ground as well as ideologically appropriative.
The fact Vaporwave has the audacity to do it is for many people, what makes it so great .
To fans of Vaporwave it is absolutely hilarious that this unemotional, cold, corporate material has been uprooted from its capitalistic purposes and transformed into emotionally evocative art that not only exists as benign entertainment but simultaneously mocks its source material simply by existing. It functions as an exact antithesis. Whilst Pop Culture seeks to capitalise upon the ‘cult of personality’, the majority of Vaporwave artists operate under faceless pseudonyms.
As the mainstream produces media within a controlled corporate conglomerate setting to generate income, Vaporwave artists silently make their content in their bedrooms and apartments, releasing it online just for the hell of it. Whilst commercial culture exists to enforce money fuelled ideologies, Vaporwave exists solely to poke fun at it, all the while being self aware of its own ridiculousness.
Thus making Vaporwave unstoppable and a huge ‘F**** You’ to the mainstream.
Along with all its musical variations aided by the surreal imagery of old TV commercials and retro video game landscapes, one popular avenue for creating Vaporwave that intensifies all of its stereotypical features is the utilisation of the overtly and exaggerated world of Japanese commercialism to create the target aim of bizarre nostalgia by setting chopped up and resampled Japanese City Pop to Japanese TV Commercials and anime from the 80’s and 90’s.
This is a cultural connection present in Vaporwave from the beginning when Vekroid titled all the tracks on Floral Shoppe in Japanese characters simply for, again, A E S T H E T I C purposes. There are a plethora of compilations across the ‘Vapor-net’ of reverberated 80’s Japanese Funk and Soul set to old clips of Sailor Moon, and Yu Yu Hakusho, that effectively transport the listener from the mundane routine of reality to a colourful and vibrant Tokyo circa ’82, simply through the use of virtually unknown music to a western audience and forgotten (to some, outdated) animation.
A similar method is simply taking nostalgic sounding electronic music and laying it over VHS affected cartoon imagery has resulted in the puzzling subset of Vaporwave that has taken the internet by storm in its own right:
To many, this is just another surreal joke from the infamous musical internet troll that is Vaporwave, however the simplicity of taking deeply atmospheric music and combining it with episodes of The Simpsons from the 1990’s that many of us remember and love so well from our childhood’s and adolescence’s is a surprisingly effective trigger of nostalgia, and arguably so, is best achieved here in this Vaporwave subset through its purely appropriated media.
The most prolific example of such, the YouTube video S U N D A Y S C H O O L where excerpts of the 1994 Simpsons episode ‘Barts Girlfriend’ is VHS-ized and set to the song ‘Teenage Pregnancy’ by Blank Banshee. The video, released in 2016 has clearly made an significant impact as it has spawned countless others of its kind (both a plethora of other Simpsonswave videos as well videos from copy-cat genre’s such as Spongebobwave, Adventure Timewave, and Rick and Mortywave) and has achieved over 10 million YouTube views as of present.
The central humour of Vaporwave has since surpassed its solely musical origins.
It has mutated into a style of artwork and internet meme where the theme is often a sarcastic look at the deeper and darker side of life by displaying a sombre message amongst an ironically colourful and jovial backdrop, something widely known as ‘Sad’ or ‘Sad Boy’ posting and is a significant part of the subculture displaying another dimension of Vaporwave’s distinct style of humour. The artwork follows a lot of the typical features of Vaporwave album art such as neon colours, 80’s and 90’s styled A E S T H E T I C (A R E Y O U S I C K O F T H A T Y E T ?), outdated computer graphics and the rather nonsensical use of Japanese characters and Ancient Greek figure heads made popular by Vekroids Floral Shoppe album art.
Another particularly typical online meme appearing amongst forums and blogs of the Vaporwave subculture is the music plays joke.
This began as an inside joke in the comments section of Vektroids “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” where frivolous questions, that make you think, are posed as deep introspective wondering from the depth of the human psyche followed by the punchline music plays, parodying overly dramatic film and TV scenes that utilise this format to intensify a character reaction in response to revelation or major plot twist.
This has since evolved into online video memes where a clip from a light-hearted TV show is shown and a statement, that in normal context would be a frivolous joke, is ironically portrayed as revelation causing the nature of life itself to be questioned. Leading the character in focus to be shown as if having a deep moment of introspection and philosophical questioning caused by the latter statement. At this point the joke is carried by the character being zoomed in on whilst “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー”, Vektroids national anthem of Vaporwave plays (a literal representation of music plays ) to reflect this sarcastic portrayal of contemplation, again parodying this film / TV derivative device.
An example from an except of SpongeBob SquarePants:
SpongeBob is at what appears to be a store checkout. He chuckles for a reason not expressed to us in this 20 second clip. He thanks the employee whose name badge says ‘Betty’…
“Thanks Betty” he says.
The employee looks a little confused for a second, glancing down at her name badge, and replies with the dramatic revelation….
“Sweetie, I’m not Betty, I just borrowed a uniform while mine’s in the cleaners.”
At this point the music plays and SpongeBob looks contemplatively into the distance. If one cannot tell an employee’s name from their name badge anymore, then what does that say about the nature of life, how can we tell where the truth end and lies begin anymore…..what does this all mean…?!
This is very much going back to one of Vaporwave’s core ideals of a rejecting mainstream commercialism by parodying and poking fun at it.
This new wave of bizarre meme culture being another avenue for the ideology to be expressed in Vaporwave’s unique style of humour with many other interesting examples and expressions to be discovered online.
What started out online as an obscure musical movement has now mutated far beyond its original cult following and has now morphed into a multifaceted and highly developed concept exploring multiple musical, ideological and A E S T H E T I C (last one I promise) avenues, encompassing an intricate and complex expression of very specific attitudes in regards to culture and life as a whole. What was once condemned as a joke perpetuated by eccentric internet trolls, and even at one point declared dead, is now a continually progressing entity of art, music and dare I say, philosophy with a future that its followers eagerly anticipate but daren’t predict.
(outro music plays…)