v a p o r w a v e: s t e a l t h i s o d e p l e a s e or “Lesser artists borrow, Greater artists steal”

found by: Ben Claus, Associate Editor
written by: Frank Jav C, Grafton Tanner, Igor Stravinsky, and Diana Ross
Graphic by Klaire Brezinski


(NOTE: tested customers have found most satisfactory experiences listening to actual v a p o r w a v e while reading this article. Go to Youtube and type in “Floral Shoppe” for a full album. Or just simply “v a p o r w a v e” and click on anything that matches your a e s t h e t i c.)

1. To those who don’t know what v a p o r w a v e is

you really do. It’s the Big Bang of 80s and 90s nostalgia currently assaulting your senses. Stranger Things. Disco-synthesizer. That one kid who plays Bop-It at parties while others reminisce about watching Dragon Tales on PBS.

2. I’ve heard v a p o r w a v e described as

“It’s kinda like living in a junkyard but you’re in a dystopian future and you find a bunch of VHS tapes and you’re the only person in the world and everything is lonely but you have a bunch of weed and you’re high all the time and you’re in Japan and you’re in the sky.”

3. (Or in more formal terms) –

An internet music genre

consisting of recycled mall Musak, elevator saxophone, operating noises, commercial loops, Diana Ross, boops, Roman busts, palm trees, Arizona iced tea, glitch art, and sad bois

in order to

“undermine the commodification of nostalgia in the age of global capitalism while accentuating the uncanny properties of electronic music production.”


v a p o r w a v e made love to the commodification of nostalgia I found myself deeply involved with this summer, earning rent by pushing popcorn kernels into expensive paper bags inside an eternally dark movie theatre. Customers shuffled in wearing their Star Trek T-shirts made before I was born. “Movies are always so expensive nowadays” was the mantra, as each customer handed me a 20 expecting little change. “Enjoy your movie,” I’d intone hollowly.

5. Another thing about v a p o r w a v e is

you don’t know where the sounds come from. Everything in the music is familiar but you can’t quite place it. You were born in front of the television, and corporate mascots and jingles were pushed onto you from an early age, but you can’t remember exactly what they were. “I feel like vaporwave is linked to that short amount of time between around ’97 and ’01,” resident of the Internet David Jay says. “If you’re in your early twenties, like me, this era is just lurking in the shadows of your mind, ripe for nostalgia.”

6. but some people are not so amused:

“Taking samples of other music, endlessly repeating sounds, words and phrases either spoken or musical, and slapping them all together into an mp3 package, v a p o r w a v e can infuriate, bore or be completely ignored”

7. What a sentence!

8. When the commodification of nostalgia gets me down

I try on women’s turtlenecks in the Nordstrom’s Mall. I’ve decided the only way to fight against corporate capitalism is to have fun with it, play it on my own terms. Plus I miss malls. Remember when malls were a place of community?

I find a $13.00 turtleneck next to a $125 cardigan and think about stealing it. I go to try it on and the employees think I’m in the wrong place.

“The Men’s department is one floor down.”

“I know.”

“How… how can I help you, sir?”

Is this man joking? Was I joking?

Can my love and hate for Nordstrom’s Mall be separated?

9. “Vaporwave’s glitch aesthetic is particularly eerie with its cut and paste editing and pitch shifted vocals.”

I read a book about how v a p o r w a v e resists capitalism through its artists remaining entirely anonymous. I buy the book via Amazon for $17.00, from an entirely named author. He prefers to write the more easily understood “vaporwave” instead of “v a p o r w a v e”. The author never mentions the mysterious space v a p o r w a v e artists violently insert into their titles.

10. “Vaporwave’s V a p o r w a v e’ s glitch aesthetic is particularly eerie with its cut and paste editing and pitch shifted vocals.”

11. “It’s kinda like living in a junkyard but you’re in a dystopian future.”

I listen to v a p o r w a v e religiously on my way to the movie theatre. My phone audio jack is broken. The songs cut in and out – Diana Ross hovers above the broken vintage cotton candy machine. Somehow her voice syncs up with the twirling lights.

I am a broken machine from the 90s too. I haven’t become glitched beyond-use though. Not yet.

12. “one of the defining characteristics of many vaporwave v a p o r w a v e tracks is this element of repetition, which draws attention to the uncanniness of audio looping.

13. What a sentence!

14. To those who (still) don’t know what v a p o r w a v e is

think little details. The way your TV looked. The patterns on soda cans. The presets on Casio keyboards. The layout of shopping malls. Think very small, things that history has forgotten that are coming back full-force in the marketplace. Now imagine all these things wrapped up into music that is trying to simultaneously celebrate and resist this nostalgic saturation.

15. Or if you’d rather, here’s a quote and an extended metaphor:

“I feel like it’s mainly nostalgia for something we never had, or something that never happened. It has that sense of knowledge and importance that was so wide-spread before 9/11. I feel like it’s nostalgia for the future that was destroyed by 9/11.”

The children break into their parents closet. They dress up in old clothes. They haphazardly wear anything that catches their attention. They become grotesque clowns of their parents. They illuminate the absurdity of adulthood through their use of adult clothing. They laugh at it all. They depend on their adults acting like clowns in order to become the clowns.


Diana Ross sounds profoundly original when she glitches and loops.

I think about how several adults stood around and carefully orchestrated how to make me buy Diana Ross’ album.

Now I can listen to her on Youtube — for free. And now she’s slowed down and given space, and its free now, so that’s pretty cool, so


17. When commodification of nostalgia gets me down

we ride in my mom’s convertible down Lakeshore drive and blast v a p o r w a v e prophet MACINTOSH PLUS’s song “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー”.

I announce to Danielle that v a p o r w a v e is summer and summer is v a p o r w a v e.

She switches the music between Hedwig’s Theme and Eminem. We ride the sonic cusp of the turn of the Millennium. We are free, like children in front of the TV. I stop and pay a machine $40 to fill up the gas tank. I buy an Arizona iced tea.

Submerged in recycled culture, we attempt to break free.

Sometimes freedom becomes a commodity.

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