I unironically enjoy vaporwave. If you skim over the Wikipedia article for vaporwave, you'll learn that the music genre is an ironic/nostalgic/surreal take on 80s corporate music (Muzak, as it will be referred to from here on out, in reference to the Muzak company that produced the generic "background music" of elevators and malls). What you might not learn is the style's history that's probably older than your dad. To truly understand what makes vaporwave a deep and complex genre, one needs to go back to its origins and the origins of the staple samples.
Evolution of lofi
While I may talk about history, there will be a lot of historical inaccuracy through this post, mostly because it's me paraphrasing Wikipedia, getting sidetracked and rambling, and then thinking that a paragraph looks long enough to move on. Be warned.
1960s: Low-fi and garage rock
Maybe I'm getting old or something, but I still think that it's a rite of passage for teenagers to try to start a band with their friends. Not just any band of course, but the low budget garage band. There's nothing quite like the sound that comes out of fourth-hand speakers and cables. During the 60s, music was no longer a costly endeavor. As teenagers began to experiment with their instruments in basements all around the world, they recognized that there was a certain feel that came of their low budget sound. This is purely speculation, by the way (I have nothing to back this concept up). From this low fidelity sound evolved a genre that would gain recognition through the Beach Boys. Releases such as Smiley Smile, and the "Bedroom Tapes" would popularize the lofi sound. Other artists such as The Beatles would pick up on this in their works.
After these teenagers produced their sound, obviously they have to force everyone to listen to it (really, really loud). Like any self-respecting teenager, I bought some cheap cassettes and recorded a song that my buddy and I developed in his basement. Cassettes, especially cheap ones, have a way of absolutely destroying any effort you put into producing a clean tone from your amps. Little did we know that we were following in the footsteps of R. Stevie Moore (the grandfather of lo-fi). Without realizing, it, RSM had pioneered the concept of DIY recording. Cassettes would prove to be cheap enough to distribute en masse, and allowed underground artists to export their work to greater audiences.
Lo-fi goes mainstream
Despite the sound of The Beach Boys, lo-fi wouldn't be recognized as a musical style until 1993 when the New York Times wrote a headline article on it. From there, lo-fi would remain as an indie production staple.
Chillwave and why it sucks
Vaporwave spawend from chillwave. Plain and simple. Chillwave was a genre built purely on nostalgia and feeling good. As someone from Pitchfork once said, chillwave is just "stoned, happy college kids listening to records while they fall asleep." This is why chillwave sucks. Nostalgia can only take you so far before it becomes sickening. People can't be happy if they have trash taste! There's more to why chillwave is bad, notably being lo-fi. In the past, lo-fi was an artistic choice that allowed for more focus on musical theme than musical polish. It didn't have to sound good, it just had to sound good. Unfortunately, we don't have to sit down and actually use our brains to make music anymore. Just push any 80s pop song through some cookie-cutter lofi filter and you've got an instant hit! This 2009 trend pushed lofi to the limit, and it wasn't pretty.
Chillwave died and should stay dead. Just like life, however, you've got to take the bad with the good. While chillwave was awful, it's awfulness mad vaporwave awesome.
Vaporwave is really really good
Now that we've established that chillwave objectively is bad, we need to explore how vaporwave builds upon it without also being bad. The largest theme of vaporwave is irony. Chillwave took itself too seriously. Every single hit sounded the same and signaled the same message. Nostalgia. Beaches. Summer. Glow. Atmosphere. Vaporwave took one look at chillwave, said "lol," and began mimicking chillwave. Chillwave, incensed, demanded, "Stop copying me!" Vaporwave mirrored "Stop copying me!" Chillwave exclaimed, "I'm an idiot." To which vaporwave responded, "You're an idiot."
Sorry for making you read that. Hope there's no hard feelings. I still haven't really made my point for this section so I'll just say it and stop trying to be fancy with words. Vaporwave is an ironic take on chillwave. Everything that chillwave stood for became satirized and mocked by vaporwave. Vaporwave drew upon the very things that chillwave tried to milk nostalgia out of: 80s muzak, electropop, ambience, and lofi production. Unlike chillwave, vaporwave did not take any shortcuts. Filters are developed individually for each track, samples are taken from muzak and otherwise modest cuts, then heavily modified into the workings of a track so that the very mixing process imparts its own sound onto the final product. Vaporwave also had a much deeper message. Irony, surrealism, and mockery of corporate culture.
I don't even want to get into all of the themes and tropes of vaporwave, such as anime, 3D graphics, glitch art, Greco-Roman busts, so that's just something you'll have to discover yourself. If you're looking to get into vaporwave after reading this 04:00 blog post, check out r/vaporwave. Also check out their nu guide and their ultra-guide.
Thanks for reading. This entire blog post was just to flex on vala by writing a 5k character post about vaporwave in one night. According to my calculations, 5k characters in one night means 20k characters in four nights. If I achieve vala's output in four nights what she can do in four months, I'm about 30x more efficient than her. Fight me IRL.