Publication Details

Whelan, A. & Nowak, R. (2018). "Vaporwave Is (Not) a Critique of Capitalism": Genre Work in An Online Music Scene. Open Cultural Studies, 2 (1), 451-462.


Vaporwave, first emerging in the early 2010s, is a genre of music characterised by extensive sampling of earlier "elevator music," such as smooth jazz, MoR, easy listening, and muzak. Audio and visual markers of the 1980s and 1990s, white-collar workspaces, media technology, and advertising are prominent features of the aesthetic. The (academic, vernacular, and press) writing about vaporwave commonly positions the genre as an ironic or ambivalent critique of contemporary capitalism, exploring the implications of vaporwave for understandings of temporality, memory and technology. The interpretive and discursive labour of producing, discussing and contesting this positioning, described here as "genre work," serves to constitute and sediment the intelligibility and coherence of the genre. This paper explores how the narrative of vaporwave as an aesthetic critique of late capitalism has been developed, articulated, and disputed through this genre work. We attend specifically to the limits around how this narrative functions as a pedagogical or sensitising device, instructing readers and listeners in how to understand and discuss musical affect, the nature and function of descriptions of music, and perhaps most importantly, the nature of critique, and of capitalism as something meriting such critique.



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