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Thursday, March 30, 2023

As college students of the 21st century, we’re stuck in that weird place between a longing for nostalgia and anticipation of tomorrow’s technology via futurism. Perhaps one of the most hysterical and disturbingly beautiful products of this emotionally grappling crossroad is Simpsonwave.

If you’re near a glowing rectangle, do yourself a favor. Go on Youtube and enter “Simpsonwave” in the search bar, watch a video or two and then join us back here. Don’t worry, we’ll wait.

There’s no confusion to be found here. Simpsonwave is simple: take scenes from the golden age of “The Simpsons” (Seasons 1-7), throw a wavy dream filter and some of those funny black and white lines you get with VHS. Then, add some syncopated electronic music known officially as vaporwave.

The little-known microgenre vaporwave highlights our generation: It relies entirely on sounds and a musical method that evokes nostalgic bliss but synthesizes these sounds in a way that anticipates electronic futurism. Tracks often include incredibly twisted and distorted samples of pop songs from the ‘80s and ‘90s and use Window’s XP sound effects. This, alongside the inherent nostalgia of “The Simpsons,” creates a double dose of nostalgia. Moreover, it’s relatable to a diverse crowd. Those born in the ‘80s, ‘90s and early ‘00s appreciate the satirical stylings of America’s favorite yellow family. Surrounding them in a blanket of ethereal electronica creates the perfect atmosphere for nostalgia.

But what makes it futuristic apart from its mere otherworldly dimension? What about this surreal endeavor into spoofing the retro, the vintage, the old-school cool is so noteworthy? What elevates this genre from hipster elevator music to actually possessing cultural capital?

The answer lies in the genre’s unreliability. It creates memories of chuckle-worthy events you can recall vividly but know never happened in the first place. By blending the past into the future, it takes advantage of and manipulates our senses. Unsurprisingly, there’s actual commentary to be found here. By taking the adorably tacky pop songs of our past and absolutely shoving them in this avant-garde filter, vaporwave exposes the absurd concept of manufactured, and consequently “commercialized/factory produced,” music. It reveals how truly tacky the pop songs of our youth were, and by applying modern technological sounds, turns the mirror back to our music senses today. After listening to a vaporwave song, listening to old Backstreet Boys doesn’t feel cheerfully ironic anymore; it feels fake, vile and reminds us of low-quality feed for cattle. You know, like canned spray cheese.

Adding the narrow “The Simpsons” aesthetic to the mix makes it appeal to a wide multigenerational audience. In philosophy, contextualism refers to a set of views that emphasize understanding the environment (context) in which actions, claims and behaviors occur and how intense of a role that environment played in said action. Creating this specific but universal backdrop to subliminally show the viewer VHS static and codeine purple visual filters forces us to re-evaluate our true understanding of electronic media. It demands that its viewers confront the true unfamiliarity we have with technology. The seemingly magical nature of popping a USB drive into your computer and knowing that in some logical but distant way, you’ll be able to access it. Here, vaporwave and Simpsonwave specifically transcends time and place, because it’s reluctant to accept what capitalist consumer culture has done to concepts like time and space, freezing them in interludes of animated mass-entertainment and musical trends.

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