I've posted about it here before in comments, but it deserves its own post. I have a theory regarding Vaporwave, and it involves the Millennials who are creating it for the most part.
A lot of them were kids or were just being born when 2000 rolled around. As a "Xennial,"
I was college-aged at the time, and struggling to adapt to a world that already seemed actively hostile and unforgiving - and I had no idea how good we all had it at the time. It has only gotten worse since then. And I think there is a sense, a consensus, held by a lot of people that the future we were all expecting was stolen from us, somehow. Michael Moorcock and Philip K Dick and William Gibson and other artists knew what might be coming, and tried to warn us. Some of us heeded their warnings, even if we were in denial.
The future was stolen from us by crypto-fascist
capitalists. I'm not talking about the 2016 election because Trump and his people are openly, overtly fascist, and won support from their base on that platform. I'm referring to the 2000 presidential election debacle, where the crypto-fascist capitalist neoconservatives won through a technicality and ran this country and several other middle eastern countries into the ground for eight years, largely due to what happened in 2001. It was like there was no going back after that. All optimism for the future was replaced by all fear, all the time, broadcast 24/7 courtesy of the Roger Ailes/Rupert Murdoch-owned media networks that worked hand in hand with the capitalist crypto-fascists, who exploited a cowardly terrorist attack and the human suffering that followed for their own cynical, selfish gain.
But even though millennials were kids for the most part when it all went down, and even though their perceptions were warped by the black-and-white rhetoric of the time, they know. They remember that their future was stolen.
Vaporwave is their attempt to take it back, using the only weapons they have been allowed. They're using the sounds of the past to try and create or emulate the sound that would have been the soundtrack of the future that was stolen from them. In this sense, Vaporwave is like propaganda flyers dropped from covert airplanes for this newest incarnation of the culture wars.
Yes, Vaporwave is also about nostalgia, about a time period that the millennials born in the 1990s and 2000s either barely remember or never got to experience. And yes, that was the era of Ronald Reagan/Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton. But I think part of that nostalgia is also a longing for the idea of a time when the deck didn't seem so badly stacked against us; a return to the way things were before the Crypto-fascists came to power - because if Reagan was bad in a lot of ways, the administrations of George W Bush and Donald Trump make him seem like a flaming liberal - and they all make the Clintons look like a couple of saints, even with all of the things about the Clintons that are problematic.
Fascism is trying to creep in, via "fashwave," but it is hampered by the vindictive, malignant resentment that passes for a sense of humor amongst bigots and fascists. The "we can't create anything on our own, so we're going to take your toys away and break them" kind of mentality. But they're already losing the war, because it's pretty much known to everyone who follows it that Vaporwave began as a parody of, and a response to, capitalism, and capitalism and fascism are two sides of the same coin. One can't exist without the other. You can't adopt a meme that criticizes rampant capitalism and try to bend it to its worship with much success, because too many people are already in on the original joke.
Several people have already claimed that the Vaporwave meme is dead, but it's not going anywhere. It keeps mutating into different genres and reinventing itself. If Vaporwave "died" then its already back on its third or fourth life. The medium keeps expanding. People keep reaching for the future that they know was taken from them, by any means they can - even if it is just the feel, the sound, and the ambiance - the "a e s t h e t i c" - that they are achieving right now. If we end up there finally - in that continuum, with the future we were supposed to have gotten - we have them to thank.