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1. Overview

When it comes to an aesthetic that originated primarily online, there tends to be a lot of confusion around what falls into each specific genre. This post discusses Vaporwave and Outrun, which have become almost synonymous in the minds of those online who aren't hardcore into these genres of media. More specifically, Outrun is largely an unknown term while all aesthetics in these two genres are usually attributed to Vaporwave. For example, take a look at the image search results for Vaporwave: the results include a lot* of Outrun-themed images. You'll find a similar trend almost everywhere.


Figure 1: Vaporwave Search Results

2. Vaporwave


Figure 2: Macintosh Plus Album Cover

Okay, so what is Vaporwave? I'm going to just copy-and-paste some general info from the Wikipedia article on Vaporwave, so that I'm not repeating everything you can already search for online:

Vaporwave is a microgenre of electronic music, a visual art style, and an Internet meme that emerged in the early 2010s. It is defined partly by its slowed-down, chopped and screwed samples of smooth jazz, elevator, R&B, and lounge music from the 1980s and 1990s. The surrounding subculture is sometimes associated with an ambiguous or satirical take on consumer capitalism and pop culture, and tends to be characterized by a nostalgic or surrealist engagement with the popular entertainment, technology and advertising of previous decades. Visually, it incorporates early Internet imagery, late 1990s web design, glitch art, anime, 3D-rendered objects, and cyberpunk tropes in its cover artwork and music videos.

This is an excellent summary, and it helps address my point here: there are specific aspects that make Vaporwave unique:

2.1. Time Frame

The time frame for references, logos, etc. focuses mostly on the 1990s in Vaporwave. You'll see old school Pepsi logos, Microsoft 95 screens, tropical plants, classic marble sculptures, and many references from Japan's influence in the 90s.

2.2. Art

The color scheme is generally a soft, light palette that uses pastel colors. The backdrop will often be in a light-pink or teal blue.

2.3. Music

The musical genre of Vaporwave incorporates soft tunes, lounge music, and sound effects that will make the listener reminisce of the 90s. The sounds of the genre are generally slower-paced and calming. The major breakthrough artist for Vaporwave was Macintosh Plus, who released the album Floral Shoppe in 2011. Another more recent example is the artist sadbert, whose latest album incorporates the upbeat tones of the 1999 Dilbert TV series.

Notice that Vaporwave doesn't include things like racing cars, futuristic technology, chrome, or the deep orange/purple color scheme. Vaporwave is a focus on the idyllic state of the world when technology was becoming common in households, a reality that we have already experienced. Focus on the most aesthetically-pleasing parts of that past is a large part of Vaporwave.

3. Outrun


Figure 3: Outrun

Now, let's get to Outrun. This one is a little trickier since the genre has largely been lumped under the Vaporwave title for so long. However, it stems from the Synthwave music genre and is likely named after the 1986 racer game, Out Run.

3.1. Time Frame

Outrun can be thought of as a retro-futuristic aesthetic born from the 1980s.

3.2. Art

The color scheme uses a very dark color palette with the main colors being deep oranges, blues, and purples. Red edges are common around objects in Outrun art. The background of the Outrun aesthetic is almost always a neon grid like you'd expect to see in Tron or a 1980s arcade machine.

Classic sports cars, chrome robots, computer generated graphics and fonts, and the occasional use of rain or palm trees can be found in Outrun art.

3.3. Music

This aesthetic has a more aggressive and fast-paced style of music, which tends to match the subject of the art in this aesthetic.

Outrun enthusiasts love what people in the 1980s thought the future would look like. Take a look at a common video game discussed in Outrun circles, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon:


Figure 4: Fry Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Another example that doesn't force the color scheme as hard as some online art does is Kung Fury:


Figure 5: Kung Fury


Figure 6: Kung Fury Hacker Scene

4. Conclusion

While Vaporwave and Outrun share similarities, they are two distinct aesthetics with many important distinctions. Someone who enjoys one may not necessarily enjoy the other, so it's important to make sure we properly describe the aesthetic we're looking for.