Sipping from the poisoned chalice of Vaporwave's best-known album
Floral Shoppe has always been a catch-22 for Vaporwave. The album that defined the aesthetic of Vaporwave more than any other, is also the genre’s biggest joke. So successful was Macintosh Plus in arresting the style’s look and sound that Shoppe's form constricts and inspires in equal measure. As a consequence of this, it can be surprisingly difficult to voice sincere approval or interest in the album, without being met by a sea of raised eyebrows. Yes, of course the album is important, we think. But it just seems so gauche, so embarrassing, to bring up in public. Vaporwave polite society has moved on.
It’s a sad fate for an album which has earned its place in the Vaporwave hall of fame several times over. Arguably the album which brought more new converts to the style than any other. Eccojams may have written the blueprint, Birth of a New Day might have perfected it, but Floral Shoppe codified it. It took its forbear’s sketches and painted pictures. Gave rough ideas form and substance. Turning the genre's grimy early stylings into something fun, that could be shared, spread, and memed.
Even this positive description highlights why the album is so controversial. It took the genre away from the purists and into the hands of the general public. And what the public chose to do with it wasn’t always artistic. It was rarely even tasteful. The expertly warped リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー became the genre’s iconic song, and a punchline for the supposedly vapid, ironic limits of Vaporwave. Its Helios statue, pastel pink colour and New York Skyline have been warped and morphed a thousand times over. Doge, Seinfeld, MC Ride, even your own face. From playful homage to brutal parody, nothing was, and is, off limits.
In the midst of this chaos, the mixed feelings many hardcore Vaporwave fans have for the album can be, understandable. While this plethora of jokes may amuse, it’s unclear what exactly is being constructed from them. Other than the internet’s love of culture jamming for jamming’s sake. Memes are supposed to be absurd, and the more irreverent or abstract the combination, the better.
To be fair, it might be possible to construct a very turgid thesis about how “Vaporwave never really existed and so people just throwing whatever together using its style is actually what the genre is supposed to be about.” But it just seems like people playing with, and re-purposing recognisable, exploitable images. Regardless of their context or origins. It could just as easily be a Kanye West or a Swans album being used. Whatever gets a laugh. Yet regardless of intent, the damage is still being done; and still eating away at the image of the genre. As someone who actively resents the “Vaporwave was always ironic, it doesn't mean anything” shibboleth. I can understand the appeal of wanting to jettison the album that contributed most to that canard.
Yet I also don’t buy that a fanbase can ruin a work of art. That the quality of an album is somehow tied to the savviness of its fans. Or that, if an album is used in a naff way, we should put it back on the shelf - embarrassed that we ever took it out. If we waft away the heat and smoke surrounding it, Floral Shoppe is still an expertly produced, high-quality album. The artistic vision Vektroid displays on it are jaw-dropping. Managing to create something totemic, and justifying all of the hype. Has the ubiquity of Floral Shoppe’s pretenders restricted what Vaporwave could be? Maybe. Did it demarcate the genre’s limits too early? Perhaps. Yet without the album, and without Vaporwave’s boom in popularity from it, the very institutions the genre now boasts would be lacking.
From the subreddits and YouTubes to the record labels and album clubs. The genre needs passionate people. It needs punters to fund record pressings, live shows, beer and t-shirts. All of which usually sell to the most niche, committed elements of the scene. For sure, most meme-spammers are unlikely to part with their dollars in this way. But of the millions of people, Floral Shoppe has touched - maybe 0.05% will. Maybe they’ll dive deep into Bandcamp, maybe they’ll pick up FL Studio. And that’s a lot more people than the genre could hook in through being a shifty, slightly miserable, nerd fad. Even if it's awkward, even if it's a contradiction. Floral Shoppe did right by us.
But I want to explore this issue deeper. So I’m turning this over to you.
What do you think of Floral Shoppe’s legacy? Are you a sceptic of the work? Has its time come and gone? Was it always overrated to begin with? Or is it an unfairly maligned masterpiece - a victim of its own zeitgeist? Start a conversation and let me know.
Sam L. Barker is a freelance writer and marketer living in Cambridge, UK. He writes about music, technology and memory.
Illustration by VHS MIDNIGHT STYLE.