17 votes

The Teens Who Listen to ‘Mallwave’ Are Nostalgic for an Experience They’ve Never Had

20 comments

  1. Sahasrahla Link
    Growing up in the '90s it felt like every other decade except for us had a distinctive character. The CBC teen talk show Jonovision (whose host would go on to be J-Roc of Trailer Park Boys fame)...

    Growing up in the '90s it felt like every other decade except for us had a distinctive character. The CBC teen talk show Jonovision (whose host would go on to be J-Roc of Trailer Park Boys fame) even had an episode dedicated to this, asking how posterity would view our decade. It turns out the answer is Jazz patterned cups, purple/blue/white colour schemes, Muzak, and a lack of smart phones and social media. Though people appreciate this semi-imagined aesthetic through Varporwave I think it's the last point that acts as a hook for the ex nihilo nostalgia of people with no memories of the decade.

    Looking back on it I'd say the spiritual end of what we in retrospect understand the '90s to be came with the first Matrix movie. There's a line where, when Agent Smith is describing the Matrix, he says, "...the Matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilization. I say your civilization because as soon as we started thinking for you, it really became our civilization..." This was of course a reference to artificial intelligence overtaking us but if we expand the metaphor a bit to cover computer technology in general, then apply a bit of hindsight, it becomes an unintentional commentary on how we feel the '90s (the 'peak of our civilization' in the movie) was the last time we were truly free from our technology—before our lives moved online and we were tethered to this new life by omnipresent and addictive tech. People who never experienced this but who feel disillusioned with our current society want the option of an escape into nostalgia, and for some Vaporwave fans they do this through imagined memories of the Platonic ideal of a '90s era mall.

    17 votes
  2. [6]
    gyrozeppeli Link
    You can't be nostalgic for something that you never actually experienced. These people are romanticizing something, which is fine, but picking suburban malls is just weird. If you had actually...

    You can't be nostalgic for something that you never actually experienced. These people are romanticizing something, which is fine, but picking suburban malls is just weird.

    If you had actually gone to one you'd know they suck, and rightfully are dying out. As an adult the only time I ever chose to go to a mall was if I wanted to go try on a piece of clothing in person before ordering. As a kid I only went if I wanted to go to a bookstore like Borders, but I never thought the actual mall itself was appealing at all. They are tedious to walk through, always poorly organized, usually have overpriced stores where I can't crosscheck to find better prices, and always take at least 20-30 minutes to get to (for some reason).

    12 votes
    1. [5]
      Whom Link Parent
      If the feeling is the same, which it often is with things like this, then I think you're just splitting hairs. Nostalgia is a feeling that can be evoked, who are you to tell people what they're...

      You can't be nostalgic for something that you never actually experienced. These people are romanticizing something, which is fine, but picking suburban malls is just weird.

      If the feeling is the same, which it often is with things like this, then I think you're just splitting hairs. Nostalgia is a feeling that can be evoked, who are you to tell people what they're really feeling?

      Also, "collective nostalgia" is a widely accepted term that describes just that.

      3 votes
      1. [4]
        gyrozeppeli Link Parent
        I'm not telling people what they're feeling–do not misconstrue my words. Nostalgia is for something that you experienced. Romanticizing things works for both. The first example sentence I found: I...

        I'm not telling people what they're feeling–do not misconstrue my words. Nostalgia is for something that you experienced. Romanticizing things works for both.

        The first example sentence I found:

        "I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days in college"

        I have nostalgia about my childhood tv shows and my days in college. I romanticize '50s diners because those are an emulation of something that maybe existed 45 years before I was born. I can also romanticize about my prior relationships–in other words, look at them with rose-tinted glasses.

        The study that defined collective nostalgia itself mentions that the term "collective nostalgia" is different from personal nostalgia, the latter being what is almost always referenced.

        3 votes
        1. [3]
          Whom (edited ) Link Parent
          If we're talking about the same study (probably the first one that comes up when searching for "collective nostalgia") , it simply defines the terms as two separate things in the obvious sense:...

          If we're talking about the same study (probably the first one that comes up when searching for "collective nostalgia") , it simply defines the terms as two separate things in the obvious sense: one is personally experienced, the other not, and explores how that impacts behavior. It isn't saying anything about the feeling of nostalgia, which is what the person in the original article is describing.

          The subjective feeling of nostalgia is that same feeling regardless of what triggers it. Even if it's caused by nothing at all, if the end result feels identical, then it's the same. Emotions exist within us and we might try to describe them with what typically causes them like saying happiness is what comes from good things happening, but we wouldn't try to tell someone they aren't really experiencing happiness if they felt it without something good happening.

          We describe feelings, we don't feel descriptions.

          1. [2]
            gyrozeppeli Link Parent
            Again, no one is telling anyone that they aren't experiencing happiness. I'm talking about which word is the correct one to describe the feeling, not saying that it isn't happening at all....

            Again, no one is telling anyone that they aren't experiencing happiness. I'm talking about which word is the correct one to describe the feeling, not saying that it isn't happening at all.

            Reminiscing about halcyon days or experienced things? Nostalgia. Idealizing about something that you never actually experienced? Romanticization (is that even a word?), or just idealization.

            1 vote
            1. Whom Link Parent
              What you're saying requires a rejection of what the person is feeling. If you were respecting that it's the same feeling, why would there be a different word? If all descriptions do is describe...

              What you're saying requires a rejection of what the person is feeling. If you were respecting that it's the same feeling, why would there be a different word? If all descriptions do is describe feeling, an identical feeling should be described identically, otherwise it isn't identical.

              Also a side note, but I'd say romtanticizing and idealization, while related things that get wrapped up in this whole thing, do not describe the totality of what can be meant by "nostalgia," there's not complete overlap there. There can be complexity in nostalgia for things you still view negatively that aren't really covered by those words you used.

  3. Whom (edited ) Link
    I think there's something to be said for growing up, seeing what getting older and being cool is supposed to be like, and not ever experiencing that because the world and its trends have changed...

    I think there's something to be said for growing up, seeing what getting older and being cool is supposed to be like, and not ever experiencing that because the world and its trends have changed by the time you're older. It's not only about the inaccuracy of that image, it's just that the world your older siblings and the people in the TV shows you grew up watching changed. You have permanently missed the very things you learned to define coolness by, of course an opportunity to experience that yourself is something you'll latch onto.

    We can talk about idealized pasts and wrapping up all nostalgia into glorification of the past, but I think this is a more personal case for a lot of these people. Not to mention that nostalgia of all kinds for eras not our own is a totally normal thing...50s diners are still around (and are not just nursing homes) and 20-somethings are excited that we're going to have the 20s again. Nostalgia is a lot more than the stuff you grew up with.

    8 votes
  4. RiskyVessel Link
    Romanticizing is definitely a better term than "nostalgia" if you haven't lived it. I think it's just as much about wanting to experience something real, as anything else. As the guy says in the...

    Romanticizing is definitely a better term than "nostalgia" if you haven't lived it. I think it's just as much about wanting to experience something real, as anything else. As the guy says in the article "mallwave does let me escape from the shittiness of everyday life". Not that life wasn't shitty in the 90s, but it did seem less plastic.

    Look at Transformers movies. CGI and advanced effects have become so cheap (relatively) that you can make an entire movie out of action scenes and explosions. You don't even need story anymore, just pretty faces! Theaters are filled with franchises pumping out movies for copyright reasons, and to make a quick buck. There was a time, as recent as the 90s, where this wasn't the case, and story or filmography mattered much more.

    I have a friend who likes trap music (and I kind of want to slap them every time they bring it up). In the 70s and 80s it made sense that beats sounded similar, because there were limited hardware options available. You had to rely on lyrics and flow and good samples to make good hip hop. We now live in an age where there are literally infinite sound options available (for free!) and yet all these "producers" are just masters of copy/paste for that same crappy high hat beat. Because they know it sells. It's a safe bet to maximize profit.

    In the 90s you had photographers who developed film and understood the complex relationships between light, aperture, film, paper, developer. People who were interested in art. Now everyone has a phone camera and a whole array of Instagram filters to make all their mundane photos look "professional" or "retro". You just need to pump out a few generic posts a week to become an "influencer" and call yourself a professional.

    Sure, things sucked back in the 90s, but we've been increasingly ramping up vacant consumerism since the 70s and each decade it gets hollower and more meaningless. I think all of this is a longing for a time when things had more value. I was thinking about this the other day while watching the Twin Peaks trailer. There was a look and style to 90s filmography. It was darker, gritter, weirder. Story and emotion and creativity seemed to matter more. It didn't have today's gloss and production values.

    It's like a guy recording a guitar track on a tape deck in his shitty one bedroom apartment because he wants to get it out, versus a team of writers running 15 different guitar tracks through a high priced studio and producing it to sound minimal and lo-fi, because they feel like that's what will sell the most records.

    There was a lot of shitty consumerism in the 90s, and obviously a lot of crap was shoveled out to make a buck, but it seems like the authentic stuff is harder to find now.

    6 votes
  5. [3]
    Emerald_Knight Link
    This is... so bizarre to me. The idea of trying to capture through music the feeling of an experience you've never even had is, on its own, kind of silly, but when I listen to examples of this...

    This is... so bizarre to me. The idea of trying to capture through music the feeling of an experience you've never even had is, on its own, kind of silly, but when I listen to examples of this music and note just how much it contrasts with my actual experiences of being in mall settings, it's like a completely different world. It's kind of like reading a book and having a certain mental image of what the characters and setting look like, then seeing the film adaptation and having everything look so different from what you imagined and even different from how the book described.

    It's kind of sad that teens are romanticizing malls so heavily, rather than being able to just go and hang out at an actual mall like normal teens would when I was still in high school. But what they really need to understand is that it's not really about the specific place as it is just having some kind of indoor space where you can look at different things at your leisure without being pressured to buy something. The big appeal of the mall was a combination of variety, convenience, lack of obligation, seating areas, and typically a connected movie theater--more often than not, you'd get movie tickets and dick around looking through all the different stores, grabbing some food, or sitting down and chatting while you wait for the showtime to approach, all while being completely sheltered from the rain or summer heat. If that experience can be emulated in some way, then the format of the mall itself is unnecessary.

    Honestly, I think the biggest problem is that our culture right now is so profit-focused. Spaces that were once casual and open are being phased out in favor of expanding floor space for stores and to cut maintenance and climate control costs. Every square foot is being utilized for driving profit. Strip malls are now the norm because they're brutally efficient at that. They no longer facilitate loitering--you go in, buy what you intended to buy, then get the hell out and go home.

    In general, there just aren't many places anymore where you can sit down and chat with your friends without either being forced to buy something or being ushered away. You can't just exist somewhere anymore, you're expected to make use of the space you're occupying in a very specific manner or to leave that space entirely. You're actively discouraged from having fun unless you're paying for said fun.

    I'm kind of rambling here, so I'll cut this short. I guess part of me is just disappointed with the direction society has been heading in this regard and I felt the need to vent about that. I sincerely hope that this changes someday so that younger generations can be allowed to simple exist in a space without being hassled for it.

    3 votes
    1. Whom Link Parent
      Your part about being able to "just exist" is a fair one (or at least something I can't comment on just due to where I'm from) that I don't want to challenge at all, but I just want to throw in...

      Your part about being able to "just exist" is a fair one (or at least something I can't comment on just due to where I'm from) that I don't want to challenge at all, but I just want to throw in that the hyperfixation on malls is largely just how the author chose to frame it. It's more a subset of vaporwave, which is hyper-aware of the artificial nature of the history it's grasping at, and a lot of people would say that's the point (though the genre is always at an unknowable space between sincerely nostalgic and critical, so it's hard to make sweeping generalizations). It's not trying to reconstruct the real idea of what a mall in the 90s really was so much as it's shoving all the muzak, old advertisements, and old internet iconography together into one big mass that malls also get swept up into.

      Just a little clarification because the article presents this as if malls are the main attraction that people are looking back upon and trying to reconstruct, while it's more part of an art movement that rubs off a lot of secondhand nostalgia. It's a bit of misrepresentation by the author, which is understandable since getting into it properly would require a lot more context than a piece like this would typically want to give.

      1 vote
    2. Octofox Link Parent
      There are still malls in my state but they are always a huge drive away and have full car parks. They are also kind of sickening to visit and not somewhere I would consider a social place to hang...

      There are still malls in my state but they are always a huge drive away and have full car parks. They are also kind of sickening to visit and not somewhere I would consider a social place to hang out. That said I find pictures of empty/abandoned or retro malls to be quite fascinating.

      1 vote
  6. [6]
    FZeroRacer Link
    I think this is why we're also seeing a strong surge in the retro game market as well as the vinyl industry. Right now in the era where everyone has a phone and ready access to the internet,...

    I think this is why we're also seeing a strong surge in the retro game market as well as the vinyl industry. Right now in the era where everyone has a phone and ready access to the internet, people wonder what it was like in an age where digital anything was nearly non-existent. Of course things weren't actually better during that time, we just didn't have easy access to viewing all the worlds evils in the palm of our hand.

    I do wonder what the breakdown would look like if you started comparing suburban vs urban views on mallwave.

    2 votes
    1. [5]
      gyrozeppeli Link Parent
      Pixel graphics games exploded in popularity probably because pixel animated games require much less work on graphics, which frees up solo/small teams of developers to work on the actual game logic...

      Pixel graphics games exploded in popularity probably because

      • pixel animated games require much less work on graphics, which frees up solo/small teams of developers to work on the actual game logic
      • good pixel animated games have to have good gameplay or other content because the graphics alone won't carry the game
      • pixel games generally are made by indie devs or smaller studios, who generally don't fuck over consumers and try to bleed them dry like medium-big or traditional AAA studios do

      There is some nostalgia for sure there, but I don't think that's primarily why retro-style games are popular right now. When I play terraria, undertale, shovel knight, etc I don't think of the 80s or retro games at all, but I do think about how those games are fun, exquisitely made or hilarious games that are worth the time.


      I also don't agree with the vinyl sentiment—I don't think people are wondering about what it was like before the internet. With vinyl you tend to get pseudo audiophiles who claim the audio quality is magically better, or people who simply like collecting LPs and physically holding music. Either way collecting vinyl has become somewhat popular again, and studios probably love being able to sell LPs of modern stuff at $30, $40 a pop.

      10 votes
      1. [2]
        FZeroRacer Link Parent
        Oh, you misunderstand me. I'm not referring to pixelated style of indie games, I'm referring to the actual retro game market. People who purchase and/or collect games from earlier generations of...

        Oh, you misunderstand me. I'm not referring to pixelated style of indie games, I'm referring to the actual retro game market. People who purchase and/or collect games from earlier generations of gaming systems. Not only has there been a significant uptick in price for a lot of those games (even some of the more common games) but I've seen a fair amount of younger people start getting interested in playing said games from an earlier generation on actual hardware. That said, it's all anecdotal evidence based on my experiences perusing various stores.

        I think the physicality aspect of holding vinyl, playing with some of these older games etc is what ends up drawing even the younger crowd into the collecting sphere. It's satisfying not having to worry about other things vying for your attention when you choose to dedicate time to a disconnected experience.

        4 votes
        1. gyrozeppeli Link Parent
          Ah my apologies then. Yes, there is a resurgence in the literal retro games market for sure.

          Ah my apologies then. Yes, there is a resurgence in the literal retro games market for sure.

          3 votes
      2. [2]
        pleure Link Parent
        I've not used vinyl but the quality is objectively better, right? You can't discretize sound without losing some information. Now if that's noticeable to the average human listener is another...

        With vinyl you tend to get pseudo audiophiles who claim the audio quality is magically better

        I've not used vinyl but the quality is objectively better, right? You can't discretize sound without losing some information. Now if that's noticeable to the average human listener is another question.

        1. gyrozeppeli Link Parent
          There are many flaws with the notion of vinyl LPs having better quality. I will sum up here but I recommend looking at several myths being debunked in more detail here. [0] For starters, we...

          There are many flaws with the notion of vinyl LPs having better quality. I will sum up here but I recommend looking at several myths being debunked in more detail here. [0]

          For starters, we actually -can- sample sound with a high enough resolution that fidelity isn't lost, at least to human ears. [1] And we do track (record) sounds at multiples beyond that. I recommend looking into signal processing & sampling theory. [2] Also, this article goes over why 24bit/96khz tracks aren't necessary at all for listening purposes, but it expounds on audio theory. [3]


          You may be thinking of issues related to mp3 compression and the amount of data streamed per second (kilobits per second). 192kbps is where mp3 starts to cross the threshold of sounding like flac/pcm/raw audio files. 320kbps is virtually undistinguishable. Many, many double blind tests have been taken, and people/supposed audiophiles have about a 50% guess rate on whether a song is 320kbps or flac. There are good reasons to prefer FLAC over MP3, but being objectively better sounding is not one of them.


          CDs actually have a higher dynamic range than LPs (and thus are objectively higher quality). In addition, CDs do not lose data every single time the user listens to the album, unlike LPs. The needle gets quite hot, and every time an LP is listened to, it degrades. If you listen to LPs that have been played a few times you will hear that distinct crackle and pop.

          Digital raw audio files are a perfect recreation (exactly as made) and cannot degrade unless one uses lossy compression algorithms, like mp3 or AAC.


          The other major flaw is that these days albums are tracked digitally to begin with. When I worked in a studio we tracked in Pro Tools. Writing to an LP by definition reduces audio quality, since it has a more limited dynamic range than CDs or just raw PCM files.


          Lastly, many so-called audiophiles or vinyl enthusiasts do not use any science whatsoever in their basis. They just say "it feels warmer/<other abstract adjective>". Which is why it can be annoying to broach this subject. I would like to note that it is possible for something to "feel warmer", but that has to do with your acoustic listening setup rather than just pure LP vs digital. It's not uncommon to have turntable preamps or amps that use tubes, which can "color" the sound, changing it from the original. You can see this with Schiit's products: the Vali [4] is a tube-hybrid while the Magni [5] is a solid state headphone amp/preamp.


          So where do I stand here? I listen to both digital audio and collect LPs. But I know full well that LPs do not provide any qualitative improvements, and only provide drawbacks regarding quality. Despite this it's fun to collect LPs, hold them in my hands, and get to listen to albums uninterrupted.

          [0] https://wiki.hydrogenaud.io/index.php?title=Myths_(Vinyl)
          [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nyquist%E2%80%93Shannon_sampling_theorem
          [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampling_(signal_processing)
          [3] https://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html#toc_s
          [4] https://www.schiit.com/products/vali-1
          [5] https://www.schiit.com/products/magni-1

          9 votes
  7. [2]
    elcuello Link
    This is right up my alley. Not this music in particular but chasing a feeling in music. I've been chasing something similar my whole life when listening to music. I listen all kinds of music and...

    This is right up my alley. Not this music in particular but chasing a feeling in music. I've been chasing something similar my whole life when listening to music. I listen all kinds of music and don't judge anyone when it come to music because if that piece of music give you that feeling that is all that matters to me. That's why it's really weird people here gets so worked up about people listening to something to get a specific feeling they actually haven't experienced before. I listen to music to feel and so do these people. Who cares what the music is and what feeling they're chasing as long as it doesn't take over their lives. Sure you can overdo it and not be present enough but that's true with everything in this world.

    My dream is to pass some of this approach if you will off to my son because it has brought so much joy in my life. Because if that’s your starting point then genre, opinions and trends goes out the window and the whole world of music is there for you to experience and feel. My other dream is to make an algorithm to recommend music based on feeling.

    1 vote
    1. chas Link Parent
      There's a lot of metadata about published songs out there upon which you could build: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_Genome_Project

      My other dream is to make an algorithm to recommend music based on feeling.

      There's a lot of metadata about published songs out there upon which you could build: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_Genome_Project

      2 votes