Searching for the definition of Vapor Soul music

4 December 2021

Spotify Wrapped 2021 screenshot

I’ve spent the last few days, since my Spotify Wrapped compilation for 2021 landed earlier this week, finding out what I can about a music genre called vapor soul; or, as I prefer to spell it: vapour soul. According to Spotify Wrapped, vapour soul was the genre I listened to the most over the last twelve months.

That’s fascinating because I had no idea the majority of the music I consumed during 2021 was vapour soul. In point of fact, I didn’t even know vapour soul existed until this week. Yet when I went looking, I found references to vapour soul that were almost four years old. Brilliant. Vapour soul has been a thing for years, but I only find out about it in the closing days of 2021.

But while vapour soul has a history, I still didn’t have a definition. To that end I went straight to the source, Spotify, or more precisely, the Spotify Community Blog. A search yielded a few results for vapour soul, but they were mainly the playlists of members, whose selections included vapour soul tracks. So I cast the net a little further out, where I found an in-depth article at Phases which summarises vapour soul thusly:

From what I can tell, vapor + soul = mellow-sounding/ear-pleasing music featuring fluid sounds, life-giving production and lyrics based in an uncertain or somewhat sad state of mind.

That might describe some of the music I listen to, but glancing at my top five listened-to tracks of 2021, which include The Sound of Violence by Dennis De Laat, I Follow Rivers by Lykke Li, and Everybody Rise by Amy Shark, I couldn’t say they are tracks “based in an uncertain or somewhat sad state of mind.” I decided to keep searching. That took me to an article by Cara Houlton at The Focus, where I discovered there is an apparently related genre known as vapour twitch:

Whilst some Spotify users might only just be seeing the genre vapor twitch for the first time on their Wrapped in 2021, the genre has been appearing since 2019. A micro-genre of electronic music, ‘vapor’ can be best described as having a foggy, ethereal sound, whilst ‘twitch’ adds post-futuristic EDM beats.

There’s another useful definition of vapour. If twitch refers more to post-futuristic EDM beats, then the soul in vapour soul derives – maybe – from soul music, defined here by

A fervent type of popular music developed in the late 1950s by Black Americans as a secularized form of gospel music, with rhythm-and-blues influences, and distinctive for its earthy expressiveness, variously plaintive or raucous vocals, and often passionate romanticism or sensuality.

I guess I could see a “passionate romanticism or sensuality” in some of the music I’ve listened to in the last year. So far though, I’ve not found a simple, five to ten word, definition of vapour soul that gives me the succinct clarify I crave. Next I tried that veritable favourite stand-by of many, Urban Dictionary:

BS edgy genre made up by an international media services provider of Swedish origin. Artists: unknown.

“Artists unknown” sounds about right, as does BS. I’ll defer to Wikipedia again, where Spotify Wrapped is described as “a viral marketing campaign.” If the goal is to get people talking, then the marketing campaign succeeded. In the end then I still may not fully understand what vapour soul is, but it is kind of cool to be listening to a genre of music that seems to flummox even its adherents.