Nightcore and Unkept Promises
Web 2.0 was abstract crisis management. Cyber-positivist dreams of everyone coming together online became an excuse for hyper-centralization. The ‘90s cyber-positivists never understood that social network topologies eventually flow upwards: above every reply guy is their egirl, and above every egirl is the massive server farms which contain their credit card info. The progenitors of Web 2.0 were too delusional from the fumes of 60s counterculture re-manifesting itself in “We Are The World” Live 8-core radical chic to notice that their acid trip was actually 500 mgs of Benadryl.
Consolidation discouraged the original exploratory impulses of the internet. Why dig around when I can get everything I need from my newsfeed? The linearity of forums was replaced with hypertext nonlinearity, and the casualty of things became more and more obscured. Algorithmic curation cordoned individuals off from one another based on qualifiers. Web 2.0’s promise to give people more access to create, turned out to mean they could only create within the context of monetized mega-platforms (not that the web-users of the 90s were HTML savants! The average user at that point too was confined to platforms, albeit less consolidated ones). The dream of connecting with others online began to seem more and more like just that.
What was the crisis Web 2.0 was managing? Picture this. Next time some jittery 2-to-3-undone-buttons “Entrepreneur”-in-bio-type says the word “disruption” to you, imagine a very large explosion, then superimpose that explosion onto your entrepreneur. Now imagine that explosion contracting in on itself into a ball, then expanding outward again in another explosion, this one a bit smaller than the last. It contracts again, then expands once again, this time also smaller than the last time. It continues this process ad infinitum.
View this series of explosions as a model for disruptive technologies, and the initial emergence of a new technology is that very first explosion. Watching your little entrepreneur get obliterated into a mist of blood that first time may be satisfying, liberating even. But with each new compression, the explosion becomes more and more contained, finally to the point where the explosion is the size of a party popper. Every disruption is eventually contained and consolidated, and the Internet was contained by Web 2.0. Anti-establishment fantasies of detonating an entrepreneur fade away when a new, more attractive, more anti-explosive entrepreneur appears behind you and places their hand on your shoulder.
Nightcore, a semi-underground and kitschy remix genre based on speeding up popular music, becomes a measurement of particular collective psyches during the Web 2.0 era. Nightcore grew up in the mid 2000s alongside Limewire where tracks were often shared, and was proliferated with YouTube videos, typically accompanied with pictures of anime girls as the avatar-singers of the high-pitched vocals. In this way, it is a reaction to Web 2.0 as a phenomenon because it could only have possibly proliferated in the Web 2.0 digital environment, while also unconsciously defying that environment through its shirking of intellectual property. Web 2.0 is
necessarily pro-intellectual property since its inevitable top-down structure facilitates rights-owners to make infringement claims. This inevitability has been playing out on YouTube for years now.
Nightcore is sometimes considered the first online-borne genre, and the simplicity of making a Nightcore remix places it in a similar position to punk rock in the 70s and 80s, anyone can make it. Owing to the Web 2.0 social internet and Nightcore’s inherent mimetic structure as shareable and remixable digital-objects, Nightcore quickly became a meme with a sizable listener base among very online circles.
Earlier this year, a meme called “Spongebob parties too hard and dies” gained popularity. It features Spongebob lying dead on the floor of his pineapple home while “Caramelldansen” blares and colored party lights flash in sync. Soon after, when the pandemic hit Europe, videos began appearing on Twitter of DJs playing evening sets from their apartment balconies while in quarantine. Caramelldansen was featured frequently. There’s also this video which I really like for its atmosphere alone. And this one. “Caramelldansen” (at least the remixed Nightcore version that most people know) is baby’s first Nightcore, but more significantly it’s a 13 year old meme. Why did it see a resurgence?
Quarantine and economic downturn pushed many into NEET-dom, a space previously occupied primarily by very-online social outcasts and recluses: types that would end up in circles more likely to listen to Nightcore. The track “pretty girl with a microphone” by fluffie creates a sound space which features the muffled audio of someone quietly singing along to a Nightcore remix of J Lo’s “Waiting for Tonight”. This recording illuminates a common consumption scenario of Nightcore, not rolling in the club, but singing along quietly so no one will hear, with an “empty heart, all alone in my bed,” as Jennifer Lopez says best. Nightcore is ecstasy in the throes of despair. The thematic throughline of longing in the pop selected for many of the most popular Nightcore tracks is no coincidence. The Nightcore remix of Mount Eerie’s “Real Death” becomes this contradiction manifested in its most apparent form, despite every moral objection in the comment section.
The newfound resurgence of “Caramelldansen” is perhaps the result of fringe-consciousness becoming a dominant form, the aesthetics of NEET-dom imported to the collective-consciousness. The idea of hyper-pop, which to every 2000-late publication that takes up the regrettable task of writing on it, is always a new phenomenon, owes a great deal to Nightcore. PC Music founder Danny L Harle has cited it as an inspiration. Dig and you can find the Nightcore that PC Music’s other founder A.G. Cook made in 2011, and his Nightcore version of Janet Jackson’s “Lonely” that concludes his set, “MEAT SS14 EMBASSY MIX” is both transcendent and an interesting inversal of a foundational vaporwave track. A surge of interest in hyperpop from cultural institutions could be viewed as top-down cultural forces sublimating collective NEET desires (listening to Nightcore) into a socially acceptable form.
Web 2.0’s social internet was a broken promise, or maybe just a pair of crossed fingers. It severed us from one another. Alienation struck online communities as they were pulled into brain-poisoning black holes. Interlinking online personas with actual identities has one look on the stranger’s avatar with a dead stare: what was supposed to give online denizens personhood, only pauperized users’ humanity in the eyes of others. The refreshing “aha!” moments that online anonymity could once provide, the feeling that, “hey, I’m talking to is another person!” is now impossible. Its obviousness disgusts. The anime avatar automatically becomes fash in the eyes of the Web 2.0 user: “there must be something wrong with them if they opt out of the collective trauma!”
Born to feel: the new popular resurgence of Nightcore is a rare promise kept. Opposed to Web 2.0’s social internet, Web 5.0 is the emotional internet, and Nightcore’s resurgence is the emotional internet in practice. The consultants will tell you that Web 5.0’s intention is to interface with users’ emotions through digital assistants, but an emotional internet in reality becomes a networked empathetic response system which unconsciously accesses past collective trauma to emotionally respond to the present. Spongebob dying to “Caramelldansen” becomes mass emotional phenomenon. “Me self distancing during the outbreak,” reads a comment from user Chaotic Neutral. 12k likes. Shallow relatability is elevated to mass connection and solidarity when it points towards tacit phenomenon. There is obviously something about listening to Nightcore while passed out face down on the floor which speaks to the moment, and the knowledge that others share this understanding builds a network of feeling among kindred spirits online.
Nightcore’s kitsch emotionality has found appeal in the despair of the present. It’s possible that in this moment, more people might find solace with others through the threads, comment sections and DMs where Nightcore is shared and discussed. I also just really like Nightcore. Shoutout to the weeb girl in my high school art class that would talk to me about Nightcore.
(Thanks to my friend Alex for the explosion metaphor)