Playlist: Popwave / Dreamwave

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Iron Skullet’s Popwave / Dreamwave playlist is dedicated to the dreamy, romanticized evolution of synthwave music that has become popular and prominent since 2015. This style is best known for and represented by The Midnight, Gunship, FM-84, Timecop1983, and Nina, though dozens of other artists have contributed to the style and continue to redefine popwave and dreamwave music year after year.

As always, identifying popwave as a particular style of music relies on a strong belief in the importance of music genres.

The name popwave is a blend of “pop” and “synthwave” and indicates the style’s inclusion of elements from modern mainstream pop and its large appeal with a young, contemporary audience, both of which differ from the traditionally retro and underground sounds of true synthwave music.

Unlike early synthwave (outrun) releases, popwave has increasingly little in common with vintage synthpop, Euro disco, or other music produced in the ‘80s, and songs in the style could never be mistaken for creations from past decades.

Instead, popwave delivers a distinctly modern flavor of synth music that captures the nostalgic essence of the past without ever mimicking it. It is the Kodachrome of synthwave music, and as Paul Simon once noted about actual nostalgia, it is often sweeter and much different than the reality was. In essence, popwave examines music styles of the ‘80s through a pair of neon-colored glasses with contemporary frames, re-interpreting vintage ideas for a new generation of listeners.

Prizm’s 2019 track “All Night” is a brilliant example of popwave music.

A key feature of popwave music is the inclusion of post-millenium vocal styles. These vary between artists and can include alt rock and pop punk, chillout, indie pop and indie rock, and the more generalized sounds of the modern mainstream, often rolled up and presented with gentle, synth-oriented instrumentation.

For example, artists like New Arcades and Let Em Riot incorporate the influences of alt rock and pop punk into their singing, Gunship shares similarities with indie rock acts like Modest Mouse, and vocalists for Wolf Club pull from the sensibilities of ‘10s pop in the vein of Katy Perry and Selena Gomez.

Although the modern singing approaches are an important aspect of the music, not all popwave necessarily has vocals. The second and equally important defining feature of the style is the gentle, pillowy production style laced with modern effects and production techniques.

Even the instrumental versions of these songs could be fully classified as popwave music thanks to their inclusion of production techniques from contemporary pop music and EDM. Songs The Midnight’s “Lonely City” and The Bad Dreamers “New York Minute” provide excellent examples of this aspect of the rapidly developing style. 

Of course, the best way to enjoy this new and rapidly developing style of music is to dive into the Popwave/ Dreamwave playlist and experience the many worthwhile creations for yourself.


Learn more about popwave and dreamwave music in Iron Skullet’s article What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition

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