Chances are high that you’ve already recognized the image featured in this post, the “Lo-Fi Girl,” who can be credited with bringing the Lo-Fi aesthetic to the public eye in recent years.
This aesthetic is mainly known for its music, a genre that consists of low-fidelity sounds to make it sound more aged using background noise, performance mistakes, and poor recording equipment. This musical genre originated from American musician J Dilla and the Japanese musician Nujabes, but it rose to its popularity through Adult Swim’s Bumpers which often featured the music as well as their airing of Shinichiro Watanabe’s Samurai Champloo, whose theme song was written by Nujabes. Thumbnail from Adult Swim’s Youtube Video: lofi beats to relax/study to | Rick and Morty | adult swim
LoFi Girl joined YouTube on March 18th, 2015, and has since been known to create 24-hour music streams featuring only LoFi music. As of May 2023, the channel has over 1.5 billion views, and as I write this at 11 pm MST, 21 thousand viewers are watching/listening. Thumbnail from battlecry by Nujaves, the theme from Samurai Champloo.
The Lo-Fi visual aesthetic draws on vintage-inspired tones and filters to evoke feelings of nostalgia. Colors are desaturated and toned down for a dated or faded appearance, and cool pastels such as blue and purple are used to create a dreamlike scene. Along with this, we see an intentional degradation of image quality through techniques including visual noise, decreased contrast, static filters, and chromatic aberration. Finally, to add to the themes of longing and nostalgia, images of vintage toys, liminal spaces, VHS tapes, and old photos are commonplace in this aesthetic.
LoFi can be mistaken for Vaporwave, often sharing similar colors and themes, however, Vaporwave features more futuristic and computer-generated or 3D graphics. LoFi often seeks to display beauty in the work life, denoted by many videos/playlists in this genre with titles featuring key phrases such as “study to” or “work to,” and images frequently depict beautiful scenes with an open laptop or a person working at their desk. We will see that this aesthetic mainly takes the form of drawn art in a cartoonish or pixelated style. This image depicts a chaotic space filled with old, damaged items and a person at work. Note the pastel colors that make the image feel almost dreamlike.
https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwartonnosound.com%2Fthe-lofi-aesthetic-exploring-its-meaning-and-popularity%2F&psig=AOvVaw2IafSn6wiPEPhcIbzMbwJD&ust=1706250515981000&source=images&cd=vfe&opi=89978449&ved=0CBUQjhxqFwoTCLiCq_j094MDFQAAAAAdAAAAABB7 Images and themes in this genre seek to evoke feelings of nostalgia or longing. This image depicts a liminal space, meant to feel like it could exist anywhere.  Image by @qwerqcreative – We see here some of the items depicted in this aesthetic, some recent like the Arizona Iced Tea or the Pocky on the desk, and some from another time like the floppy disks, game console, flip phone, and Tomagatchi. These familiar items in this art style bring nostalgia to the viewer.  This is an actual photo edited to fit the LoFi style, we see the old TV set on a torn-up floor by a poorly painted wall. We can also tell that the image has been edited to add text and filters that further match the aesthetic.
This aesthetic is a kind of post-pop take, teetering into the realms of indie. It is best known for its music, and its visual aspects used as accompaniments to the soft tones and beats that mark the genre. The combination of music and visuals is meant to calm and relax its audience.