Dreamcore Aesthetic: A Deep Dive Into The Uncanny

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Dreamcore is an internet aesthetic that uses dreamlike imagery and settings to evoke feelings of comfort in some and unease in others. It is particularly popular on social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Reddit. Some call dreamcore an art movement with links to movements such as surrealism. 

Due to the social nature of how the aesthetic has spread, dreamcore can also accurately be classified as an internet aesthetic community. Individuals that are part of the community create and alter images and videos in a certain manner that is distinguishable as dreamcore. Due to its popularity of dreamcore on platforms like TikTok, it appears to be teenagers that are mainly responsible for producing and engaging with this content. 

When first stumbled upon, the dreamcore aesthetic may seem difficult to decipher and unravel. This article will therefore guide you through the key elements, history, and its connection with weirdcore, liminal space and other earlier internet aesthetic communities.

What defines something as dreamcore?

Dreamcore is a subsection of another internet aesthetic called weirdcore. The two aesthetics have numerous similarities, so it can be difficult to decipher between them. 

Fundamentally, dreamcore, like weirdcore, uses strange imagery or text over a background of liminal spaces or generic scenery. Dreamcore is defined by the characters and objects appearing in the edits being things that would not feel out of place popping up in a dream, hence the name. 

There is also a subgenre of dreamcore that is called feverdreamcore, which much as the name suggests is even more strange, and disorientating than dreamcore.

Recurring features in dreamcore creations include eyes with wings (somewhat reminiscent of biblically accurate angels), humans with eyes for heads or animal heads in place of a head, never-ending staircases, clouds, and pink dreamlike tinge to video edits or images. Dreamcore images are often not high-quality. They are not super realistic depictions of these things, but rather a mix of badly photoshopped elements to create these edits. Dreamcore edits are often accompanied by music. It’s not uncommon to hear slow/reverb edits of dreampop songs in the background or ‘Jack Stauber’s micropop in the background.

Images and videos in the dreamcore aesthetic often seek to be surreal whilst also evoking feelings of nostalgia. Due to this the settings of many dreamcore edits are reminiscent of the late 90s and early 00s, creating a sense of déjà vu like you’ve visited the place before either in real life or a dream. Dreamcore images are often a lot more colourful than weirdcore, containing colourful text and backgrounds like 00s children’s play areas like you might see in shopping centres.

Aside from the purely visual elements, creators on Tik Tok, like @jgretznerd create stories, sometimes following a particular character or just describing weird and sometimes scary dream-like scenarios in these dream worlds.

Some people have also made links between dreamcore and the artistic movement of surrealism. Both use bizarre and other worldly objects as the focus of their creations. In this way, dreamcore can be viewed as an outlet for the unconscious to express itself.

History of the Dreamcore Aesthetic

Rise of popularity

Throughout 2020 and 2021, dreamcore experienced a boost in popularity, probably reaching its peak in popularity around the summer of 2021. The boost in popularity was primarily driven by the social media platform TikTok, with more and more people following the dreamcore hashtags and creating dreamcore image compilation videos and video series of stories.

The boom in popularity and the evolution of weirdcore and dreamcore into more recognisable aesthetics can be interpreted as triggered by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

Firstly, with something as monumental as the pandemic occurring, it is understandable a lot of people found themselves in this time looking back not just to pre-pandemic life but to their childhood. This therefore explains the childlike and nostalgic elements of the dreamcore aesthetic. 

The distinct nature of lockdowns meant that teenagers especially had a lot of free time to fill, with socialising, clubs and school taken away. This meant many turned to the internet to spend their excesses time and thus, interest in different aesthetic communities skyrocketed. In a time where socialising was banned, teenagers formed friendships and communities to pass the time during the uncertain times of the early stages of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Additionally, at the start of the lockdowns, many people documented having increasingly vivid dreams. Therefore, it is easy to see the link between the increase in vivid dreams and the increase in popularity of dreamcore. People were making edits to express what they had experienced or witnessed in their dreams.

Looking further back: connections to Webcore

Dreamcore often employs fonts evocative of the early days of the internet, using word art and low-quality images to make it seem like something that could be made in the early days of the internet. In this way, dreamcore and weirdcore and clear connections to the aesthetic of Webcore (sometimes called Old Web). 

Webcore has origins dating back way into the 1990s and essentially combines the aesthetic of early internet with elements of self-expression. Using styles reminiscent to Windows 95, users of this aesthetic embrace the messy unglamourous aspects of the early days of the internet when things weren’t smoothly designed websites and apps. 

It seems like dreamcore and weirdcore are closely related to webcore, embracing the ugliness of the early internet, and finding joy in the perceived ‘simpler times’. 

Webcore has been floating around the web way longer than weirdcore and dreamcore, so seems to be quite an influential aesthetic and community that precipitated the rise and popularity of dreamcore

Dreamcore’s relationship with childhood & escapism

Dreamcore employs a lot of child-like imagery and nostalgia, but why is this? The intense craving for nostalgia we are witnessing across the internet can be viewed as a desire to escape the current reality and return to childhood.

For the age group primarily consuming dreamcore content, the pandemic was the first major historical event in their living memory. With the pandemic causing a lot of stress and anxiety about the future of how our societies would function, people needed a way to relive times where responsibility and worries were absent. 

Nostalgic content therefore offered a release, a way to evoke a strong feeling of times gone by.  It makes sense that these people would feel drawn to nostalgia filled images, as they long for a time where there were no responsibilities or worries.

This intense craving for childhood and nostalgia-based images was also represented in the popularity of the ‘kidcore’ aesthetic. Exemplified by individuals in the aesthetic wearing chunky colourful bracelets and clothes, this showed teenagers not wanting to rush to grow up but before they were even properly adults wanting to retreat to the times of their childhood. 

With younger generations of Gen Z growing up entirely on the internet, they have in many ways been forced to grow up before their time, having unfiltered access to world events and more. It therefore seems that many teenagers are craving childhood even before they finish their adolescence.

It seems that to cope with what was going on around them, many teenagers were drawn to this as a form of escapism, wanting to imagine themselves in a different reality other than their own. 

What is particularly interesting is there appears to be an aesthetic of nostalgia. Teenagers now feel nostalgic towards images reminiscent of a time they were not born in. Many of the consumers of dreamcore content would be born after 2005, but repeatedly it seems images that appear to date from between 1995 and 2005 that appear frequently in dreamcore edits.

Dreamcore Aesthetic & Liminal Space

As mentioned earlier, dreamcore and weirdcore use images of liminal space as backgrounds for the images and edits. Liminal spaces are spaces such as an empty/abandoned shopping centre and generic office rooms devoid of furniture. These images are often lit by artificial light with an absence of any windows, making it impossible to decipher what time of day it is.

The images of liminal space are clearly human constructions, but are always absent of any humans. Seeing settings like shopping centres empty – spaces that we associate with being filled with people – therefore feels unnatural and can fill the viewer with a sense of unease. Although dreamcore and weirdcore use liminal spaces in their edits, there has been growing interest in images of liminal spaces on the internet for the past couple years.

Liminal Spaces also evoke a feeling of unease due to their videogame-like never-ending quality. A lot of these images feel as if you walked round a corner and tried to find a way out, the space would just continue, like it does in video game generated worlds. This adds to the unsettling nature as it implies you are trapped in this transitional space, outside of normal reality, with no people but still in sort of familiar settings.

One theory as to why liminal spaces became so popular in dreamcore edits is again due to the pandemic. When we entered the initial lockdown, places bustling with activity like schools and shopping centres, were suddenly lacking any human presence. On permitted daily walks you could walk through public places once bustling with activity, but now completely silent. This weird, unsettling feeling, along with the uncertain nature of society in the stages of the early pandemic, drew people to these internet communities

The Future of Dreamcore

Dreamcore, although not at the peak of its popularity, appears to still have some avid members of the community in 2022. Due to the links to the pandemic, fuelling some of the elements of the aesthetic and popularity of the phenomenon it appears to have less relevance now. 

However, even as we exit the pandemic, people are still feeling nostalgic for a time where the internet did not have as much dominance over our lives as it does now. In addition to this, growing up under the shadow of an impending climate crisis may cause many young people to continue to use this as an escape from the worries of reality.

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