Music and television fans turn to the retro trend for solace
K-pop’s biggest boy band BTS released “Dynamite” on Aug. 21, and since then, it has been smashing record after record with the catchy dance-pop single. But different from its past songs, “Dynamite” is the band’s brightest yet, and it is BTS's first retro pop song that has got '80s disco written all over the music video, melody and dance moves. The song is meant to be BTS’s gift to people all around the world, to cheer them up in the coronavirus pandemic.
Retro is a trend that comes and goes every now and then, but this year’s resurgence of the trend has hit all parts of the cultural field – especially the entertainment industry. An ongoing trot frenzy has seen viewers hooked on Korean television shows centered on the genre since last year, and many other broadcasters are producing their own take on the idea, while music producers are taking their inspiration from the '80s disco vibe.
While BTS continues to break record after record with “Dynamite,” girl group Blackpink also hinted at a retro vibe for its new single that drops on Friday through a series of teaser images it has released. The images for the new single “Ice Cream” flaunt a visual style reminiscent of the '80s retro vibe, as well as the members’ outfits which also stray far from the trendy street fashion the group usually goes for. The single, which is a collaboration with pop star Selena Gomez, drops 1 p.m Friday.
Other acts that also picked up on the retro trend include singer and producer Park Jin-young, whose collaboration with singer Sunmi titled “When We Disco” managed to bring out both humor and nostalgia with an '80s disco theme. Girl group Brave Girls made a big comeback for the first time in three years with a retro pop track called “We Ride,” and singer Yoon Jong-shin’s retro pop track “You’re Right” in collaboration with Japanese singer Kingo Hamada, used a pastel-toned animation for the music video.
According to pop culture critic Lee Young-mee, retro tends to make a comeback every so often, and when it does, it’s usually in times of hardships — either social or economic — as people like to take comfort in the things that are familiar to them, rather than experiment with new things or break away from their habits. People don’t want to listen to songs that say break the rules or take a risk, and music producers know this better than anyone else.
“Experimenting with new things requires courage and hope — hope that the future will be better,” Lee said. “When that’s not possible, then people turn to retro because they feel intimidated. In times of hardship, people turn conservative and protective in their ways of thinking and taste. Things that bring about conflict among generations — which is the very foundation of experiments and revolution — are not welcome, and people start talking about love and peace and family, because those are the things they are accustomed to and get comfort from.”
A field that picked up the retro trend faster than music was television.
Television channels last year were bombarded with the old-school antiquity of trot music since cable channel TV Chosun’s all-female trot audition show “Miss Trot” stormed the viewership charts while it aired from February to June. Trot was once Korea’s most beloved music genre that started in the early 1900s, became popular from the 1960s and peaked in the 1980s. Although it was pushed aside by its ballad and K-pop antecedents, trot had always remained in society — but mainly among the older generation. It wasn’t until last year that “Miss Trot” brought it back to life and myriads of other trot-related programs followed, with the all-male spinoff “Mr. Trot” also proving popular this year.
Other music programs also readily used the retro concept such as E Channel’s “Topgoal Rhapsody” which featured contestants of diverse nationalities singing popular ballads from the 1990s to early 2000s.
However, only one show has managed to transition songs aired on the program to the music charts: MBC’s “Hangout With Yoo,” which began airing last year.
The idea of “Hangout With Yoo” is simple. Famed entertainer Yoo Jae-suk carries out various missions for the show, one of which included him learning to sing trot and debuting as Yoosanseul last year. This year, he joined forces with veteran singers Lee Hyori and Rain to form a trio called SSAK3 and gained much praise from viewers while training to sing and dance with two of K-pop’s biggest legends. The trio debuted with its song “Beach Again” on July 25, and the song still sits atop major local music charts and is played all around the streets.
According to critic Lee, the television retro trend is also linked to the back-to-what-we-know mindset, but another factor comes into play. While there was a time when television was considered to be the newest and most innovative media platform in the past, it has now yielded its former glory to smartphones and other portable devices that the younger generation is more acquainted with.
“Naturally, television has become more conservative because younger people don’t watch it much anymore. The main viewers are people in their 30s and 40s, and the content evolves according to their taste. Many dramas now feature people in their 40s, and even entertainment shows mostly invite middle-aged celebrities,” Lee said.
Professor Lee Gyu-tag at the cultural studies department at Mason Korea also pointed out that the current older generation are more likely to spend money on cultural experiences than the same age group in the past, and perhaps even more than the younger generation.
“The generation that we refer to as ‘Generation Z’ tends to spend less money on luxuries due to the economic and social hardships they face compared to the younger generations of the past,” Lee said. “But people in their 40s have been accustomed to paying for themselves from a younger age, plus they earn more money than in the past. What they like — for instance, trot music — doesn’t suddenly become the trend among the youngsters, but they spend enough money to keep content suppliers producing content for them. Even for K-pop, the fandoms have expanded into the older generation, and it’s important to appeal to all generations to make a profit.”
BY YOON SO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]