Newtro: Why is Retro Making a Comeback?
These days, there are a lot of items and media that inspire a feeling of nostalgia. Newtro is a global trend that emulates old aesthetics to create new things. It is a neologism combining ‘New’ and ‘Retro’. Retro is an abbreviation for retrospect, meaning looking back on the past. Why are people drawn to the old when modern society has new and innovative things continually emerging? This cultural phenomenon may be in part because of COVID-19. The global pandemic has caused a recession, and consumers are drawn to past trends as a way of forgetting the current problems that they may be facing. Various industries have started producing newtro items in response to this new consumer trend.
The food industry is following the trend by rereleasing products that were sold in the 1970s, or changing product packaging back into its original packaging. The Del Monte glass bottles, which are called the ‘barley tea bottles’, are being resold as the ‘Del Monte Retro Orange Set’. Retro Star Popeye launched a limited edition product using designs from previously used packaging. Bbopgi sets, which are used to make treats by melting sugar in a ladle, are nostalgic junk food. It was released as a set with a ladle, a depressor, and a mould according to the retro trend. These sets are easy to use and enjoy for both adults and children. To take advantage of the newtro trend companies develop a marketing strategy that taps into the nostalgia of consumers. People in older generations find newtro items which bring back memories, making them feel as if they've traveled back in time with a time machine. People in younger generations embrace a past culture that they may not have lived through, but they bring fresh ideas and perspectives. Consumers, both old and young, may find a sense of relaxation and comfort through the newtro trend.
|▲ Del Monte Retro Orange Set.|
In addition, LP (long playing) records, film cameras, and polaroid cameras are in fashion again. Cafés, decorated in vintage styles are attracting the attention of customers. Millennials visit these newtro cafés and see them as a new style of café that they have never experienced before. Older generations are more familiar with LPs and seeing and listening to them can bring back childhood memories. Also, LPs are unique in that people can enjoy music without needing modern digital devices. The ‘Weats’ café located in Sapa-dong, Changwon, has an analog aesthetic that is part of the newtro trend.
|▲Café ‘Weats’ LP display.|
Old fashion trends are reemerging, such as with denim styles and polka dot patterns. Jenny from BLACKPINK has been spotted wearing denim fashion, and her unique hair style emulates past beauty trends. She dyed her hair to have a colorful hairstyle, which was a popular look in the past. Above all, retro trends are standing out in the music industry. Park Jin-young and BTS have both recently released new albums which have been clearly influenced by disco music. It is not a wild assertion to say that newtro has become a global trend. SNS and Youtube, which are major communication platforms, have also helped the newtro trend spread worldwide. Hollywood blockbuster “Wonder Woman 1984” is coming out this fall, and “The Suicide Squad”, which will be set in the 1970s, will be released in summer 2021. Netflix also remade the 1970s animation “Sabrina” into a TV drama. The newtro craze is prevalent not only in Korea, but also around the world.
|▲Netflix “Sabrina” official poster.|
K-pop also couldn’t avoid newtro’s influence. Broadcasting stations like SBS and KBS have been streaming music from the late 1990s to the early 2000s on YouTube. Viewers of these streams have been commenting in the live chats, sharing the memories that old songs bring up. This could be called online Tap-gol Park. The name comes from Tap-gol Park in Seoul, where old people meet up and talk during the day. As for the younger generations, like Gen Z, these old songs are something new and fresh to explore.
|▲T-ara hyomin and Jeje on ‘Sum-deud-myeong’ (source: YouTube ‘SBS MMTG’).|
Newtro is popular because of the contrast between the nostalgia of the past, and the novelty of modern life. When did Tap-gol Park start to happen on YouTube? ‘Sum-deud-myeong‘, which is a series that started two years ago, is one of the popular projects on the SBS YouTube channel. This series discusses and interviews singers who were popular from the late 2000s to the early 2010s. MC Jeje has once again put a spotlight on singers such as T-ara and Ukiss. They have made Sum-deud-myeong from 2018. People in their 20s and 30s who grew up listening to these artists’ music have been drawn to this channel, creating a community with its own memes. 'Sum-deud-myeong' got the attention of the online community, gaining popularity.
|▲ SSACK3’s album 90s aesthetic album cover (source: ‘Hankookilbo’).|
TV stations have also contributed to the popularization of older music. The group ‘SSAK3’, which was popular in the early 2000s and included MC Yoo Jae-suk, Rain, and Lee Hyo-ri, regained popularity on the MBC program “How Do You Play?”. Both parents and children can enjoy this show together. ‘Refund Expedition’ also has featured previously popular celebrities such as Lee Hyo-ri and Uhm Jung-hwa (popular in the late 1990s) alongside new generation singers like Hwa-sa and Jessi. These appearances show a collaboration and crossover between the old and the new in a way that embodies newtro. There were some revivals of past songs like ”TOTOGA” on Infinite Challenge, but these songs haven’t been changed from their past iterations. ‘New Retro’ music, on the other hand, is now being created in full swing.
|▲BTS’s dancing style took inspiration from Michael Jackson’s dance moves in Billie Jean (source: YouTube ‘Big Hit Labels’)|
New songs are being influenced by newtro. Now the K-pop scene is in a disco craze. JYP cemented the mood of a 80s K-pop vibe with “When We Disco”. BTS created the cheerful disco song “Dynamite”, which is the latest overseas trend. As a result, BTS achieved NO.1 on the United States Billboard Hot 100 Songs Chart. The vogue of newtro has started a disco revival. BTS said that the song “Dynamite” was made to console people who are suffering or having a hard time because of coronavirus. The lyrics, “I got the medicine so you should keep ya eyes on the ball” can be interpreted to mean “just have fun and don’t worry about coronavirus”. “Dynamite” is an homage to singers of the past. BTS’s dancing style in the “Dynamite” music video is clearly influenced by Michael Jackson. They used signature moves of Michael Jackson like kicks, hand gestures, pelvic thrusts, and sweeping their hair up. Michael Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson expressed appreciation of the tribute on Twitter. Michael Jackson’s music was also referenced in the lyrics of “Dynamite” too. References to Michael Jackson’s albums “Off the Wall” and “Break of Dawn” are included in the lyrics. These cultural references helped “Dynamite” gain popularity in the US.
Experts said that the newtro trend is showing up more and more in new contexts. Choi Young-kyun, a pop culture critic, said, “Retro trends are being accepted as novel content in popular culture. When disco was in vogue, it was criticized as being a peripheral genre without any depth.” Also, he said that the disappearance of generational barriers for consuming certain types of content play a big role in retro fever on platforms like YouTube. The influence of newtro cannot be underestimated in all forms, and can be seen in major cultural areas like in food, fashion, games, appliances, and music.
By Bae Yun-bin, Choi Yu-ri firstname.lastname@example.org
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