A feeling of “retro” can slowly bring out forgotten memories and excite nostalgia to the generation who knew those times. Meanwhile, it comes across as an old, but novel content, and it is interesting for a generation always eager for something new. For these reasons, people are calling for the past and enjoying it in the present. Furthermore, the two values, old and new, were combined to form a trend called “newtro”, and this stimulates both yearning and curiosity. Newtro is an emotional code that brings memories back and has settled into our daily lives. The retro style is being reinterpreted for each taste or shared as social sympathy. Therefore, the Konkuk Bulletin would like to find out what retro means and see how newtro appears in everyday life. These days, how do we create our culture from the old days?
01 The Meaning of retro
People cite comfort as one of the main reasons for seeking retro. The desire to take out warm and pleasant memories becomes stronger, as they live through the harsh reality of day-to-day life. Every generation has a sympathetic childhood memory, and they sometimes become engrossed in nostalgic thoughts, recalling those days. Likewise, retro is a trend that appeals to universal human emotions. With social separation or intense competition, people are psychologically trying to relieve their anxiety by accessing the memories where they gained comfort before.
Retro, a comforting emotional code, is mainly in line with social unrest. In addition, the media environment evolving day-by-day helps us to accurately capture and reprocess memories. Instead of focusing on the development of the future in hard times, people began to pick up records one-by-one as an alternative. In this regard, the retro phenomenon reminding them of the past also shows the characteristics of both sides of modern culture.
A feeling for retro is a natural phenomenon, in which the culture of an era is remembered and reproduced. Traditionally, people have missed the past and felt nostalgic. This is also an integral part of modern popular culture, which combines existing materials to create something new. However, this recent trend is different from that in the past. It has summoned and consumed an entire epoch. Newtro lovers embrace the past anew, and enjoy it further with their current senses.
02 Newtro in everyday life
Clothing: Fashion going and coming around
It is said that what goes around comes around. The unchic suit with big shoulder pads in your parents’ wardrobe could one day become popular again. Renowned fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld also said he was inspired by Chanel’s old archives. That may be the reason why people complain every day that they do not have clothes to wear nor any to throw away. There are examples of this retrospective phenomenon. Denim on denim fashion was considered tacky in the 2000s so it disappeared but revived again. Bead jewelry seems to be woven from toys in childhood, but it is an unique item for the younger generation today. It reminds them of the colorful beads they bought in the old stationery store. In addition, retro items such as high-waist jeans and basketball shoes are drawing attention. All of these had been loved in the past and are reinterpreted with present senses.
Dongmyo and Gwangjang Market are attracting young people’s attention. In Dongmyo Market, a pile of clothing is scattered everywhere, and the stylish young choose their clothes carefully. In Gwangjang Market, there are shoe stores with discontinued sneakers or walkers hanging heavily and clothes stores full of luxury blouses. They are a time-worn repository of fashion and even more attractive because of their tackiness. These days, many more customers visit there and point out the attraction of vintage fashion as being the only one of these in the world. These clothes once might have been new products, but the scarcity value has increased over time.
Scrunchies are also gaining popularity due to newtro. They have become popular nationwide because of the actress Kim Hee-sun in her TV drama. They can now be seen on the streets again, as fashion influencers use them. People often recall memories by tying their hair with scrunchies. In the old days, monochrome and large sizes were popular, but now they have a variety of materials and colors creating a different style. It also works with normcore (normal and hardcore) that adds merit to natural beauty. The retro design stimulates the interest, evoking nostalgia for the older generation and giving the younger generation a fresh feeling. With the rise of newtro, revealing one’s taste with old and antique objects has become a culture. The fashion of those days is now being applied to the clothes of the children’s generation under the name of newtro. This is meaningful in a way that it gradually spreads in their own style rather than just being a fad.
Music: The romance of all generations
Retro caused a sensation in the K-pop scene. Past broadcasts were losing their lights for a while, but the content came back to the surface and touched the public’s mind. Little rough but rather cool is a K-pop program, which the older generation would record on videotapes. They now exchange these old memories through YouTube live streaming. These channels were named Online Tapgol Park and likened to the park where the elderly gather in Jong-ro. The flashy costumes and dance moves add to the amusement. Actresses, Jung Ryeo-won and Lee Jung-hyun, appeared as an idol member or a techno warrior. This was a curious twist, and the music or performance were unfamiliar to those in their twenties who were children at the time. Through the chat window there has been a lively conversation on these refreshing jolts between generations. Some people think of their pleasant memories, while others enjoy the actual performance. This is because there is a culture where people consider the various aspects of the music of the 1990s cool. In other words, there has arisen a modern consumption of past contents.
The newtro sensation has led to the popularity of City Pop. It is an urban music genre popular in Korea from the 1980s to the 1990s, with some electronic sounds giving a refreshing yet romantic atmosphere. In a song, Pporappippam (2020) by Sun-mi, the unique beat evokes a dreamy feeling. It creates a sound that gives the feeling of sitting in a café terrace at nightfall with a breeze. The misty backgrounds and twirling neon signs give a clichéd but rich visual effect. This City Pop is a new song, with retro sensibilities adding to its charm.
A supergroup, SSAK3, also performed City Pop this summer. Yoo Jae-suk, Lee Hyo-ri and Rain raised expectations with their newtro music containing the sentiment of the 1990s. In particular, the title track, Beach Again (2020), topped the major music charts. It reflects the desire to touch the middle-aged as well as the younger generation. It is different from the music which teenagers and those in their twenties hear these days, but it has the freshness they had been looking for. The Millennial Generation was born before the debut of SSAK3 members but greeted their music culture with hearty cheers. It is even more attractive that artists sharing those far-off days still appear on stage. Simultaneously, the melody and video of those days are perfectly embodied and stimulate the nostalgia of the older generation. The white sand beach reminds the older generation of glorious but dim memories, which makes them smile as well as cry. The song reinterprets the sensibility of the 1990s in a modern style. A clear sound of brass and bass displays synergy with codes fitting to the trend of the times. Newtro contents are on the rise. Sensitivities different from today are expected to be welcomed for a while.
Food and beverage: Today wrapped by yesterday
Food and beverage trends are rewinding the past. Its familiar taste remains, but packaging of products sold in the past are reappearing and reminding people of those days. These goods gain popularity again with oldness as well as modernity. Their designs bring the memories for the middle-aged and give freshness for the younger generation, satisfying emotional needs. After drinking the juice inside, people used Delmont bottles as water jugs for barley tea back in the day. This glass bottle is considered a recollection of the 1980s. It was a sensation last year as a newtro item, and then reemerged as the Delmont Retro Edition earlier this year.
The liquor business also added a modern reinterpretation to its past legacy. Jinro was formerly called toad liquor because of the character. To revive this, it has put efforts into the painting of the toad in relaunching soju. It restores the bottle shape and color of product packages in the 1970s and 1980s. It also distinctly lowered the alcohol level in favor of the recent drinking culture and closely entered the party of millennials as well as the older generation.
The coffee retro edition of Maxim are on limited sale and go so far as to be sold out. In the past, thermal tumblers or coffee mugs given as gifts for buyers were a must for coffee lovers. The pastel tumblers and mugs from the past were included in the edition. Moreover, the image of an actress wearing clothes popular in the 1980s and sitting in an antique study was properly angled for retro sensibilities. It emphasizes the value of a small but precious happiness in daily life with a phrase, “inviting to a happy moment”.
Newtro is also a trend in food and beverage appliances where modern technology and retro designs meet. The functions are newly upgraded, and the design becomes a unique classic. For customers desiring to enjoy both the comfort of home and the mood of cafés, Smeg introduced its home café lineup with retro style milk formers, coffee grinders, and coffee machines. It catches people’s eyes with a chrome handle, a round, small shape, and various colors that were once popular among home appliances during the 1980s. One reason for the success of Smeg is its differentiated retro features among uniform designs. Food and beverage products or home appliances cover the new contents with an old format. Likewise, the act of positively fulfilling the cultural taste of retro seems to go back to the past, but it is also constantly creating the present and the future from the past.
Interior: Aesthetics of old spaces
Retro style shows up in the topic of interior design. Previously unusual colors stand out. At the end of 20th century, people were tired of the monotonous interior and began to prefer bold colors. Jade green was also used in moldings, kitchens, and bathrooms. It now overlaps with the Pantone Color of the Year 2020, Neo Mint, and captures its charm with a more refined texture. Newtro mood expresses individuality through various colors, whereas modern interiors surrounded by achromatic colors have been popular recently. It has helped people see their home as a place of design and expand their choices.
Changes in materials are also noticeable. People prefer the natural feeling of materials like grass or glass. Terrazzo is drawing renewed attention. With its light gray background and irregular dots, it was widely used as a flooring material in commercial and public facilities in the 1980s. Recently, it has roused a new mood in bold colors by being used on a kitchen sink or as part of a wall. The newtro interior in Korea is a movement that freshens the memories of the 1970s and 1980s. Middleaged people are given nostalgia for their youth, and young people are given ironic novelty.
The revival of the vinyl record among furniture has been quite dramatic. With the popularization of minimal music players, CD players and turntables seemed to slowly fade into history. However, the comeback of the LP records showed a reversal. In this era, music systems are easy to operate following the development of technology, so millennials feel a lack of self-involvement in the process. Modern people seek an incomplete yet essential life, and an uncomfortable yet quiet life. The act of taking a record out of a jacket, putting it on the turntable, and carefully lowering the needle gives them the pleasure of listening to music on their own. The reappraisal of analog allows narratives different from previous expectations.
The new space of the past is a far more interesting place by virtue of the historical story.While Ikseon-dong, Seoul, maintains memories of the enlightenment period, the old Hanok has gained vitality again. Cafés and restaurants have brought the characteristics of the Hanok in Ikseon-dong. The narrow but cozy space and naturally old interior are unique features that only Ikseon-dong shows. The interval between the floor and the ceiling or the narrow structure of the Hanok are used as natural interior elements. Today’s Ikseon-dong looks like the past. However, the identity of Hanok and modern sense made Ikseon-dong a shrine of newtro. It is exquisitely combined with refined sentiments and gives a mysterious coziness.
The value of recreation
The retro-inspired present is active based on the end of the 20th century. The ages before the Millennial Generation is being recalled. It is a reenactment of the past for the older generation and at the same time becoming something the Millennial Generation has never seen before. No matter how wonderful, common materials get boring and worthless, so as of today, inelegant ones are perceived to be rather sensuous. All the better then that the old past feels fabulous and fresh because of the contrast effects of the present and the characteristics of the Millennials.
Retro with analog sensibility
Retro has settled into everyday life on the fast, convenient digital landscape because of its sensuous uniqueness. The millennials are actively excavating what looks like the old but is good as the new. This means that the desire for steady quality has grown. In other words, they try to find a repository of meaning deeply imbued with humanistic sensitivity.
The world is going digital restlessly, but the analog objects such as records and films are reviving with greater momentum. They are laid out like a panorama in front of the world. The deeper digital permeates into the human mind and body, the further the demand for analog increases. Therefore, the daily life of retro would also accelerate. In its own way, analog presents a completely different logic from digital.
In addition, when people see machines performing superhuman activities well, they rejoice and feel anxious at the same time. The extreme digital logic and angular appearance pursued by machines are inconsistent with human nature and lead to admiration for the incompleteness of analogs. For digital natives with cultural skills and communication abilities, analog contacts are valuable.
Furthermore, the humanistic sensibility of the Millennial Generation to discover novelty is linked to “a small but definite happiness”. The highest level of economic recession in history and the identity of smart humanity each gives the physical basis and cultural foundation of longing for novelty. However, the inconvenience of hearing music with LP on a turntable has been revived as pure delight. It is an intense experience. This may be a beacon of hope that sheds light on the darkness of the digital and online age.
Nostalgia containing new sentiments
Nostalgia is closely related to past experiences and memories. However, newtro has another meaning. It means the younger generation observes nostalgia of the previous generation and sets up a new concept of retro, altering it to their taste.
Newtro is a past with unique personalities and senses. It is clearly possible to rediscover freshness from the past. However, a preference for newtro does not mean unconditional enthusiasm nor reception to a slight alteration. Its true meaning is to express old materials as one’s own identity without ignoring them.
While the essence of retro is in the common denominator of cultural memory, newtro has an identity of differentiation. Whereas retro is recalled based on common experiences and the memories of many people, newtro pays attention to objects that others have shunned or missed, such as the Online Tapgol Park. Even the younger generation feels satisfied and fulfilled when they highlight a subject that the older generation overlooks. The vitality of newtro is prolonged as near as this sentiment can be maintained for a long time. Newtro generation tries to understand the old times with current sentiment and then embraces cultural difference. The style of the past feels fresh because it has not been simply copied but harmonized using the trends of the times while keeping the essence of the past. Conventional retro is a yearning for the past. Meanwhile, the retro today refers to a lasting value remaining unchanged. Alteration and innovation do not mean changing the substance in accordance with the times but rather making the essence a new value.
The daily anxiety and disjunction of these times have aroused a retro sensibility different from ever before. This might lead people to maintain an objective view by distancing themselves from modern society. In their spare time, they look back on the past and bring back the forgotten existence. Thus, once obsolete and dowdy objects are newly revived with their own senses and individuality. The new retro continues to tell stories beyond nostalgia, encompassing several eras. The emotion and mind have now become an important qualities in life for everyone, and humans want to charmingly lay their own colors on rare but appropriate materials. The attitude of staying somewhere, although somewhat varied, gives comfort that they may relax rather than rush. Moreover, newtro reminds them that they sometimes miss yesterday, but even this moment will someday be tomorrow’s memory. As ever, we are melting the glory of the past to blend in with the rosy culture nowadays.
Lee Soo-hyun, Editor email@example.com
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