An Ode to the Retro Concept

With the release of Girls’ Generation’s new music video “Lion Heart,” I would just like to take a moment to reflect on the awesome retro concepts that k-pop has to offer. Let’s take a tour of the past century and see how k-pop has reflected each decade!

Note: As k-pop is heavily influenced by American culture, many of the retro concepts harken back to periods of time in American culture. Thus, certain aspects of each decade may not have been the same everywhere in the world.

1920s: The 1920s were a period of great splendor for Americans. The Great War was over, and people celebrated. It was a period of prohibition, flappers, and the Charleston. The fashion of the day was knee length dresses with boyish figures and dropped waists, bob style hair, and elegant decorations. The k-pop video that fits this style the most is none other than Girls’ Generation “Lion Heart.” The video depicts the eight girls fending off a lion in fashionable 1920s clothes. Sooyoung, Sunny, and Hyoyeon sport the cute bob haircut, and all the girls dance in the classic flapper outfit.

1930s: As the 1920s represented soaring heights, the 1930s represented crushing lows. The Great Depression hit, and people were looking for anything to keep their minds off of their bad economic situations. This was the decade when big band music was really starting to take off. A k-pop song that resembles the 30s is TVXQ’s “Something.” The song features a big brass section with strong rhythms in the bass line. The music video also features the fashion of the time, with the men wearing suits and fedoras and the ladies wearing full length dresses similar to Hollywood actresses of the time.

1940s: The 1940s were a turbulent time in worldwide politics and culture, with World War II and everything that came after it. The musical genre that dominated the 40s was swing and jazz music that people could dance to. The k-pop song that resembles the 40s the most is Mamamoo’s “Piano Man.” This song features a classic jazz piano along with the swing sounds of the 1940s. In addition, the music video has a noir vibe to it, which was the main genre of film in the 40s.

1950s: The 1950s are depicted as an “idyllic” time, where everyone was supposedly a perfect member of society and upheld strict moral values. The girls wore poodle skirts and the guys wore leather jackets. Doo-wop was a very popular genre of music in the fifties, and a great doo-wop k-pop (say that five times fast) song is Secret “Shy Boy.” Both the song and the music video scream 1950s with the doo-wop hook and the cute 50s inspired fashion.

1960s: The 1960s were a period of radical change, as free-spirit attitudes created many different sub-cultures. K-pop videos that harken back to the 60s reflect this, as each one is slightly different. First, you have the Motown-esque iconic song “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls.

Then you have the groovy soul music in Spica’s “You Don’t Love Me.”

The 1960s were also a time when secret agents like Bond would try and save the world. Girls’ Generation put a unique spin on this by doing a “Bond Girls” concept in their song “Hoot”.

Finally, 1969 hailed the coming of Woodstock, which included psychedelic music with interesting chord progressions and exotic drum sounds. f(x)’s song “Rum Pum Pum Pum” is a modern take on the Woodstock fashion and music.

1970s: The 1970s were a crazy time full of social progress. Men wore polyester suits and women wore feathered Farrah Fawcett hair. At the tail end of the seventies, disco was the hot genre of music, and the k-pop group that pulls that off the best is none other than T-ARA! “Roly Poly” features the girls dancing to the groovy music.

1980s: The 80s was a great decade for pop culture; hairstyles were huge and everyone wore leg warmers. Plenty of songs in k-pop are a throwback to the 80s, but I’ll just go through my favorites. KARA brought the neon colors and crazy hair in their song “Step.” 

Meanwhile, the Wonder Girls recently released a throwback to 80s synth with their song “I Feel You.”

1990s: And the 90s are where we’ll stop our journey through the decades. The 90s was a period of grunge and punk rock. At the same time, boy bands like the Backstreet Boys were capturing the hearts of teen girls everywhere. K-pop group Topp Dogg uses the 90s boy group concept in their song “Annie.”

I hope you enjoyed this ode to the retro concept! I hope more groups will use this concept and do throwbacks to the old days.

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