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How to Dominate the World with Newtro

It has become apparent that Newtro is now the hottest pop culture trend in South Korea. Newtro is basically an advanced version of the retro trend. It has not only swept over show business, but Newtro has also become the main interest of almost every market. In this article, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will look at what Newtro is, how industries have reacted to it, and what other sides it has.

What Is Newtro?

Newtro, a buzzword combining the words ‘new’ and ‘retro,’ is a new way of enjoying retro. Retro is short for ‘retrospect,’ indicating a trend where people consume products whose style or design are from the recent past. It offers a nostalgic retrospective of the good old days to people who miss them. However, Newtro is a bit different from retro. According to an article in The Korea Times, Choi Se-jung, a Media & Communication Professor at Korea University, described Newtro as a process “which rediscovers, recreates, and shares the value of previous content by actively consuming and playing with it based on people’s individual tastes.” The Newtro trend goes further than merely imitating old content or designs and giving nostalgia to older generations; thus, it is currently winning over fans in their teens and twenties who are always willing to play with something fresh and fun. Prof. Choi also commented that the trend would not disappear for a while. It is now understood as a social phenomenon, not just a random trend in consumption.

Newtro (apnews.kr)

How Is Newtro Expressed?

-90’s Fashion Is Back on the Street

Clothes mean a lot to people as they express their own identity by wearing particular styles or patterns. Thus, studying the fashion industry’s current situation allows us to know whether younger generations, the primary consumers of Newtro, actually adapt the Newtro trend in their real lives. In fact, highfashion brands have already discovered that Newtro styles sell themselves and actively take advantage of the movement. For example, high-fashion brands brought some old fashion styles like big logos back into the market. T-shirts or hoodies with big logos were trendy in the 90s among sports brands like Nike. Brands like Gucci and Balenciaga rediscovered this style and are now churning out big logo products. Big logo products have successfully appealed to teens and those in their twenties, to the point where it is now common to see tons of young people wearing big logo t-shirts with jeans on the streets. By rediscovering what was once a fad in the past, the Newtro boom in the fashion industry allows older generations to feel nostalgic without judging themselves as being outdated. It also helps the younger generations better understand and connect more with the older generations.

Big Logo T-shirt from Gucci (gucci.com)

-Feel the Rhythm of the Past

When talking about what represents the youth the most in South Korea, K-pop is the answer. Through mass media and new media, K-pop constantly appeals to younger generations, and teens and those in their twenties actively consume it, streaming the songs and learning the choreographies. Therefore, K-pop is another critical factor when verifying the power of Newtro. Just like what happened to the fashion industry, K-pop has helped to re-introduce older music styles. For example, popular boy band BTS released an upbeat discopop single called Dynamite which successfully launched into the top ranks of various music charts last summer. Moreover, last autumn, the girl group Twice released a synth-pop song called I Can’t Stop Me and received a lot of positive feedback. Both disco and synth-pop are genres that were once fads in the past, the 70s and 80s respectively. Young people, who have been raised in the mainstream music trends of EDM and hip hop, found these new genres to be fresh and enjoyed listening to them. In fact, a lot of recently released K-pop songs that reinterpreted the old genres not only ranked high on music charts, but their music videos were also heavily viewed on YouTube. This is meaningful since it gives older generations a chance to get interested and listen to K-pop songs that are usually the domain of youth, providing a cultural link between different age groups.

I Can’t Stop Me Album Cover (twiceshop.com)

What Lies Behind Newtro?

-Look to the Past for Comfort

According to Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, people look up to an ideal past through ‘retrotopia,’ a combination of ‘retro’ and ‘utopia,’ as they give up their hopes for a better future due to insecurities and anxieties of a “liquid modern life.” In other words, liquid modernity makes people feel insecure about their present and future, so they want to “go back” to a past which seems relatively stable. As time glorifies the past, this kind of phenomenon is a natural consequence. However, the fact that Newtro is popular among younger generations gives an important message. The Newtro boom indicates that they are tired of the fast-changing modernity and expect psychological comfort via retrotopia. While technology development has brought material affluence to many people, people are suffering from stressful lives due to the longing economic depression and overheated competition. Furthermore, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic has doubled the stresses and insecurities they have. Because of these factors, younger generations in modern days find the present and future dark and gloomy, therefore unconsciously seeking comfort from the past via Newtro. Journalist Simon Reynolds described the situation by saying, “Not only has there never before been a society so obsessed with the cultural artifacts of its immediate past, but there has never before been a society that is able to access the immediate past so easily and so copiously.”

Hopeless by Roy Lichtenstein (mutualart.com)

Superficially, the Newtro boom that is winning over young fans seems like another example of younger generations constantly making new trends, searching for new things to consume. However, when we look deeper, we can see their exhaustion and tiredness with modern society. It seems necessary to study the Newtro trend in-depth as an influential social phenomenon that provides cues about teens and twenties.

허유정  yjheo@g.skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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