The music scene is rife with throwbacks these days, and K-pop is no exception. We’ve been seeing retro concepts galore, perhaps because 2020 has been such a difficult year: what better time to immerse ourselves in the sounds and styles of better years past? From the jazzy swing of the 1920s to the disco and synths of the ’80s, up to the more recent hip hop of the ’90s, this year’s K-pop has explored throwback concepts and sounds from across the decades. So in no particular order, here are 16 diverse, must-hear retro K-pop songs of 2020!
1. “When We Disco” — Park Jin Young and Sunmi
Since her time with the Wonder Girls, Sunmi has been no stranger to retro, a trend she revisited earlier this year with her city pop “pporappippam.” As for JYP Entertainment founder Park Jin Young… well, he’s been making music for decades! The two came together for the duet “When We Disco,” which, true to its name, embraces the ’80s dance trend as well as Korea’s trot genre.
2. “LA DI DA” — EVERGLOW
EVERGLOW proclaims that they “got no time for haters” in the irresistibly catchy “LA DI DA,” an electropop track with an unmistakably ’80s instrumental. It’s a bold and experimental statement yet also on-brand for this characteristically fierce girl group, demonstrating their ability to own a variety of concepts!
3. “HOME;RUN” — SEVENTEEN
While most groups are opting for more recent decades, SEVENTEEN is batting us way back to the 1920s with “HOME;RUN,” an energetic swing-style tune that is a perfect fit for the group’s sound. In the music video, the guys don retro-inspired suits and dance their way through several vintage sets, from an old-fashioned train to a bowling alley. They even managed to blend in some Asian instrumentals before the last chorus of this jazzy hit!
4. “MAGO” — GFRIEND
GFRIEND’s take on the disco concept is the glittery, glamorous “MAGO,” a track about taking charge of one’s life. In both the song and its dazzling music video, the ladies are commanding and self-assured as they show off their disco moves in various retro party sets, and in gorgeous classy vintage outfits!
5. “Diver” — Oh My Girl’s YooA
Oh My Girl’s YooA made her solo debut with “Bon Voyage” this year, but “Diver” is the hidden gem of her first mini album. The singer shows off an edgier side in this funky retro track, which has an old-school percussiveness complemented by layered refrains of YooA’s catchy vocal riffs. You don’t want to miss this one!
6. “Pump It Up” — Golden Child
Golden Child might just win the award for the most feel-good throwback of 2020 with “Pump It Up.” The dance track’s retro vibe is subtle, simply because it feels so classic and timeless. “Pump It Up” is reminiscent of the bubblegum pop of years past, but offers something fresh that will make this one worth listening to for years to come!
7. “Dingga” — MAMAMOO
The phrase “dingga dingga” represents the sound of strumming on guitar strings, and is used to describe lazily having a good time — and the ladies of MAMAMOO do just that in this roller derby themed music video! “Dingga” is complete with retro synths, a funky beat, and a killer dance break.
8. “Dynamite” — BTS
“Dynamite” hardly needs an introduction: the track is catchy disco-pop fun, with some disco-themed outfits and choreography for good measure. This record-breaking English hit brought us some much-needed cheer this year, and BTS even released a ’70s Remix of the song with a retro-style music video!
9. “We Ride” — Brave Girls
Brave Girls takes us for a drive back in time with “We Ride,” a breezy city pop track that borrows its sound from the ’80s. This song is a smooth ride all around: easy listening with a classically retro-themed music video to match!
10. “HEADACHE” — B.A.P’s Jongup feat. YUNHWAY
Despite being called “HEADACHE,” this track from Jongup is fun, easy listening through and through! It’s the groovy beats that give “HEADACHE” its retro sound, but the vintage music video and outfits, which the singer flawlessly pulls off, add to the effect. It’s a solid, catchy, and highly underrated solo debut for Jongup!
11. “SOUL LADY” — Yukika
If you’re digging the retro trend in K-pop, you should definitely check out Yukika! The singer is no stranger to vintage sounds, as her 2020 album “Soul Lady” can attest to. The title song, “SOUL LADY,” is a silky city pop track that feels as if it came right from the ’80s.
12. “Beach Again” — SSAK3
’90s-themed group SSAK3 was formed on MBC’s “How Do You Play?” and features Yoo Jae Suk, Lee Hyori, and Rain (as “Yoo Dragon,” “Linda G,” and “B-Ryong,” respectively). “Beach Again” is pure retro summer fun, with a light and breezy feel that’s bound to make you nostalgic. Plus, this MV has a vintage wardrobe that will make you want to break out your best neon!
13. “1 Billion Views” — EXO-SC Feat. MOON
EXO’s Sehun and Chanyeol are the definition of chill in this fresh retro track. “1 Billion Views” combines old-school hip hop with disco beats, all wrapped up in one vintage, psychedelic MV. From the funky guitar sounds to the rapper duo’s velvety crooning, this one is a treat for the ears!
14. “LALALILALA” — APRIL
APRIL hits just the right balance between retro and fresh in “LALALILALA.” The song’s ’80s instrumental is not overpowering enough to call it a full-blown throwback, but these retro synths combine with a catchy melody to make the track new and exciting. “LALAILALA” is worth listening to again and again!
15. “90’s Love” — NCT U
We know which decade NCT U is throwing it back to thanks to the title “90’s Love,” and this old-school hip hop track doesn’t disappoint! The group described the song as “newtro,” or new retro, for its blending of retro ’90s elements with more contemporary sounds. But it’s the DJ scratches and vintage percussions that make this one unmistakably nostalgic.
16. “I CAN’T STOP ME” — TWICE
There’s no better way to close out this list than with TWICE’s “I CAN’T STOP ME,” which embraces synthwave pop sounds from the 1980s for an immersive retro feel. The synths sparkle on the verses and offer a darker sound on the chorus: it’s a more mature sound for TWICE, and they pull it off in style!
Can’t get enough of the retro trend? Here are some subtler takes on vintage sounds you’ll love: AKMU member Lee Suhyun’s “Alien,” fromis_9’s “Feel Good (SECRET CODE),” TXT’s “Blue Hour,” LOONA’s “Voice“, Apink’s “Dumhdurum,” B1A4’s “Like a Movie,” and DONGKIZ I:KAN’s “Y.O.U.”
Hey Soompiers, what do you think of the retro trend in K-pop? Which of these styles is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
hgordon stays up way too late on weeknights marathoning K-dramas and trying to keep up with the latest K-pop releases.
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