Back to the past: K-pop scene goes retro with songs from 90s, 2000s

June 11, 2021

 Taking a trip down memory lane has always been one option for many musicians. But the K-pop scene seems to be increasingly turning to more of these oldies but goodies ahead of summer.

The move comes a year after project group SSAK3 topped domestic music charts. Like its group name “ssaksseuri,” Korean slang for “clean sweep,” it swept the summer music scene in 2020.

The trio — consisting of comedian-emcee Yoo Jae-suk and ’90s-2000s star singers Lee Hyo-ri of girl group FIN.K.L and male soloist Rain — ruled the charts with its remake of summer song “In Summer,” an upbeat dance hit released by Deux in 1994.

More recently, male vocal group SG Wannabe made a splash on the TV show “Hangout with Yoo” as it sang its biggest hits from the mid 2000s. Videos showing the members singing racked up millions of views on YouTube, with watchers commenting how touched they were after seeing the trio’s vocals having matured over the years.

This photo, provided by SM Entertainment, shows a promotional image for Red Velvet member Joy's debut solo single "Hello." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
This image, provided by Ne-eul, shows the digital cover for Chungha and Colde's collaboration "My Lips Like Warm Coffee." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
This photo, provided by Neuron Music, shows the cover for Paul Kim's summer project "School Trip 'Summer: re'." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
These photos, provided by Almighty Records, shows soloist Baek Ji-young (C) and male duo Mighty Mouth. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This photo, provided by SM Entertainment, shows a promotional image for Red Velvet member Joy’s debut solo single “Hello.” (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Now younger acts are also going retro by remaking songs that were popular long before the K-pop scene transformed into the meticulous and glitzy empire it is today.

One singer who seems to be wholeheartedly embracing the trend is Joy of K-pop girl group Red Velvet, a group known for its hypnotic and addictive sound that was considered experimental even in the K-pop industry.

The 24-year-old recently released her first solo EP “Hello,” packed with six tracks from 1996 to 2003, including those that were made before she was born. The tracks range from the chirpy and upbeat main track “Hello,” a remake of Park Hye-kyoung’s 2003 song, to R&B numbers, like As One’s “Day by Day” (1999).

Saying that her priority was to preserve the feel of the original songs, Joy said she referred to magazines and movies from that era, such as the wildly popular romantic comedy “My Sassy Girl” (2001).

“My No. 1 goal was to not damage the sentiment of the original songs. I didn’t want the (remade version) to sound like completely different songs. At the same time, I thought hard about how I could use my voice for a unique edge,” she said in a news conference.

Her strategy hit the mark, with main track “Hello” debuting at No. 1 on some domestic music charts and the album sweeping iTunes top album charts in 26 regions.

Chungha, the feisty soloist who has released hits, like “Gotta Go,” “Stay Tonight” and “Play,” is another singer who recently sang a new version of the 2001 hit “My Lips Like Warm Coffee” by Sharp, one of the few mixed-gender groups that garnered popularity in K-pop’s history.

For the song that remains one of Sharp’s biggest hits, Chungha teamed up with singer-songwriter Colde. The two, both in their 20s, reduced some of the rap parts and added more vocals in the process of changing the group’s song into one for a duet.

The 2021 version by Chungha and Colde landed at No. 1 on domestic music charts, like Genie Music and Bugs Music, upon its release.

Paul Kim, who collaborated with Joy for a Sung Si-kyung song in her debut EP, is another K-pop soloist who borrowed songs from the past for a summer project.

He recently unveiled the summer project “School Trip ‘Summer: re’,” a collection of three remade summer numbers from the late ’90s and early 2000s. They include mixed-gender trio Cool’s 1997 megahit “Love on the Beach,” Sung’s 2002 song “Perfect Match” and male duo UN’s 2001 dance song “Wave.”

Some singers, meanwhile, have decided to release updated versions of songs they sang in the past.

Soloist Baek Ji-young, known for her poignant vocals, and hip-hop duo Mighty Mouth released a new version of their 2010 collaboration “Will Love Ever Come Again” in 11 years. The three added more jazz sounds to the song that was originally released as an electronic dance track fused with hip-hop.

Soloist NS Yoon-G, who has shifted to an acting career, also released her song “If You Love Me” in nine years. The singer, who had initially collaborated with hip-hop musician Jay Park, worked with boy band Monsta X member Joohoney for the 2021 version.