In a world where everything changes rapidly daily, with the development of technology, our lifestyle has become simple and rich enough to enable desired information and shopping with just one or two searches and clicks. However, our current cultural trends are rather showing a nostalgic appearance. In abundance, people feel loneliness and emptiness more than ever, missing emotional stability and nostalgia. Following these emotional changes, a new word called, ‘NEWTRO’, a combination of new and retro, is created and a trend with new emotions and tastes has been created. Through this article, let’s learn about this new culture, Newtro, with various examples and views contained in it.
The revival of retro sensibility
The trend of ‘Retroism’, yearning for the past is a big spread in recent trends. This trend has been found in many industries, including fashion and music. The word ‘sentimental’ is stuck to every word like a prefix, spreading various retro fads in our society. Retro is a word derived from the front part of ‘retrospect’, which means ‘memory’ and includes the meaning of recollection. As such, Retroism has always existed, but consumers’ reactions vary depending on when and in what form these trends appear in the market. The digital transformation is one major cause for the change in perception of the meaning and value of retro and the center of social background. The rapidly changing environment with digital convergence has served somehow as a source of anxiety for people, causing fatigue and emptiness even though we are in a convenient digital era. So people tried to get away from the convenience of digital and find emotional stability with analog sensibilities that are a little bit annoying and time-consuming. The difference between the current young MZ generation and the middle-aged in the process of accepting retro is that they have no memories of the past. The MZ generation is a combination of millennials and the Z generation who was born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s. As of the National Statistical Office in 2019, they account for 33.7% of the total population of Korea and are considered important in corporate and marketing because they are the generation that leads the trend. In other words, the definition of retro for the older generation is “recalling and enjoying what we have experienced before”, the retro of the MZ generation is “enjoying what we have not experienced as if we have experienced it before”.
The word ‘Newtro’ is a combination of new and retro, a concept of summoning old things and applying them to modern values. The meaning of ‘Retro’ is nostalgia and retro, so no separate definition is needed. However, the definition of Newtro is, to accept based on interest rather than nostalgia. For example, people born in the 1990s prefer to consume materials that were popular in the 70s and 80s. Denim fashion, mutton materials, and bootcut designs experienced by teenagers or 20s who were fashion-conscious consumers at that time became popular for several years, and other styles became popular again. And then after 20-30 years, clothes of similar materials and styles reappeared. Consumers in their mid to late 40s began to buy and wear such clothes because they remembered the young and lively times of the past, and today's younger generation accepts retro for their different styles and designs. In other words, the concept of "Newtro" has emerged in that the younger generation accepts it without feeling nostalgic. Newtro, led by the MZ generation, begins by reinterpreting and interpreting past cultures that they have never experienced before as new and fresh. Since the MZ generation places importance on unique experiences, Newtro culture is gaining huge popularity among them. As an example, it can be confirmed through the resurgence of the LP market, which had disappeared due to the advent of digital sound equipment. According to Yes24, which provides various cultural contents and services, LP sales in 2020 increased by more than 106% compared to 2019, with 21.2% of LP buyers in their 20s and 31.7% in their 30s, accounting for more than half of the purchases. Alternatively, the Newtro trend can also be seen in re-trends such as scrunchies, tong pins, and cropped T-shirts. Such examples show that young people accept these old items as they become popular again with designs that add a recent sense.
One of the reasons why Newtro culture has recently gained huge popularity is the prolonged spread of the new covid-19 infections. The prolonged COVID-19 has increased time spent at home, boredom with familiar cultures, and an increased tendency to seek newness. Newtro's analog sensibility was enough to give freshness to the younger generation who were used to digital. On the other hand, middle-aged and elderly people also use Newtros as a means to reflect on their memories and feel nostalgic. Or, the reality that the younger generation is facing today seeks fun through the past. From teenagers studying for college entrance exams to those in their 20s studying for employment, the past, which they have never experienced in person, seemed fun and excited. There is a sense of psychological stability given by the old. According to a survey of 2,000 adult men and women conducted by Trend Monitor, 80 percent of respondents said they feel warm when exposed to retro culture. The retro code that the younger generation seeks is enthusiastic, mainly bright, cute, and fun things. In particular, memories tend to be remained beautiful and exaggerated in our minds, and this tendency is even stronger in the Newtro consumption code. Consuming modestly kitschy, rustic materials even if not sophisticated, rather generous about things with simple skills and functions. This gives a kind of psychological advantage or comfort that perhaps the present is more advanced than the past, although I am bored and frustrated in reality. In other words, it gives the feeling of mental satisfaction and comfort from the old and imperfections unique to the old. In addition, the characteristics of the MZ generation, which values individuals more than the old generation and pursues new and interesting things, are another cause of the Newtro trend. They don't have a nostalgia for retro style, but they enjoy the pleasure of the Newtro, which twists traditional and typical things. As they enjoy the old generation’s style and sensibility without dismissing it as boring, it approves that they are the generation with high cultural acceptance.
Several examples of Newtro marketing
In this way, if retro reproduces and consumes past content while remembering the past, Newtro is to reinterpret the past into modern value and experience newness. Newtro needs to be new and integrated with the past, and for the younger generation to be interested in the past stories that older generations have encountered, modern elements that fit their sensibilities must be integrated. When there is a point of contact with them, the younger generations get curious, want new experiences, and consume. So companies must keep these characteristics in mind. Recently, a variety of Newtro products created by companies aimed at these points have become popular.
After the advent of the trending keyword called Newtro, there have been more strategies to revitalize cities by planning events with the concept of Newtro in various parts of the country. Instead of changing it all from the beginning with urban development, modern buildings and houses are revived, creating places that fuse the old and modern novelty of the past. Representatively, Ikseon-dong, Eulji-ro, and Seongsu-dong have emerged as hot places with Newtro characteristics. Ikseon-dong is a place where cafes, restaurants, and design shops are huddled together, taking advantage of the characteristics of the hanok shape, and structure with narrow alleys, making it a happy neighborhood just by walking. Eulji-ro, close to Ikseon-dong, makes use of the historical characteristics of the region and becomes a popular place. These relatively old and declining alley districts have been revived as a feature of the MZ generation, which pursues a unique personality with a Newtro sensibility. In addition, Seongsu-dong recycled old spaces such as factories and warehouses, converging new cultural contents like gallery-type warehouse cafes. Instead of abandoning and demolishing old things, Newtro spaces are drawing attention from the public as they reinterpret the places and stories that stayed in the past with new values, emerging as spots that contain old stories of space and accumulated time. The recycling of historical structures conveys the potential value that cannot be experienced in modern space to current and future generations.
Hite Jinro's ‘Jinro Is Back’ has gained popularity by targeting the younger generation by reproducing Jinro’s 70s and 80s packages and labels in a modern way. Jinro Is Back, which reflects the legitimacy of the Jinro, provides a new feeling and fun for the younger generation with labels, bottle shapes, and bottle colors. Hite Jinro also actively promotes advertisements and characters to strengthen its young and trendy image. This design restoration was carried out to capture those in their 20s who feel new and interesting in old sensibilities while adding a modern sense. As of June 2021, Jinro Is Back has sold more than 740 million units in cumulative monthly sales, proving its huge popularity. Dongseo Food Maxim, the originator of the coffee mix product, also summoned Maxim Coffee Mix Retro Edition, causing ashortage of retro editions. "Maxim Coffee Mix Retro Edition" released by Dongseo Foods is a limited-edition product aimed at the MZ generation, who feels different charms and interest in the retro style of an old product. It stimulated retro sensibilities by using red thermos of memories and wearing clothes that were popular in the 1980s to give off the old atmosphere and using old-style comments. By using nostalgic old red thermos as a prop and wearing clothes that were popular in the 1980s, it gave off an old vibe and old-style comments stimulated retro sensibility.
Mass culture is also in Newtro. Newtro style’s music and broadcasting swept across the culture at the center of fashion, leading mass culture. With a series of new retro-inspired dramas, entertainment programs, and new songs, it is gaining popularity among the public of a wide range of ages, men, and women. The popular TVN drama "Twenty-Five Twenty-One” which ended in April, was so popular that it received 10.9 percent viewership with the background of the late 1990s when the currency crisis hit in Korea. At the heart of its popularity, there was retro sensibility. Na Hee-do, the main character of the drama, collects bread stickers and ties her hair with scrunchies. In addition, it provided fun to look at various props of that time, such as a beeper, a brick cell phone, and comic books. Not only in the broadcasting industry but also in the music industry, retro-style new songs and singers with this concept are setting the stage by riding on the Newtro trend. The new song "Thank You," released by girl group Brave Girls in March, is also a retro pop genre song featuring disco-punk rhythms. Also, there is an active movement to "remake" hidden masterpieces from the past. At the top 10 of Gaon Chart's latest weekly chart in March, which counts the usage of domestic music sites, MeloMance Kim Minseok's "Drunken Confession" and Lim Youngwoong's "Love Always Runs Away" were on the list. All these songs are reinterpreted songs that were popular in the past. These Newtro flows are indispensable even in overseas music markets. Bruno Mars, who had sweet pop songs such as "Marry Me" at the beginning of his debut, now focuses on punk songs such as "Treasure" and "uptown funk." A song, "abcdefu" is also based on pop-punk in the early 2000s which turned unknown singer Gail into a star in an instant. Harry Styles' new song, "as it was" which was ranked 2nd on the Billboard single chart, is a song that is reinterpreted into his style using the old instrument called a synthesizer.
Newtro boom is also essential in the fashion industry. Newtro fashion these days, as feedback on the past, is leading a trend with a combination of rustic and street vibes. Newtro fashion is no longer the rustic of the past but symbolized by the novelty of the era and valued highly. Retro-style items such as pants chains, ring earrings, and round glasses have been transformed into fashion items deeply established in everyday life. As the saying goes, "Fashion goes round and round," the fashion of the 70s and 80s goes round and round and completes the current Newtro fashion. The influence of retro trends such as dad's jacket fit blazer, cargo pants, jar shape skirt, and denim fashion are commonly seen. According to Kakao Style, mobile fashion content, the items that were popular in the past are drawing attention again as the number of ‘Bolero’ searches, which had disappeared for a while, surged 22 times in 2021 compared to the previous year. Luxury brands are also launching a variety of items to reflect this trend. In particular, they are introducing vintage-style products targeting the MZ generation who newly accepts the past design and sensibility. As an example, Prada's "Prada Cleo Brushed Leather Shoulder Bag" is a new reinterpretation of the half-moon-shaped hobo bag design that was popular in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Various views on the trend of Newtro culture
In this way, the Newtro culture allows us to share experiences between generations and also plays a role in reducing the gap that inevitably occurred in generation differences. It provides an opportunity for the new generation to enjoy the culture experienced by the older generation. Through the Newtro culture, the older generation can feel nostalgic and the MZ generation can experience freshness. Kim Han-sol, a college student who enjoys using film cameras, said in an interview, "I bought a film camera because I wanted to remember even the small scenes more special." Regarding the reason for using a film camera, he said, "It is more complicated than a digital camera, but it is attractive that analog films have good sensitivity and need to take each cut." Seo Yong-gu, a professor of business administration at Sookmyung Women's University, said, "The economic recession and boom are repeated, and during the recession, we have nostalgic about the past and wish to take comfort from the past." In addition, he explained, "With low economic growth becoming a new normal, the emotions of the MZ generation became unstable, and things of the past such as songs and fashion from the 90s are being revived."
There are cultural benefits brought by Newtro trend, but on the contrary, there have been voices of experts concerned about this cultural phenomenon. Professor Seo Yong-gu explained the popularity of Newtro but expressed his opinion that "consumers should be careful of deceit on their own" about the situation in which companies are profiting by taking advantage of the fact that Newtro is a consumption trend. Koo Hye-Kyung, a professor at Chungnam National University, answered inquiries about, "What is needed to rediscover and spread our forgotten culture, not just as retro." The attention and interest of the younger generation are what brought about the activation of the present Newtro, and the return to the past always tends to be strong when nowadays life is hard and difficult to live. She also said that rediscovering and spreading our forgotten culture itself is important and meaningful, but the discovery and spread of our culture should proceed regardless of Newtro. In addition to the positive reviews that retro culture reduces the generation gap, some voices are concerned that culture should be developed through recreation rather than just reproducing the past. In particular, Simon Reynolds, a prominent British critic, strongly criticized retro culture in his book "Retro Mania." He added, "Did culture lose its power to move forward because it clung to nostalgia, or is it nostalgic in an era when the culture was no longer moving forward when it was decisive and dynamic?" In other words, if retro is not supported by reinvention, it does not have more implications than perfect reproduction or reenactment. Therefore, the various legacies of the past that can be used at any time can lead to a decline in quality if it becomes the whole of culture. He said he hopes that the 'past sickness' that has captured popular culture will extend to creating more value than self-replication.
As the digital era accelerates, people are more enthusiastic about ‘Newtro’, which reminds them of the meaning and value of the old that influences people’s emotions and creative sensibilities. Currently, 'Newtro' is closely related to social and economic aspects and is used in various ways. The current appearance of products and spaces, which were considered old and rustic, meeting modern sensibilities and becoming a trend, fully proves this. Now is the time to accept Newtro as a culture and create it as a new value beyond simple reproduction.