Thanks to Gen X, Deux is cool again. 'Music from the '90s is more creative and dynamic than today's content'. - Ha Jae-keun, culture critic
Dozens of people in their 30s and 40s wait outside In Between Night and Music, a bar with a small DJ booth in the corner where patrons can walk up and request songs from the 1990s, on Saturday night in Hongdae, western Seoul.
A Saturday night out in Hongdae could make those in their 40s or even 30s feel old, with college students lining up at clubs and partying on the streets. But in this vibrant clubbing district, there's a bar to take refuge in - one that throws it back to the 1990s.
At 8 p.m. last Saturday, dozens dressed in suits and trench coats - definitely not the getup that's going to get you to the front of the line at Club Cocoon - waited outside of an inconspicuous corner bar named In Between Night and Music. Hit Korean songs from the early '90s blasted into the warm evening, the Generation X crowd inside singing along boisterously.
Gen X includes people born from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, although there's no universally agreed upon time frame. For many of them, the '90s marked a youthful period when nearly everyone kicked it in Doc Marten boots and was unreachable unless they had a beeper or stood near a land line.
"I came with my friends from college. All of us here graduated at least a decade ago", said Song Min-ki, 39, who was waiting in line for an hour. "We brought a long list of songs from the '90s to request. It will definitely make us nostalgic for the old days".
Those who joined the line a little later than Song and his friends were told there was at least a two-hour wait for a table.
"We'll probably come back next week and make sure to arrive here before 7:30 p.m"., said Park Sung-soo, 41, who added that he never thought the bar would be this popular.
The joint can only seat about 50 or so people and has a small DJ booth in the corner where patrons can walk up and request songs from a library of vinyl records. There is nothing breathtaking about the layout or menu, which specializes in makgeolli, or Korean rice beer. But customers said the atmosphere created by the music of their generation was enough.
When the DJ played a song by 1990s hip-hop duo Deux upon request by a woman in her late 30s, everyone cheered - some even stood up on their chairs to boogie down.
"There are not many places for us in our late 30s to go, you know. I feel too old to dance among young 20-year-olds in clubs and feel like I'm not old enough to go to adult night clubs or cabarets", said Park Beom-geun, 39. "It's good to have somewhere that's for us Gen X kids".
The power of nostalgia- inducing 'Architecture'
The release of "Architecture 101" in late March and its quick result as a box office smash has added to the recent surge in '90s nostalgia on the peninsula.
The film tells the story of a 35-year-old man's first love, flashing back to the early '90s, when they met for the first time. The flick has reignited throwback fever among Koreans and has made the fashion, music and celebrities of the period cool once again.
The movie drew in more than three million viewers in a month, setting a new record for Korean romance dramas, according to Lotte Entertainment.
Songs from the 1990s, including duo Exhibition's "Etude of Memory" are included on the score. Characters also use pagers, hair mousse and portable CD players. The protagonist is even obsessed with "GEUSS" T-shirts - counterfeits that were popular among Koreans in the 1990s.
Nostalgia-inducing scenes that feature characters expressing awe at a one gigabyte hard drive computer or communicating with each other via land-line telephones also brought the audience back in time.
And the movie's impact on the present-day market is already being felt. Exhibition, the duo known as Jun Ram Hwe in Korea, saw a sudden increase in sales of its first EP, which was released in 1993, by 70 times in April compared to the previous month. Sales of the duo's following EPs are also on the rise.
"The movie 'Architecture 101' has shed new light on the music from the 90s", said Kim Hae-ran, who is in charge of pop songs for the Internet retailer Yes 24.
Yes 24 has temporarily made a page on its official Web site that lists EPs from the 1990s alongside contemporary artists whom are known to emulate the sentiments of the 1990s.
The retailer also held an event for a month, which ended on Monday, in which people wrote a sentence or two about what their favorite tracks from the 1990s were. Through a lucky draw, 10 people won Exhibition's first album.
A netizen who uses the nickname "NeverEnd" wrote, "Back then, people didn't listen to MP3 files or CDs but collected cassettes. Only the ones who were well-off collected CDs. ... I loved groups like Exhibition, 015B, Toy and Panic. I would buy their cassettes and listen to them day and night and worry at the same time that these tapes might get warped".
According to Yes 24, the most popular EPs that were sold through this temporary Web page as of Tuesday include Exhibition's first EP, Kim Kun-mo's 13th EP, Lee So-ra's seventh EP and Kim Dong-ryul's "best of" album. Among the younger, more contemporary singers that reflect the sound of the 90s, John Park, 10cm and Lucid Fall were best-sellers.
"We have collected about 100 comments from netizens and we will soon hold an exhibition of the most talked about EPs of singers", Leem Sue-jung, head of the Product marketing Team of Yes 24.
Stills from the box office hit "Architecture 101", which takes the audience back to the 1990s. The nostalgia-inducing movie features items and fashions of the period. [JoongAng Ilbo]
Hot TV time machine lets '90s actors shine again
So far, the decades depicted in movies or television dramas were almost exclusively the 1970s or 1980s. But recently, more and more television dramas are adding the ninth decade to their retro-reservoir, allowing celebrities who enjoyed their heyday two decades ago to return to the spotlight.
One of the segments of the comedy show "Gag Concert", called the "Great Legacy", has also been one of the most popular programs on television. It makes fun of fallen, nearly forgotten celebrities of the 1990s but then surprises the audience by calling them up to the stage.
Some experts say the throwback wave was sparked by television audition shows, with contestants on "Superstar K", "I Am a Singer" and "K-pop Star" often belting out songs from the 1990s.
Singers such as Shin Seung-hun, Lee Seung-hwan, Lee Eun-mee and Yoon Sang, who were all active and popular in the '90s, came back to the small screen as judges of these programs.
"I like seeing them on television. They are really talented singers and they could be good role models for singers, actors, actresses and entertainers of this generation", said Kim Hyun-sook, 43.
With Gen X now at the center of content creation, it's no wonder the 1990s are staging a comeback, said Song Won-young, director of the production company April Shower Film.
"It is commonly said in the film industry that the heyday of film directors is in their mid- to late-30s, which aligns with the age of the current Generation X. That is why many current film directors producing box office hits have that passion to talk about their generation through their work", said Song, 34.
"The culture of the '90s served as the bridge between the outrageous '80s and the high-tech new millennium. It saw big changes in everything from music to technology. Being the ones who experienced that transformation, I believe Generation X celebrities are less antipathetic to change. That's why they can adjust to the current culture and still be themselves on television".
Critics also say that such revival of the 1990s is taking place as more and more people get tired of the digitalized K-pop culture.
"The industrialization of culture began in the 1990s and the artistic value and commercial viabilities were well-balanced. But from 2000, the commercial potential got maximized and people began to get weary of the whole digitalized culture", said Ha Jae-keun, a pop culture critic.
The revival isn't just being driven by those who lived it the first time around; it is also being reimagined by those who never experienced it, for whom this decade is retro rather than remembered.
Sohn Min-ah, 24, who visited the "In Between Night and Music" bar along with her colleagues who are mostly in their late 30s, said, "I was dragged here but I do really enjoy the music and I like listening to their conversations. I think the '90s culture was very dynamic".
According to Yes 24, a large number of 1990s EPs are being sold to those in their early 20s.
Pop culture critic Ha said that this is because the content from the 1990s is more original and competitive compared to that of today's music market.
"Music from the '90s is more creative and dynamic than today's content, which is heavily geared toward commercialism.
"And for those in their 30s and 40s, this can be something nostalgic, but for the young people, content of the '90s is something fresh, making it not only popular for the older generation but also the young people of today. Yes, I think no one can question the competitiveness of the '90s content".
By Park Sang-moon
By Yim Seung-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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2015 51st PaekSang Arts Awards