Back In The Day: Nostalgia in K-pop

While K-pop remains a subculture in many places, it tends to attract a wide variety of fans.  One of the reasons for such appeal is that K-pop provides a sense of nostalgia on several levels, a feat not easily achieved in the pop music world.

Last year’s g.o.d show in Los Angeles shows that K-pop fans experience different levels of nostalgia.  A first-generation K-pop group who debuted in 1998,  the group has generated a loyal fanbase over the years. Many of those early g.o.d experience nostalgia for the group that revolves around memories and feeling associated with being fans of the group during its early active years.

During the concert at the Staples Center, members of the audience reacted positively to older songs of g.o.d, songs that were not necessarily promotional tracks, but were nevertheless embraced by fans.  When g.o.d performed an extended version of “Report to the Dance Floor,” the crowd was ecstatic.  While there is always a certain amount of fan-artist interaction at a K-pop concert, fan reaction at the g.o.d concert was especially interesting, given that g.o.d had released their last album 10 years prior to the 2014 release of Chapter 8.

The reaction of the fans also suggests a different meaning for g.o.d fans. The majority of the audience at the LA show knew the words to most of the g.o.d setlist.The reactions to g.o.d for long-time fans are grounded in the memories they have of being fans early in g.o.d’s career.  That sense of nostalgia was referenced in the K-drama Reply 1994, which used g.o.d’s first hit “Observation”:

However, there is another level of nostalgia at play in g.o.d’s music.  “Observation” uses a sample from Yaz‘s 1982 track, “Don’t Go.” Yaz was a British group made up of Vincent Clarke, former member of Depeche Mode, and Alison Moyet. A person familiar with 80s’ new wave would immediately recognize the iconic synthesizer intro of  “Don’t Go” in g.o.d’s version.  This creates a sense of nostalgia for individuals who grew up in the 80s, who have fond memories and emotions associated with the time. I definitely remember “Don’t Go” being in heavy rotation on MTV in the 1980s.

There is yet a third level of nostalgia that g.o.d elicits. During live performances of “Observation,” another sample is inserted as a bridge, allowing the group to engage in choreography.  That sample is from the 1975 hit “Love Rollercoaster” by The Ohio Players.  Because the song is a staple in the funk music tradition, many African Americans would experience a different sense of nostalgia upon hearing this sample, one that may not be shared by veteran g.o.d fans.  I know no cookout was complete unless somebody put on The Ohio Players. As a group, g.o.d is no stranger to funk and disco, as their music frequently draws from these genres. In doing so, their music  generates a different sense of nostalgia.

While g.o.d achieves multiple levels of nostalgia through sampling, other K-pop groups achieve it through sounds often described as being from “back in the day.” While g.o.d’s music elicits different levels of nostalgia, the idea of “back in the day” is pretty standard; it seems to refer to the same “day,” a sonic experience that many people would locate in the past.

On Supreme Team‘s “그 때/Geudae” (feat. Brian) from their album Supremier, the lyric at the end of the song declares that the song is “taking them back in the day.”  It’s a sound that feels like you’ve heard it before:

The same thing happens at the beginning of Topp Dogg’s “Annie,” where the intro suggests that the song is “taking you back to the old school:”

While some might describe such references as imitative, the fact is that many K-pop fans like these sonic throwbacks to the past. Those who are knowledgeable about other musical traditions see such allusions as refreshing, especially in the current pop music landscape where such sounds are not plentiful. They also see it as preserving such musical traditions, and as a result, are helping preserve those musical legacies.  What is really interesting is that K-pop does this all the time, simultaneously creating different levels of nostalgia and uniting different people in the same sense of nostalgia.


“GOD is BACK 콘서트 | Report to the Dance Floor.” YouTube. 12 Jan 2014. Web. 10 Jan 2015.

“[HD] 131230 G.O.D – Observation Cut @ Reply 1994 Drama (Episode 19) (GOD | 지오디).” YouTube. 29 Dec 2013. Web. 10 Jan 2015.

“[MV] 탑독 (ToppDogg) – 애니(Annie).” YouTube. 23 Oct 2014. Web. 10 Jan 2015.

“Supreme Team – 그 때 (Feat. 브라이언).” YouTube. 18 Jan 2013. Web. 10 Jan 2015.

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Back In The Day: Nostalgia in K-pop by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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