K-Pop In 2016 Is All About the '90s: SHINee, I.O.I, SechsKies & More


SHINee performs at KCON LA 2016

With velvet back in fashion and a Clinton running for president, it already seems a lot like the 1990s -- but Korea’s taking the ‘90s nostalgia even further. Between idol groups trying their hand at recreating the sound of the era and some of Korea’s most popular first generation K-pop acts making comebacks, the throwback is very real. 

Even though K-pop takes a lot of inspiration from the boy bands and girl groups of the ‘90s, the recent spin toward the decade began in earnest in August with girl group I.O.I’s latest song. “Whatta Man (Good Man)” was an updated take on Salt-N Pepa and En Vogue’s Grammy-nominated 1993 single, which was in turn a throwback to Linda Lyndell's “What a Man” from the ‘60s. I.O.I’s music video became one of the most watched K-pop videos of August as fans from around the globe watched them don ‘90s-evoking chokers and leather micro-minis.

But I.O.I wasn’t the only act borrowing from 1993 in August. CL’s “Lifted” sampled Wu-Tang Clan’s “Method Man” from the same year and even featured Method Man in the music video. As CL’s first song formally aimed at the English-language music market, “Lifted” garnered a lot of attention, including an appearance on The Late Late Show With James Corden, and recently landed her on the Billboard Hot 100

September, a surprisingly quiet time for K-pop in comparison to how the month typically plays out, saw little movement regarding the retro resurgence, but SHINee roared into October with the best ‘90s boy band style that the world has seen since the clock struck midnight on Dec. 31, 1999. The era’s sound largely influenced the group’s latest album 1 of 1, especially the title track with its modern take on new jack swing and New Kids on the Block-esque style. 1 of 1 continued SHINee’s streak as one of K-pop’s most inspired acts and landed the group in the No. 2 spot on the World Album chart this week.

But while inspiration from the era is a wonderful thing, old school K-pop fans got a treat last week from two of the ‘90s most iconic acts.

On Oct. 3, K-pop’s first popular girl group S.E.S announced they’d be returning next year with an album to celebrate their 1997 debut. Four days later, boy band SechsKies returned after 16 years with a new single, “Three Words.” Part of the first generation of K-pop idols, SechsKies rose to fame quickly after releasing their first album School Song and became the main competitor to K-pop’s first boy band H.O.T. before surprising fans by disbanding suddenly in 2000 at the height of their popularity. “Three Words,” a mid-tempo ballad that differed sharply from the hip hop inspired dance sound the group was primarily known for during their heyday, ended up reigniting ‘90s nostalgia even more. Take a look at the video now to see what a first generation K-pop group looks like in 2016.