Song Review: Boyhood (Nam Donghyun) – Retro Love

It seems like almost overnight, K-pop has shifted its attention to retro sounds. This is no surprise, since the industry loves to borrow from global trends. And with songs like The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights become such huge worldwide hits, it was only a matter of time before K-pop decided to jump on board. Now… you all know how I feel about trends in general, but at least I can get behind this one. If the industry would only revive 80’s revisionists Sweetune, we could have an incredible era on our hands.

Speaking of Sweetune, I can clearly imagine how they would have bettered a song like Boyhood’s Retro Love (레트로러브). I mean, they basically wrote it back in 2016!

Boyhood is the stage name for Nam Donghyun, who is debuting as a soloist after finishing in sixtieth place on Produce X 101 last year. Retro Love is a charming little project — clearly a DIY affair. Its synth-heavy beat stays just shy of ripping off A-Ha’s immortal Take On Me, even going so far as to borrow some of the same chord progressions. But, Retro Love is hardly the only song to have done this. It’s practically a rite of passage when it comes to 80’s pastiches.

Donghyun brings a youthful spunk to the track, even if you can clearly predict every melodic turn it will take. Its chorus is repetitive but catchy, supported by that familiar synth line that draws upon nostalgia for maximum effect. We even get a key change during Retro Love’s climax, which is a nice surprise. But, my favorite part of the track is its second verse, where the instrumental pulls back for a percussive, clap-happy moment. It’s good old-fashioned pop fun, irresistible in its silly giddiness. “I retro love you,” indeed.

 Hooks 8
 Production 8
 Longevity 8
 Bias 9
 RATING 8.25

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3 thoughts on “Song Review: Boyhood (Nam Donghyun) – Retro Love

  1. This song was such a pleasant surprise for me! It took me a minute to realize this was ex-Winner Taehyun’s little brother, and then I started noticing the slight vocal similarities.

    Also, Nick, on the topic of excellent 70s and 80s influenced recent Western releases….there’s an album that came out about a month ago now titled “What’s Your Pleasure?” by singer Jessie Ware, and I have to say, it became one of my favorites of the year after just one listen-through. I would describe it as Future Nostalgia’s older, classier sister, and with production even more faithful to the sounds of disco and synthpop pulled right out of those eras. Every song feels different enough to keep the experience fresh the whole way through, and the album has one of my favorite closing tracks in years. I can’t recommend it enough, and when you’ve got a moment between your frequent write-ups, I think you wouldn’t regret giving it a listen!


  2. Full disclosure: a-ha “Take on Me” was the first 45 single I ever bought, and the first concert I ever went to. Apparently “Take on Me” is the number 1 streamed song on Spotify, to which I say rock on!

    The beginning beat is more Toni Basil “Mickey” than a-ha but once the synth kicks in it becomes a generic beat. At the chord changes, yes, I would be surprised if a letter was not en route from a legal firm in Norway, that is if this song even hits their radar.

    OK, now to the song. Its OK. It does sound very retro. Like many 80’s reboots these days it is missing the absolute critical element of an actual hook.

    80’s songs must have a hook. A single note melody played on a guitar or synthesizer. And some kind of characteristic drum line and bass line. Fewer layers of synths, way fewer – someone would actually have to play the synths in concert, usually only one person, maybe two if you were OMD or such, which means only two or three lines. Also 80’s songs usually had a sung harmony chorus with a backup singer or three, or at the least the guitar player singing backup since he probably wrote the song. And then, even ore important than a mullet and pleather pants, is the instrumental solo break, usually a big fat saxophone wah wah or the guitarist cranking out a riff. Must have instrumental solo, people!


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