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Jannabi, the rising stars sweeping the charts with retro aesthetics

By Yim Hyun-su

  • Published : Apr 25, 2019 - 11:12
  • Updated : Apr 25, 2019 - 11:12

While K-pop continues to enjoy its high-profile status, an indie band with acoustic charm is taking the charts by storm

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A band with a rather peculiar name joined the ranks of BTS and Blackpink on streaming charts last week -- Jannabi, an old-fashioned Korean word for “monkey.”

Consisting of five members who all grew up in the same town and were born the same year, the band is headed by 27-year-old vocalist Choi Jung-hoon, a “Superstar K” reject gone rock star who sports a charming mane of long, wavy black hair.

“Though charts are not everything, I’m happier than ever because I feel like I’ve done our fans proud,” the band wrote on Instagram last week after topping Melon’s daily singles chart. “Rock will never die!”


Having officially debuted in 2014, the band was propelled to stardom with its latest single, “For Lovers Who Hesitate,” which got as high as the No. 2 spot on multiple weekly charts last week. The success of the band’s new album, “Legend,” also saw old songs like “Did You Ever Love Me?” climb as high as No. 2.

Putting things in context, Jannabi had to compete with the likes of BTS -- the superstars released a new album just the week before -- as well as other K-pop heavyweights Blackpink and Taeyeon.

What makes this long-awaited breakout all the more interesting is the band’s retro aesthetics in a South Korean music industry dominated by pop tunes and idol groups. And the band’s penchant for past decades is no secret.

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(Jannabi's Instagram)
“It’s really funny that we’ve always been in love with everything from the 1960s and ’70s, times we haven’t even lived in. We can just feel the time’s vibes, fashion, music and lifestyle,” Choi said during a 2017 interview with Kpop Herald.

On YouTube, the ’80s-themed video for the band’s new single has been showered with praise -- commentators appreciate the effort to recreate the sentimental atmosphere, reminiscent of a time that many of them never got to experience.

“Their songs sound as if a dad in his 50s has time-traveled with his sentiment 30 years ago and sings to his wife in the presence,” one user wrote. Another said the song was made for drinking a can of beer on a park bench.


That reaction may be exactly what Jannabi intended, having once described its Beatles-inspired music as the “sound that comes from your parents’ car.”

While the band is the country’s new radio darling, and is enjoyed by millions, video didn’t kill this radio star.

Radio stars thriving on TV

Earlier this month, the band’s fashionable front-runner -- Choi, known for his retro-hipster look complete with wide trousers and bold prints -- went on the popular MBC TV show “I Live Alone” and showed viewers a more down-to-earth side.


In one scene he was at the laundromat. In another, he made a rather complicated order for pepperoni pizza. He also surprised viewers with his flip phone.

The past two years had been a daily “war” for the band, Choi said on the show, who described his bandmates “relentlessly running” before holding their first concert and releasing their second album.

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(Jannabi's Instagram)
The artists’ hard work seems to have more than paid off as the band, which used to perform in front of just scores of people, recently finished a sold-out nationwide tour.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)