One thing that is possibly one of the most notable differences between mainstream music and K-pop is that K-pop is perhaps dominated not just by solo artist and by group acts as well. It’s fascinating how K-pop is very systematized and organized in a way that it differentiates itself from other countries’ music industries.
One thing that may confuse new fans of K-pop are the different positions or titles given to the members of said groups. Some may not be officially disclosed via their profiles, some may only be mentioned in broadcast, some may only be part of interviews and introductions, and some, a little bit of fan perception. This may create curiosities and questions and so here is the Ultimate Guide to the Different Positions in K-Pop Groups.
The leader is the member in charge of guiding the members in different aspects of being an idol such as in singing, dancing, and simply in daily life. The leader is often the bridge between the members and the company, and so it’s a very difficult position as the leader the one who is always scolded for the sake of the entire group.
As I observed, the appointment of a member with leadership duties may be due to age, training period, or perhaps a mix between the said factors. For example, GFriend’s leader is their eldest sister, Sowon; Twice’s leader is not their eldest but has trained for a long time, Jihyo; while Lovelyz’s leader, Babysoul, is both their eldest and longest serving trainee.
There are also groups without leaders, such as Blackpink and miss A.
There are three types of vocalists that you may encounter in K-pop, namely main vocal, lead vocal, and sub-vocal or just vocal.
The main vocalists are members who has the best singing skills among the group. There are groups with only one main vocalist (e.g. Apink – Eunji), two main vocalists (e.g. VIXX – Ken & Leo), and even three main vocalists (e.g. Gugudan – Sejeong, Haebin, & Soyee). They are usually the members who get the most lines in K-pop songs or the members who are always doing the adlibs and high notes.
Lead vocalists are somehow in an ambiguous position. In easy terms, they are better than other members but are not as good as the main vocalists from when the positions were established. Though they aren’t main vocalists, the leads are usually also very talented singers. During times where the main vocal is not present, the lead vocal takes over and in the instance where the main vocal leaves the group, the lead vocal then gets promoted (e.g. AOA – Choa & Yuna).
Sub-vocalist / Vocalist
Sub-vocals, or just vocals for short, are members that aren’t as skilled in singing as the mains and leads. They cover parts that are not vocally challenging and don’t require much skill. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad at singing, there are just members who are better and more skilled. However, there are instances where the sub-vocals get more parts as they are either visuals, centers, or faces of the group which we will discuss later.
Just like the vocalists, dancers have different types as well namely main dancers, lead dancers, and just a dancer/member of the dance line.
The main dancer is the member with the best dancing skills among the members. They usually get the center parts during dance breaks and parts with challenging dance moves. They are able to express themselves with their bodies not just in words, but in dance. (e.g. Red Velvet – Seulgi)
The lead dancer is a member who is the second best in terms of dancing in the group. The main and lead dancer may take turns in leading the group in difficult dance routines. In the case where the main dancer is not present, the lead dancer usually steps in. (e.g. Lovelyz – Yein)
Just like vocalists and dancers, rappers also have the same set of positions: main rapper, lead rapper, and sub-rapper. It is to be noted that not all rappers in K-pop groups are trained to do rap, some of these are members from groups without rappers that are then forced by the company to rap instead.
The main rapper is the member who gets the most lines of rap in their songs. They are the most skilled in rapping among the members of the group and they usually write their own lyrics to their verses as well. (e.g. VIXX – Ravi)
Like lead dancers and lead vocals, the lead rapper is the second most skilled member in doing rap. They may get the same amount of lines with the main rapper or get less. One thing I noticed is that the lead rapper usually does the rap in between verses whereas the main rapper does the rap during the bridge/final chorus where the momentum is at its peak. (e.g. Drippin – Alex)
Sub-rapper or just rapper, is what we call the members who aren’t main rappers nor lead rappers who get rap lines. Usually, sub-rappers aren’t only limited to doing rap and also sing at times. (e.g. Twice – Momo)
From this point, it gets pretty confusing but i’ll do my best to explain.
The visual is the member who is considered by the company or the members to have the best looking features among the group. There are visuals who are just considered the most good looking but aren’t given the spotlight and exposure, but most of the time they do. (e.g. INFINITE – L)
The group may have one or more visuals (e.g. Golden Child – Bomin, Jaehyun, & Jibeom).
Now center, as its title suggests, is mainly put at the center of the group in performances, photoshoots, or in broadcasts where they usually are seated in a row. The center is primarily chosen by the company for s/he is the member who they want to push for attention or brings more energy by being placed in the middle. (e.g. IZ*ONE – Wonyoung)
The center may be the most good looking member of the group (visual), or not.
FACE OF THE GROUP
The face of the group is the most popular member of the group. We can call this the “quasi-center” as the company often use them as the center for promotional material like concept photos or photoshoots to capitalize their popularity and therefore divert it into the group.
The face of the group might be the visual and the center at the same time. (e.g. Golden Child – Bomin)
This may be unfamiliar even to long time K-pop fans. The matnae is the antithesis of the maknae which means they are the oldest members of the group. As the oldest, they can be the leader (e.g. INFINITE – Sunggyu), but in times when they aren’t, they bring the maturity in the group and exude a sense of leadership different from the appointed member (e.g. Drippin – Hyeop).
The maknae, as we all may know, is the youngest member of the group. S/he can be the main vocal (e.g. Crayon Pop – Soyul), the main dancer (e.g. GOT7 – Yugyeom), and the visual (e.g. miss A – Suzy), but very rarely becomes the leader (e.g. PDE – Blue).
There are some groups which doesn’t have / have limited official positions at all and they are frequently called an all-rounder group. For example, Rocket Punch only has a leader (Yeonhee) and the rest members share the weight of being the main vocal, main dancer, and rapper.
If you’re new to K-pop, you might be pretty confused with all these stuff so I really hope this helped you! It may be very tricky at first, but it’s actually very easy to comprehend.