Every K-Pop group has assigned roles that determine line distribution, screen time, and even where each member appears in a group photo. Here’s everything you need to know.
Most, but not all, K-Pop groups have a leader who is either assigned by the groups’ company or chosen by the groups’ members. The leader is usually, but not always, the eldest member or the member with the most training experience. Alternatively, the leader can be chosen from the middle of the group, as a bridge between the older and younger members. Age-wise, BIGBANG leader G-Dragon is right in the middle of his 5-member group. He also spent 11 years as a trainee!
No matter their age or training experience, leaders are expected to be mature, responsible, and charismatic, since they are tasked with taking care of their members and representing them at public functions. Leaders also serve as mediators when members have disputes. BTS‘s leader RM exhibits all of these leadership qualities, and he also takes on the role of his group’s translator.
BLACKPINK is one example of a group that does not have an official leader.
2. Lead Vocalist
Depending on the group’s size, there may be more than one lead vocalist in a group. Jeongyeon and Nayeon are both lead vocalists in TWICE.
The term “lead vocalist” can be confusing, because it’s not the same as a “lead singer” in western bands. The lead vocalist is actually secondary to the main vocalist but takes the vocal lead in songs by singing before the main vocalist(s) during verses. They may also sing the chorus with support from the main vocalist(s), especially during vibrato parts. One thing that sets them apart is their ability to consistently reach, at minimum, one higher or lower octave than the group’s other vocalists. Lead vocalists can also substitute the main vocalist in the event of sickness or injury.
3. Main Vocalist
Within a group, there can be one or more main vocalists, depending on the size and needs of the group. Taeyeon is the main vocalist in her group, Girls’ Generation.
The main vocalist usually receives the majority of vocal lines per song, especially the most challenging ones, because of their broad and steady vocal range. They often support the lead vocalist during the chorus and are also more likely to receive solo parts than sub vocalists are. Lia is the main vocalist for ITZY.
4. Sub Vocalist
The sub vocalist(s), also known simply as the vocalist, supports main and lead vocalists. Their vocals may only be heard for a few seconds in each song, but they help to move the song forward by providing an additional link between the main and lead vocalists.
5. Lead Rapper
The roles of rappers are similar to those of vocalists; there are lead rappers, main rappers, and sub rappers, but the line distribution may become interchangeable for rappers in groups that only have main and sub rappers, rather than lead, main, and sub rappers.
Like the lead vocalist, the lead rapper is considered secondary to the main, not necessarily in terms of skill but in terms of how many lines they receive per song. In groups that have three types of rappers, lead rappers usually only have one verse per song, and they often rap with the main rapper during other parts.
6. Main Rapper
Main rappers like iKON‘s Bobby are considered to have the best technique and rapping prowess in their group. Like main vocalists, main rappers get the lion’s share of parts, and they often receive more than one verse, depending on the song’s structure.
7. Sub Rapper
Like the sub vocalist, the sub rapper receives the least lines and their primary role is to support the main rapper(s) and lead rapper(s). BTS’s Jungkook has multiple roles in his group, including sub rapper.
8. Lead Dancer
A lead dancer like SHINee‘s Key leads the group’s choreography by dancing at the front of the group during group formations. Lead dancers are very skilled but are considered secondary to the main dancer, usually have few vocal lines, and are often spotted dancing near the group’s main dancer.
9. Main Dancer
The main dancer is expected to have superior dancing skills and usually focuses less on singing. They can be spotted front and center during a dance break, and are the most likely dancers to receive solos.
Main dancers sometimes take on the role of teachers and help other members during practice, and some may even contribute to creating the group’s choreography.
Fans often wonder how K-Pop companies can assign the role of visual when every single member is drop-dead gorgeous, however, it isn’t unusual for groups to have multiple visuals. Visuals are considered the most attractive member of the group and/or have distinctive looks that set them apart. They are often hired for endorsements and are placed center in group photos because of their striking appearance. The visual can be, but isn’t always, the face of the group.
11. Face of the Group
The groups’ leader leads the members in terms of his/her actions, but the face of the group leads the group visually. The face of the group may be the visual, but they are–more often than not–the most popular member of the group. The face of the group will appear close to the center in group photos, and they are often styled in distinct outfits that will make them stand out from the rest of the group. In the music videos, they receive a larger majority of screen time.
Unlike the other positions, this one is assigned at birth. The maknae is always the youngest member of their group and they are considered to be the “baby” of their K-Pop family. Some maknaes have a reputation for being cute and shy in comparison to their older members, but this isn’t always the case. There are also “evil maknaes”, like GOT7‘s Yugyeom, who are known to playfully pick on their older members.