KPOP 101: Breaking Down the Idol Group System

케이팝의 모든것: 메인보컬? 리드보컬? 막내?

케이팝 매니아 일라이가 분석한 아이돌 그룹들의 재미있는 구성 시스템>>

<“When it comes to K-POP, it gets confusing enough trying to learn new names and faces.  When positions come into play, we can sometimes find ourselves lost in the terminology.  This is where I come in to make your job much easier, starting off by breaking down the group dynamic.”>

by Eli Shand

In a K-POP group, you will most likely hear idols use terms such as Main Singer, Lead Rapper, or Visual to describe their duties as a member.  But what does this all mean to us when we see our favorites in action?  This is what I’m here to talk about in this article, so let’s start off with one of the most important bits of information to know: the difference between a Main and a Lead.  To make it short and sweet, the Main is always the asset while the Lead follows and directly supports.

The main vocalists are usually in charge of singing in the chorus and the more difficult parts of the song; therefore they are usually the strongest and most prominent singers.  A couple examples of Main Vocalists include Taeyeon and Jessica of SNSD.  Lead vocalists, in turn, are the other strong singers who tend to have specific verses allotted to them. There isn’t a huge difference, but these members often sing a larger portion of the song in comparison to the Main Vocalists. This can be seen in Sunny, Seohyun and Tiffany’s cases.  The main vocals are also known for having the best range and control, while the lead vocals come in second.  Lead Vocalists are used as the support for the main, and act as the go-to when the Main isn’t able to perform.. These positions are often determined after training for a period of time and experimentation, due to the fact that the Main and Lead Vocalists should have voices that blend well together.

The same “Main versus Lead” concept applies when it comes to dance. There are Main Dancers and Lead Dancers, but it’s a bit easier to visually see the separation.  The Lead Dancers are seen towards the front, especially in the chorus, and basically “lead” the dances. The Main Dancers are usually the people who get a specific part in the choreography and dance breaks, while the Leads act almost as backup

dancers for the Main.  Another interesting fact is that some dance formations sometimes set a few members towards the middle to make the group as a whole seem taller than average. A prime example of this concept is Hyoyeon versus Yoona, both from SNSD.  As most fans know, Hyoyeon is praised as the dancing queen; however, she is usually placed towards the back.  This is where taller members like Sooyoung come up front; these members act as Visuals and by doing so, this creates the illusion that the other members are more similar in height.

The final distinction between Main versus Lead is shown in the rapping positions, but doesn’t follow the same guidelines as the previous two descriptions; I’ll use Big Bang’s GD and TOP as the examples of this here. GD is the Main Rapper, and he usually gets more lines. On the other hand, TOP gets a few less lines and is the Lead, his raps following GD’s. This separation to me isn’t as difficult, but it’s not exactly the same concept; this is because there are Lead Rappers who have skills on par with the main, but they work more as a tag-team partner rather than a support.  Therefore, they work together to come up with their own lyrics to fit the songs that they will be featured on.

So moving from the roles that have a Main versus a Lead; I’ll cover 3 other roles: the Leader, the Visual, and the Maknae.  These roles aren’t as difficult to understand, but there can be confusion surrounding their contributions to the groups.  I’m sure that there are plenty of people who wonder, “Where do they play in the grand scheme of things?”. Therefore, I shall begin with the pivotal role of being a Leader within the K-POP world.

In most teams, or groups in general, there is a Leader or representative of some sort.  These people often demonstrate and give off an air of maturity, and take on responsibility for their fellow group mates.

When talking K-POP, people such as GD and CL, come to mind when we imagine a Leader. Most of the time, these people tend to be one of the older members, however this isn’t always the case due to things such as experience levels and attitude. The Leader acts as a spokesperson, whether it be talking in interviews or to higher-ups in their companies, which means that they have to know how to handle themselves in a reserved manner that will always leave a wonderful impression of the other members as well.  Leaders are charismatic and kind people who will do their best to uphold the reputation and

spirits of fans and fellow members alike.

The term “Visual” usually means an image that we can use to illustrate or accompany something; so the Visual in a K-POP group is usually someone with the face that we can relate to a said group.  The aspects that make a person the perfect fit for the Visual role are dependent on the concept that the group would like to hold, but often times means that the person is quite attractive or has a distinct feature that sticks out in the best way possible.  Siwon of Super Junior is an example of a Visual who is known for his body; which is apparent during the Mr. Simple era. There are also Visuals that stick out due to the “concept” , which can be seen through 2NE1 as a whole.  There’s also the instance where a member is known for a “trademark”, such as Dara’s palm tree hair during “Lollipop” promotions.   In summary, the Visuals are the members who act as the “face” or “eye candy” of a given group.

The final position that I’d like to teach about today would be the “Maknae”, or youngest member.  It’s quite self-explanatory, but members in this position are usually expected to be youthful in appearance and in personality.  Nonetheless, there can be an exception made here for the “Visual Maknaes”, or members who one would think are the youngest but aren’t exactly.  Using Super Junior, most know that Kyuhyun is truly the youngest, but member Ryeowook is known as the “Visual Maknae”.  In a way, the Maknae position is relative to that of a Visual member, and I’ll keep it short and sweet through this.

In closing, I’d like to leave a note by saying that things don’t always follow this model.  Then again, when do things truly stick to a singular, universal pattern?  I feel that this topic is something that has puzzled many fans though the years and I can say that it isn’t all too easy to grasp at all.  My hopes with this article is that you as the reader are now able to see where numerous positions and terms come into place when you’re watching your favorite groups perform.



About writer: Eli is a high school student in Chula Vista who has also interned at Anime Conji, Japan Society,  and the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego.

One comment

  1. When I think of the word Leader I think of Leeteuk!!! LOL. GD&TOP for the win~ I always get the maknae wrong in groups because the actual maknae doesn’t look the youngest XD


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