Step 4: How is KPop? Idol groups & their structure

If you have some experience with KPop – seen some music videos, researched some stuff – you might have noticed that different members have different tasks inside their respective group. But what tasks, positions are there? What do they really mean?

KPop Group Sizes (Data from 114 Groups)

KPop Group Sizes (Data from 114 Groups)

Let’s start with the number of members: The average KPop group has between 4 to 6 members. As you might have noticed, most KPop groups have members who are all of the same gender. Groups of mixed gender are very rare – so are solo artists. But to that again another time! Now – these 4-6 members – who does what? And what happens when there are… 9 or… 13 members?

The Leader

KPop Leaders

Famous KPop Group Leaders

In most KPop groups there is a group leader. Most of the time the leader will be the oldest member of the group or at least one of the older members. In other cases not the oldest member was chosen, but a member who was in-between the various ages in the group and thus able to connect both to the older and younger members. A leader is expected to be mature and charismatic and be able to handle the attention and focus that is often on them. Their most important task is to take care of the other members, to motivate the group and to represent them in various ways (speaking on stage/interviews). Many groups actually live together in dorms after debuting and need to get along – thus needing a mediator and someone ensuring group harmony.

In a few cases there are leader-less groups. Some have adopted a concept to keep all members “equal” by not officially appointing a leader (e.g. JYP‘s Miss A). In other cases the former leader has left the group (JYP‘s 2PM) or in the rather unique case of JYJ, all members separated from their earlier group, leaving the leader behind and not officially chose a new leader.

If you want to learn the names of several of the most famous KPop group leaders (or test your already existent knowledge) – try our KPop Group Leader Quiz.

The Vocalist(s)

KPop Vocalists

Famous KPop Vocalists

Yes, it does help if you can actually sing when you are a kpop idol. Members with the strongest vocal abilities get picked to be a Vocalist. Many groups have several vocalists, so there is often an official hierarchy of who gets to sing 1st and how much of a song:

  1. The Main Vocalist – member who often (but not always) gets a lot of lines to sing in a song, sings the vocally challenging parts,  has the strongest vocal ability, likely to receive solo parts
  2. The Lead Vocalist – during verses usually sings before the Main Vocalist (“leads” into the song), often sings the chorus (backed by the Main Vocalist), substitute for the Main Vocalist in case of sickness/injury/etc.
  3. The Sub Vocalist – supports Main and Lead Vocalist, gets only few lines of the song

In a group with numerous members there are often several Sub Vocalists and/or Lead Vocalists and even several Main Vocalists. In other groups song parts might be differently distributed, less planned and there might be no clear distinction between Vocalists.

The Rapper(s)

KPop Rappers

Famous KPop Rappers

Rappers and Rapping is an essential part of most KPop group’s music. Some might focus on rap and have more of an Hip-Hop orientated style (e.g. YG‘s Big Bang or Block B), while other groups will have more singing than rapping (e.g. Starship‘s Sistar or Woollim’s Infinite). Just like with the vocalists, there is a hierarchy, if a group has more than one rapper.

  1. The Main Rapper – gets most of the rapping parts, supposed to be the one with the best technique and rapping skills
  2. The Lead Rapper – usually begins rapping parts, skills supposed to be good, too, but 2nd to the Main Rapper

Some groups don’t have rappers, but it’s common practice to have at least 1 included in the group.

The Dancer(s)

KPop Dancers

Famous KPop Dancers

You have probably seen a KPop music video before – in which almost always you can see the group dancing and most of the time all of them dance. So aren’t they all dancers? Yes, sure, but some will – during performances and in music videos – be more in the background, while others will get more difficult parts and even solo dances. Again, the familiar hierarchy:

  1. The Main Dancer – expected to have great dancing skills, focuses less on singing / has fewer parts during songs / might even have only sub-vocal-parts (as breath needs to be saved for spectacular dances), will get solo dance parts
  2. The Lead Dancer – as the whole group dances, the Lead Dancer will lead the group and dance in front, when all are dancing together

Some groups don’t emphasize dancing so much, so they might not have the positions of Main and Lead Dancer assigned to members.

The Sub-Unit

Famous SubUnits

Famous KPop Sub-Units

A group that enjoys a lot of success might create a sub-unit. The sub-unit will consist of a smaller number of members (between 2-4 people usually) and is often used for more experimental releases or for trying an alternative music style, with members of an otherwise genre-monogamic group. Sometimes a sub-unit is created to release music in a different language (e.g. Mandarin or Japanese). The members chosen for the sub-unit are most likely to be the more popular members of a group, but might also be the two oldest/youngest or people with whose name a funny sub-unit name can be formed. Such a sub-unit might also be made up of members of two different groups (which are under same music label) – e.g. the special unit “Trouble Maker” made up of B2ST‘s JS and 4Minute‘s Hyuna. Some bigger groups even have several sub-units (e.g. SM‘s Super Junior has 5 sub-units in total)!

The Visual

KPop Visuals

Famous KPop Visuals

Yes, KPop emphasizes and sells beauty. There is even a position in most KPop groups, that – who ever has it – must especially take care of their looks – because that’s one important thing they add to the group: Eye-candy. This position is not fan-made – it’s an actual thing. When a group introduces themselves on stage or on TV, one member might say “Hello. My name is _____ . I’m the Visual.” The Visual is simply put the member who is considered most attractive and is likely to be the one most often hired to endorse products and appear in commercials and ads. Again, the choice of the visual might irritate newbies to KPop (and not-so-newbies, too), as Korean beauty standards are somewhat… east of Western ones.

The Maknae

KPop Maknae

Famous KPop Maknae

Some positions aren’t assigned to you – you are born with them. Like the Maknae, who is always the youngest member of the group. The Maknae does not have a special task – they are just the baby of the family. Of course being the youngest is associated with them being cute and shy, but many Maknaes have made names for themselves by being the complete opposite and even the most charismatic member of their group. Sometimes a group member, who isn’t actually the Maknae might be mistaken to be, when they put on the cute and shy act – it’s not easy knowing your maknae, so if you’d like to learn some important Maknae, try our KPop Maknae Quiz.

The 4D

Famous 4Ds

Famous KPop 4Ds

The 4D is not an official group position. It’s a title of honor fans assign to the … weirdest member of group. The person who says the most random and puzzling things on TV and who posts funny pictures of themselves on Twitter and generally enjoys being different. Like a …. very special little snowflake – yeah… To clarify: The title “4D” is not an insult – fans assign it to a group member, because their peculiarity is appealing or adorable. In some cases a member has even been called “8D”, when they seem almost extraterrestrial.

Now you know the many different positions inside a KPop group. Remember: One member can have and usually has more than one task/position. For example: 4Minute‘s Hyuna is the Main Rapper, Main Dancer, Sub Vocalist and Visual of her group.

So… what about KPop group members playing instruments? Writing songs? Any of that happening. Actually yes, but it’s not the norm. A number of groups do stand out with members (co-)writing lyrics, music and playing instruments – but for most groups the members are limited to the positions above.

Puh… that was a lot of information, wasn’t it. Come back anytime to read or comment and ask us about anything you still want to know or don’t quite understand. Or… are you ready for the next step?
girls generation gif
Step 5: Who likes KPop? The Fandom, It’s Loyalty & It’s Location Coming…



Not so interested in Step 5? Maybe you want to skip ahead and read:


Dear reader,
  • Have you found a mistake in this article (content or grammar wise)? Feel free to correct us – but be aware that we have not deliberately left out vital information, but have tried to keep this article short and simple as an easy introduction for newbies to KPop. We are also not acclaimed experts in the field of music research and have taken our information from articles of other blogs, internet websites, as well as the best of our memory and our very own reason. Lastly this article was not written by native speakers of the English language.
  • The words and most of the phrasing in this mini-article has been formulated by one of our authors, but feel free to use any information or wording found here for your own blog (or presentation). We’d appreciate it if you state this website as source, but it is not legally required.




16 thoughts on “Step 4: How is KPop? Idol groups & their structure

  1. Shinee’s Onew is the leader, not the main vocalist. I’m pretty sure jonghyun is actually the main vocalist, while Onew would be lead vocalist.

    • Yes, Onew is the leader, but he is also a vocalist. So I put him as an example for a vocalist.
      Thanks for the info though, I will correct it in Shinee’s profile.

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  10. Under your picture of kpop vocalists, you put Krystal. While that’s technically true, and she is an awesome singer, idol, super-pretty, her own woman, and has a golden sister, I just want to mention that Luna seems to be a better singer (and that’s saying something!) In fact, many would say she’s the best singer SM has. Plus, she seems often overlooked, underrated; but see her Masked Singer to be impressed!

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