A picture of the K-Pop group EXO during a promotion shoot for their single "Love Shot"

‘Positions’ in Kpop, Explained

K-Pop is filled with knowledge that you’re meant to have in order to understand it fully—the fandom at least, not the music. It’s an important distinction. You can love a group and their music without knowing any of it, but if you want to dive into the fandom aspect, you might get lost if you don’t know the lingo. And it can be hard as a new fan—sometimes when people talk, it feels like all of this stuff is something you’re supposed to know, in a way that makes it hard to ask for clarifications. If you’re getting into K-Pop for the first time, you might get lost in the conversations. What are biases, for example, or what exactly do people mean when they talk about a “girl crush concept”

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Positions are one of those topics. Everyone’s always talking about “main vocal material” and “dance line supremacy” and “original visual.” The positions in a K-Pop group might seem confusing at first—aren’t they all just singers, after all? But the answer is oh no, they most definitely are not. But don’t worry. I’m going to break it down.

So, just like we’ve done for other unmissable-absolutely-you-have-to-know-them K-Pop topics, here’s a comprehensive guide on the various positions idols can have within their group and the “lines” that they form.

Vocalist & Rappers

This is the main distinction within each group. Some idols will do both, but they usually specialize and are trained in either singing or rapping. How many people are in a group’s “vocal line” or “rap line”—the umbrella term to define all the singers and rappers in a group—depends on the genre they’re pursuing. The agency they’re debuting under also makes a difference. Of the Big Three, SM Entertainment famously produces excellent vocalists, while YG Entertainment focuses on rap skills.

Lisa and Jennie are BLACKPINK’s rap line (YG Entertainment)

While personal talent and inclinations definitely play a role in assigning one idol to either the vocal line or the rap line, it’s also a matter of voice. K-Pop usually prefers both male and female vocalists to have “higher” voices, meaning people with naturally lower tones are “steered” towards the path of rap. This is, of course, not the case for every single K-Pop group out there—but it is a trend that’s worth pointing out.

If vocal and rap lines constitute the main separation within a group, then there are also categories that further divide each member of a line—and those are “main,” “lead,” and “sub.” Main vocalists and main rappers are the “leaders” of each line. They will typically get the most singing/rapping time, or maybe the most challenging parts, and there’s generally only one of them per group. Lead vocalists and lead rappers—there can be more than one, depending on the number of members—come immediately “after” the mains. Then there are “simple” vocalists and rappers, and finally, the sub vocalists and sub rappers—meaning idols that will fill in a part when needed but are not usually given major singing or rapping bits. 

BTS’ vocal line is made up of V, Jungkook, Jimin, and Jin (HYBE)

It’s also important to note that the longer a group has been active, the more these defined distinctions between each role get blurred, but they’re still an important part of the K-Pop industry as a whole.

Dancers

Dancing and performances are a huge part of K-Pop, and the members of the dance line usually end up being very much beloved by fans, since they excel precisely at that. It’s true of every generation, but it’s especially true of the current 4th generation of groups—since they’re so focused on performance—and groups like ITZY and ATEEZ have presented some really intricate choreos for their title tracks. 

In general, a position within the dance line is more transversal—meaning anyone within the group can be a rapper and a dancer, or a vocalist and a dancer. 

BTS’ dance line includes J-Hope, Jimin, Jungkook as well as V (HYBE)

And of course, every member of a group dances while they’re on stage—it’s not like some idols stand on the side (and just sing or just rap) while the dance line performs the whole choreo. It’s just that the “actual” members of the dance line (the main dancer or dancers especially) are the ones who will most often be at the center of the formation, and the ones who will get dance breaks within a title track or during special performances. 

Momo is TWICE’s main dancer (JYP Entertainment)

Visuals

The visual position is another transversal one—and a pretty controversial one as well. The visual line is composed of the members who most fit the South Korean beauty standard. These idols might also be the centers of their respective groups, or they might get the most sponsorships outside of their idol activities, but these both aren’t direct consequences of being a visual.

Irene is Red Velvet’s visual (SM Entertainment)

It’s a position that’s much-debated within the fandom, especially the Western one—is it really fair to slap a label on idols that simply tells us that they’re beautiful? Especially when the whole industry is filled with generally good-looking people? The question is very much open. 

Sehun and Kai are two of EXO’s visuals (SM Entertainment)

Others: Leaders/Centers/Face of the Group

These are more “unique” positions—there can be multiple lead vocalists and a whole array of members in the dance line and a couple of visuals per group, but there’s only one of these final positions.

Namjoon is BTS’ leader (HYBE)

The leader is pretty self-explanatory—they’re the one acting as a representative for the group, usually speaking first in public appearances. They might even voice the group’s grievances to the entertainment label. Some leaders are chosen by the company, others are voted in by the members—and some groups don’t have a leader at all, even though that role usually ends up being fulfilled by the oldest member, following South Korean traditions of older-younger relationships.

BLACKPINK doesn’t have an official leader, but as the oldest, Jisoo often steps into the role (YG Entertainment)

Centers’ roles are also all in their names—they’re the ones usually at the center of the formation, and thus, become very easily recognizable by the public. They might also be the face of the group — meaning the idol that most represents that group to the fans—but that’s not necessarily a rule.

So now you know all about the positions in K-Pop! Get to chatting!

Nayeon is both the center and face of the group TWICE (JYP Entertainment)

(image: SM Entertaiment)


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Author
Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.