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A Beginner’s Guide to Korean Music

Introduction

In 1995, in the tiny peninsula of South Korea, record producer Lee Soo-man came up with a novel idea that would change the future of South Korea forever. Equipped with ideas of change and American trends, Lee Soo-man created a small entertainment company known today as SM Entertainment. Having seen the success of Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992, Soo-man debuted a 5-member boy group H.O.T in 1996 and a 3-member girl group S.E.S in 1997. With the massive domestic (and somewhat international) success of these groups, SM started what is known today as the “Korean Wave”- or the rising popularity of Korean culture outside Korea. Since then, there have been dozens upon hundreds of groups that have debuted, each having their own style of music and charms. We hope that by writing this article, we can introduce you to the world of Korean music or perhaps show you a little bit more of what it has to offer.  

 

 

 

 

Who Are We?

Hi! My name is Yoosong, and I am a typical Korean fangirl who is in love with Korean music. Currently, my favorite K-pop group is BTOB, and my favorite solo artist is IU. However, in this article, we will be introducing only the top five K-pop groups: BTS, Blackpink, EXO, Twice, and Red Velvet. 

 

Hi! My name is Haeji and I am a Korean American who enjoys listening to Korean music on a daily basis.  Currently, my favorite group is Red Velvet, and my favorite solo artists are IU and K.Will. I hope that I can give out some good song suggestions along the way and that you will enjoy them as much as I do. And now… let’s get this article started! 

 

 

 

 

Group Positions

There are various K-pop group positions that will be referenced later in this article, so here is a brief overview of them:

Leader: This role is usually filled by the oldest member in the group or by the member who has trained the longest. Some groups may not have a leader. Their role is to “motivate and take care of the other members.”

Vocalists

  • Main Vocalist: This role is usually filled by the member with the best singing technique. They usually get the most lines and sing the chorus.

  • Lead Vocalist: The member with this role has the second-best singing technique in the group. They usually sing before the main vocalist.

  • Sub Vocalist: They support the main vocalist and the lead vocalist; they usually have fewer lines than both the main vocalist and the lead vocalist.

Rappers

  • Main Rapper: They have the best rapping technique in the group. They frequently write their own raps.

  • Lead Rapper: The second-best rapper in the group. They will often begin the rapping parts.

  • Sub Rapper: They are better than non-rapping members at rapping but their skills are not quite on par with that of the main rapper and the lead rapper. 

Dancers

  • Main Dancer: The member in the group with the best dancing skills. They will usually get the dancing solos during performances.

  • Lead Dancer: The second best dancer in the group. They will usually be dancing in the front.

Visual: The most physically attractive member in the group according to Korean beauty standards.

The Face of the Group: Not to be confused with Visual, The Face of the Group is the member that brings the most public attention to the group. Oftentimes the Visual will also be The Face of the Group. Because this position is determined by the popularity of the member, this position could bounce from member to member.

The Center: The member that is placed in the center of promotions, photoshoots, video shoots, etc. This position may change depending on each group’s “era.”

Maknae: The youngest member in the group.

 

 

 

The Big 3

When you first learn about K-pop or about Korean music, you might hear about something called “The Big 3.”  

  1. JYP  

  2. SM

  3. YG

They are called the Big 3 because they (were) are the biggest companies in the Korean Entertainment industry. Groups that debut from these companies usually find great success. One may argue that Big Hit Entertainment, now known as HYBE LABELS, can replace the weakened YG and become a part of the Big 3. However, HYBE is not part of the Big 3.

 

 

 

 

Most Popular K-pop Groups

 

BTS

BTS is a 7-member group that debuted in 2013 under HYBE LABELS (formerly Big Hit Entertainment). They are very popular both in Korea and abroad and are considered the representative idol group of this K-pop generation.

 

Members: 

RM: Leader, Main Rapper

Jin: Sub Vocalist, Visual

Suga: Lead Rapper

J-Hope: Main Dancer, Sub Rapper, Sub Vocalist

Jimin: Main Dancer, Lead Vocalist

V: Lead Dancer, Sub Vocalist, Visual

Jungkook: Main Vocalist, Lead Dancer, Sub Rapper, Center, Maknae

 

They were the first-ever K-pop group to hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and be nominated for a Grammy. The unparalleled quality of their performance brought them to the attention of the public. Currently, all members are capable of writing and/or composing songs. Their music videos, album concepts, and lyrics often refer to literature or other musical pieces.  

 

Yoosong’s Recommendations

Spring Day:

Dynamite:

 

Haeji’s Recommendations

DOPE:

 

 

Blackpink

Blackpink is a 4-member group that debuted in 2016 under YG Entertainment. They are a multinational K-pop girl group who are among the few artists to be called world stars in the world of K-pop.  

 

Members: 

Jisoo: Lead Vocalist, Visual 

  • She is known for her strong vocalization and stable singing voice in live performances. 

  • She is one of the most popular CF (commercial) models in Korea

 

Jennie: Main Rapper, Lead Vocalist 

  • Her rapping skills are top-notch among the K-pop idols. 

  • She excels at dancing and singing. 

  • She was born to be an idol. 

 

Rosé: Main Vocalist, Lead Dancer 

  • She captivates the audience with her unrivaled singing and dancing skills. 

  • Her singing voice has a distinctive timbre/color. 

 

Lisa: Main Dancer, Lead Rapper, Sub Vocalist, Maknae

  • Her dancing skills stand out among the most talented K-pop idols

  • Her rapping skills are exceptional to the extent that they are in parallel with Jennie’s. 

 

Blackpink is the second girl group to debut from YG, after 2NE1, and is the first female Kpop group to perform at Coachella. Although they are a K-pop group, many of their members come from outside of Korea (¾ to be exact)!  Jennie and Rosé were raised in New Zealand and Lisa was born and raised in Thailand.  

 

Yoosong’s Recommendations

Bet You Wanna:

SO HOT Remix:

 

Haeji’s Recommendations

DDU-DU DDU-DU:

REALLY:

Pretty Savage:

 

 

EXO

EXO is a 9-member idol group that debuted in 2011 under SM Entertainment. They originally debuted as a 12-member group, divided into two unit groups (EXO-K and EXO-M), but it eventually became a nine-member group as three Chinese members of EXO-M left the group, one after another. 

 

Members:

Suho: Leader, Lead Vocalist, Visual

  • He has a clear and pure singing voice. 

  • His voice tone is high, so he can sing the high-pitched chorus perfectly well. 

  • His singing skills are considered the best after the main vocalists. He has a fairly stable singing voice in live performances.

 

Xiumin: Sub Vocalist, Sub Rapper 

  • He is a hidden vocal gem in EXO. 

  • He is nearly as skillful as a dolphin when singing high-pitched notes. 

 

Lay: Main Dancer, Sub Vocalist, Sub Rapper

  • Although he has a relatively thin voice tone, his voice is very rich and powerful. 

  • He is capable of singing a wide range of notes and thus shows strength in low and high notes. 

  • He is currently the only Chinese member in the group.

 

Baekhyun: Main Vocalist 

  • He has a charismatic, rough, and powerful voice. 

 

Chen: Main Vocalist

  • He is most stable when singing high notes

  • His voice is characterized by sharp tones and refreshing high notes.

 

Chanyeol: Main Rapper, Sub Vocalist, Visual

  • He is the sub vocalist

  • He has a soft, mellifluous, low-pitched singing voice. 

  • Although he is a main rapper, he has a great pitch and harmonizes well with other members. 

 

D.O.: Main Vocalist

  • He is skilled at using various vocal techniques. 

  • His rhythmic singing voice is suitable for R&B. 

 

Kai: Main Dancer, Sub Rapper, Sub Vocalist, Center, Visual

  • He is well-rounded as a center, main dancer, sub vocalist, and sub rapper. 

  • He already has a good voice that sounds pleasant, despite the lack of fancy vocal techniques. 

 

Sehun: Lead Dancer, Lead Rapper, Visual, Maknae 

  • He is known for his simple, not too excessive movements, and neat style of dancing. 

 

They are famous for their teamwork and evident chemistry between the members. While their songs are based on the unique fantasy concept of an exoplanet, they often succeed in targeting the musical taste of the general public. They have rarely maintained the same music style for their title tracks, and are known for their success in trying new music styles.

 

Yoosong’s Recommendations

Lotto:

3.6.5.:

 

Haeji’s Recommendations

Obsession:

Blooming Day (EXO-CBX):

 

 

Twice 

Twice is a 9-member multinational girl group that debuted in 2015 under JYP Entertainment. The members were selected through Mnet's survival program Sixteen. Since their debut, they have set many records and become one of the most popular girl groups in Korea.  

 

Members:

Jihyo: Leader, Main Vocalist

  • She has trained the longest, having trained for over ten years. 

  • Because of her talents and motherly leadership, she was unanimously voted to be the leader of Twice once Sixteen was finished.   

 

Nayeon: Lead Vocalist, Lead Dancer, Center

  • She auditioned at JYP, without her mother’s knowledge, and was accepted! 

  • She was the first to be picked for Twice’s lineup. 

  • Because she looks like the Pokémon Squirtle, her nickname is “Squirtle.” 

  • She is also known as the oldest maknae because while she is the oldest member, oftentimes people confuse her for being the youngest.

 

Sana: Sub Vocalist

  • She was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. 

  • She is known to have a lot of aegyo (acting cute) and is the clumsiest in the group. 

  • Check out her viral “cheese-kimbap” clip:

 

Jeongyeon: Lead Vocalist

  • She auditioned for SM and JYP and was accepted by both, but she chose to sign with JYP. 

  • She knows how to play the saxophone.

 

Mina: Main Dancer, Sub Vocalist

  • She was born in San Antonio, Texas, and then moved to Kobe, Japan when she was young. 

  • She did ballet for several years. 

  • She is a shy and reserved, yet bright, person.

 

Momo: Main Dancer, Sub Vocalist, Sub Rapper

  • She was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan.  

  • She is considered one of the best dancers of the 3rd generation of K-pop.  

  • She was eliminated on the show Sixteen but was brought back by JYP to join Twice.  

  • She is the biggest foodie in the group.

 

Dahyun: Lead Rapper, Sub Vocalist

  • She was offered to sign contracts with SM, JYP, or YG, but she decided to sign with JYP. 

  • Before she debuted, she went viral for her “eagle dance” video. 

  • Her nickname is “dubu”, which means Tofu.

 

Chaeyoung: Main Rapper, Sub Vocalist

  • She is talented at rapping and can write her own raps. 

  • Recently, Chaeyoung and Dahyun covered the song “Switch to me.”

 

Tzuyu: Lead Dancer, Sub Vocalist, Visual, Maknae

  • She was born and raised in Tainan, Taiwan, making her the first Taiwanese K-pop idol. 

  • After being scouted by JYP at the MUSE Performing Arts Workshop, she was selected to join Twice as the viewer’s choice on SIXTEEN.

 

Each album has a distinct theme since each member contributes something unique to the group as a whole. Fun fact: their fandom name is Once.

 

Yoosong’s Recommendations

Dance The Night Away:

 

Haeji’s Recommendations

TT:

LIKEY:

TURTLE:

CRY FOR ME:

 

 

Red Velvet

Red Velvet is a 5-member girl group under SM Entertainment (part of the big 3 entertainment companies). Their name, Red Velvet, is symbolic of their style of music: “red” representing their pop side and “velvet” representing their 90’s-inspired side. By setting excellent records since their debut, they have built their reputation steadily and eventually secured their position as one of the most popular K-pop girl groups.  Their outstanding vocals, coupled with a wide variety of album concepts, add charm to their music. Their music is often inspired by f(x) and SNSD in a way that reflects both the uniqueness of f(x) and the more familiar yet bubbly charms of SNSD.

 

Members:

Irene: Leader, Main Rapper, Lead Dancer, Sub Vocalist, Visual, Center

  • Although she has a cold appearance, Irene is the warm-hearted mother of the group. 

  • She is the oldest out of the members and is well known for her doll-like features. 

  • She is also quite good at everything- from rapping, to dancing, to singing.  

 

Seulgi: Main Dancer, Lead Vocalist

  • She is considered one of the best dancers of the 3rd generation of K-pop.

  • She is known as “BearSeulgi.” 

  • Besides Red Velvet, she was part of a project group called Girls Next Door.

 

Wendy: Main Vocalist

  • She has a rich and clear voice that suits all of Red Velvet’s songs. 

  • She can play a multitude of instruments including piano, guitar, flute, and saxophone. 

  • Because she was raised in Ontario, Canada, she is fluent in both Korean and English. 

  • She recently resumed group activities after recovering from her injuries from a fall during a rehearsal for 2019 SBS Gayo Daejeon.

 

Joy: Lead Rapper, Sub Vocalist

  • Her unique and princess-like voice adds a soft touch to Red Velvet’s songs.  

  • She has acted in dramas such as “The Liar and His Lover” and “The Great Seducer.” 

 

Yeri: Sub Vocalist, Sub Rapper, Maknae

  • Although she is the youngest member of the group, Yeri is known for her rapping skills and her talent for acting.  

  • She is also known for her cheerful and outgoing personality.  

  • She debuted later than the other members- on March 11, 2015, with the song “Ice Cream Cake.”

 

Yoosong’s Recommendations

Red Flavor:

 

Haeji’s Recommendations

Bad Boy:

Blue Lemonade:

I Just:

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hope you have enjoyed hearing about some of our favorite artists! There are more articles to come, so stay tuned. 

 

Source: https://kprofiles.com/kpop-positions-explained/

Yoosong Song is a first-year student at Adelphi University's College of Arts and Sciences, where she is pursuing a degree in Biology (BS). She is currently in the joint degree program with NYU College of Dentistry and hopes to become a dentist in the future. As a contributing writer of Her Campus, she aims to write reliable, thorough, and interesting articles about the news on campus, in the greater New York, and in the world.
Haeji Park

Adelphi '24

Hi! My name is Haeji Park and I am a freshman at Adelphi University, currently pursuing a BS in Nursing. I love to read, learn about true crime, and listen to music. I hope through Her Campus, I can share a lot of what interests me with everyone!
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