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When you think of the most hated genre of music, what comes to mind? For some (including myself) it
might be country, but second place probably goes to K-Pop, but why? Over the years, K-pop has gotten a
bad rap as a very hated music genre, yet people know very little about it and the only song they have
really listened to is Gangnam Style. Personally, I think if people gave K-pop a chance, they would actually
enjoy it! So today, let’s dive into the world of K-pop and learn the basics before we start stanning.
Sub-units, soloists, and even other genres also make up K-pop, but today I’ll be focusing on groups as
they are the most popular aspect of K-pop and the best place to start for beginners. To help you better
understand the basics, I’ll be using one of my favorite K-pop groups, Stray Kids, as an example. We’ll
start from the very beginning of a K-pop group, trainees. Before idols becoming members of big groups,
they start off as a trainee. Aspiring idols audition for an entertainment company. In Stray Kids’ case, they
are under JYP entertainment, one of the “Big 3” entertainment agencies in Korea. Once an idol passes
the audition for a company, they become a trainee where they prepare to debut in a group. This trainee
period can last for varying amounts of time. Chenle, a member of group NCT, was a trainee for only four
months while Bangchan, a member of Stray Kids, was a trainee for seven years! Eventually, trainees
from a company are formed into a group, either by the company placing them in a group or through
survival shows. Stray Kids was formed by leader Bangchan who recruited other trainees to be in a group
and then went through a survival show. Survival shows are almost like the Korean version of American
Idol, expect instead of only one winner at the end, there are several who are then formed into a group.
Moving out of the trainee period, the group is finally formed and ready to debut. K-pop groups usually
debut with a mini-album, an album with only a few tracks. As their debut approaches, the group decides
on a title track, the song which they will be promoting with, and a music video is made for the title track
and released on the debut date. For Stray Kids, they debuted on March 25 th , 2018 with their title track
District 9 and mini album I Am Not. The debut does not end there though. Once a group releases a song,
promotions begin as they perform on music programs. For several weeks after the release of an album,
groups will perform on a variety of these music shows in hopes of being the winning artists of the week
which is determined by sales, streams, and votes. Stray Kids won their first music show win with their
song Miroh back in 2019.
Once a group debuts, fans want to learn everything about them, especially about each individual
member and their position in the group. Each group member has several titles in terms of their position
in the group musically, in dance terms, and even age wise. The main member of the group is typically
the leader. Each group has a designated leader who is a spokesperson for the group. For Stray Kids, their
leader is Bangchan as he formed the group and is the oldest, although the oldest is not always the
leader. Apart from singing and dancing, another position in the group is the maknae, the youngest of the
group. Maknae is the Korean word for “youngest sibling” and the maknae of a group is usually babied by
fans and members of the group. For singing, dancing, and producing, groups typically have a hierarchy of
vocalist, rappers, dancers, and producers. Those at the top of the hierarchy have the most lines or are in
front for the choreography and are the defining voice or face of the group while those towards the
bottom are not in that position as often. This hierarchy goes from main to lead to sub and members
have multiple roles. For example, member Hyunjin is known as Stray Kids’ main dancer, lead rapper, and
sub vocalist.

A small sub category of roles and positions to touch on is names. There are two main types of names in a
group, fandom name and stage names. Once a group has gained a following of fans, the fandom, a
group gives them a name to refer to themselves by (a lot more fun than just calling people “fans”). Stray
Kids announced their fandom name two years ago as Stay meaning the members want their fans to stay
by their sides, no matter what. Aside from fandom names, members also have names they choose,
known as stage names. Instead of using their full Korean names, members choose a short name, either
only their first or last name or a new name completely, for fans to call them by. In Stray Kids, there are a
variety of stage names. Some members use their first name (Changbin, Hyunjin, Felix, and Seungmin),
their last name (Han), their full names (Bangchan), or stage names (Lee Know and I.N.).
And that’s it! The basics of K-pop! You know everything!
Except….not really. Just like any other culture or community, K-pop is a lot deeper than one small article
could show, but you have to start somewhere! Now that you have the basic knowledge under your belt,
maybe it’s time to learn more, and as I always say, the best way to learn is to immerse! Even if you don’t
think you’ll like it, try diving into the K-pop community and you’ll learn so much more than I can teach
you in this article! I believe it is very important to explore and indulge yourself in cultures other than
your own. If you confine yourself to your culture specifically, you’re missing out on so many amazing
experiences which you can’t have in our own culture. Maybe K-pop is your chance at exploration, just
like it was for me.
Don’t know where to start? Check out the YouTube playlist below with some of my favorite K-pop songs
which I think are great songs and groups for new fans of K-pop!

University of Indianapolis Professional Writing and Creative Writing Major
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