If you’ve talked to me at any point this year, rode in any car where I’ve had control of the AUX cord, followed me on Facebook, or read this or this, then you know that I am a HUGE fan of K-Pop! Since discovering the genre, I have fallen in love with the artists, the supportive fanbase communities, the lyrics and production, the video quality, and the level of service and content created just for the fans. When I’m passionate about something, I try to share my newfound love with everyone…often with mixed results. With K-Pop however, I’ve had more than a few people slide into my DM’s or email wanting to know more about K-Pop and how to enjoy it. At the request of another fellow blogger, Jamie of The Plus Size Diva, I have put together a totally useful K-Pop 101 guide that will teach you everything you need to know! Prepare to get #addicted 😝
*This is going to be a looooong post. So feel free to scroll to the section you want to learn the most about!
And don’t forget to enter into the GIVEAWAY at the end of the post, now through 1/4/2020!
K-Pop 101: The A-Z
First things first: If you want to truly enjoy K-pop, whether as a casual listener, or a devoted fan, you gotta speak the language. And no, I’m not talking about Korean: I’m talking about fan lingo and cultural terms that you will see all over Twitter, Weverse, V-Live, etc. (More on those social platforms later!) Here are some of the most used phrases and terms that you’ll see and hear throughout your K-pop journey:
Aegyo: A Korean word (애교) that loosely translates to “cute behavior.” Unlike the West, with its “the sexier, the better” sensibilities, South Korea thrives on all things cutesy! Both male and female K-pop stars can be seen making adorable or childish facial expressions accompanied by baby voices and finger hearts. Aegyo can sometimes confuse causal fans, who may wonder why grown men are wearing flower crowns, but you get used to it quickly, and you’ll begin to appreciate your bias whether he or she is in cutesy or sexy mode!
All-Kill: When a song reaches number 1 on every major music chart (Gaon and Melon to name a few. Even better if they chart internationally!)
Bias: In America, we have a “favorite member” in the girl or boy bands we love. In K-Pop, you have a Bias.
My Bias in BTS (and my Ultimate Bias across ALL K-Pop Groups) is Kim Taehyung (V).
The Bias is your favorite member, but for many fans, it goes a little deeper. For hardcore fans, their Bias is the member featured on all of the merch they purchase, the member they ride-or-die for on social media, and their reason for attending concerts. With K-pop however, every group member works their hardest so at some point, your Bias may get slightly overshadowed by another member of the group. Which brings me to the next term…
Bias Wrecker: K-Pop is like fantasy football in a way. You’ve got a great team, and everyone plays their position beautifully. But every now and then, one of the players deviates from the script and goes for the winning play. This is the Bias Wrecker. Simply stated, the Bias Wrecker is the group member who just won’t let your Bias be great, and comes in (often unexpectedly) to steal the spotlight, leaving you floundering as you try to stay loyal to your Bias. Good examples of Bias Wrecking include: ridiculously cute Aegyo displays, beautifully sung high notes in concerts, the right amount of diva swagger on stage, stage grinding, pelvic thrusting, tongue flicks, and the like.
*Although rare, your bias can actually bias-wreck you. This is a chance occurrence that can only happen if your bias is a great singer, dancer, performer, and visual all wrapped in one.
Comeback: Unlike in America, where the word comeback is used to describe an artist who is returning after years away from the spotlight, in K-Pop, a comeback is anytime an artist releases new music. K-fans get excited about comebacks because in K-pop, new music means new looks and hair colors for group members, new concepts, new theories and hidden messages, comeback stages, and tons of variety show appearances!
English: Yaaassss!!! If you’re American (or International) you CAN enjoy K-Pop! Most K-Pop songs have English sentences sprinkled throughout, or even full choruses in English. Monsta X pretty much uses full English now. Idols work hard to learn English and like to demonstrate their knowledge on stages and variety shows so that their international fans can easily follow along. We can also thank dedicated fans for diligently making captions for music videos, fancams, and other YouTube content so that we can all watch and enjoy!
Fan Chants: If you ever plan to attend your favorite K-pop group’s concerts, you gotta know the fan chants! Typically fans will say each members name in a specific order (usually from oldest to youngest, but it can differ based on the group) and in a certain cadence. Curious to learn your fave group’s fan chant? YouTube is your friend!
Finger Hearts: This full-of-fluff gesture is the ultimate in Aegyo and unites K-pop fans the world over. To do them, simply form a small heart shape using your thumb and index finger.
Hallyu: The reason we’re all here! Hallyu means “Korean Wave” and is a term used to describe the spread of South Korean culture around the world. K-Pop began to bubble over in the US as early as 2006, thanks in part to performers like Rain, who reached stateside fame. But many attribute the current Korean Wave to the K-pop artist Psy, as it was his ubiquitous 2012 breakout hit “Gangnam Style” that brought K-pop into over 1 billion homes!
Honorifics: I’m not Korean, so I won’t make this section a lesson. But…if, like me, you watch a lot of video content of your faves, you’ll hear honorifics used a great deal, as they are used to show respect to elders or those of a higher status. Men refer to women older than them as noona (누나, older sister) and men older than them as hyung (형, older brother). Women will call older men oppa (오빠, older brother) and unnie (언니, older sister).
Idol: Simply put, once a person gets through the trainee program and debuts with a group, they can be called an “idol” which basically means “K-Pop Star.”
Lightstick: If you’re going to a concert, you gotta have one of these babies! Each group has an official and unique lightstick that fans use to create that gorgeous sea of lights effect at concerts. You’ll feel part of the crowd if you have a lightstick, and most groups say that seeing the lights in the crowd gives them energy!
Multi-Fandom: Used to describe individuals (like me) who hardcore stan more than one group. I equally love BTS, Got7, Ateez, Blackpink, and Red Velvet!
Reaction Videos: These are my favorite fan made videos to watch! Most are simply filmed reactions to K-Pop comebacks, but a few YouTuber’s will also react to other fan made compilation videos as well. Reaction Videos are usually hilarious to watch. A few of my favorite “reactioners” include BrisXLife, Triple C, and FO Squad K Pop
Skinship: Ah, the act that confuses new and casual fans alike (outside of S. Korea). If you watch a lot of video content of your fave groups, you are bound to see members of the same sex hugging, sitting on each other’s laps (yes, males are included in this), holding hands, and being softly affectionate. In the US, behavior like this is always considered “gay” 😡, but in S. Korea, it is just normal. Most groups have trained together since they were young teens, and see each other as family. Therefore, acts of affection between them are as common as it would be between one’s own brothers and sisters. You’ll come to love seeing the sweet skinship among groups. Unfortunately, it can lead to something negative: Shipping.
Shipping: A result of the above mentioned skinship in which fans began to assume or fantasize that members of the group are involved in secret romantic relationships with each other. Shipping can be harmless when used to describe friendship pairings, but many idols have spoken up about how romantic shipping (and sexual fan fiction) is just plain weird and makes them uncomfortable.
Social Media: K-pop/Hallyu staked a large international foothold with a lot of help from social media. BTS are pretty much social media legends! Legions of dedicated fans take to Twitter to discuss every.single.thing that their faves do. Idol groups count on their fans to give them millions of views on YouTube. Your bias can communicate with fans live and in color thanks to apps like V-Live, and Weverse. I feel as though many of our Western artists still have a ways to go with the use of social media, but they’ll have K-Pop as a model 😉
K-Pop 101: The Groups
Ok, now that you have a little of the lingo down, let’s move on to the good stuff: The groups! Obviously, there are sooo many K-Pop Groups that I can’t begin to list them all. But I will share a few of my faves!
*SN: I always feel bad calling them boy groups because they are usually grown men 🤷🏾♀️*
Fandom Name: ATINY (combo of Ateez and Destiny)
Members: Kim Hongjoong, Park Seonghwa, Jeong Yunho, Kang Yeosang, Choi San, Song Mingi, Jung Wooyoung, and Choi Jongho.
Fandom Name: ARMY
Members: Kim Seokjin (Jin), Min Yoongi (Suga), Jung Hoseok (J-Hope), Kim Namjoon (RM), Park Jimin (Jimin), Kim Taehyung (V), Jeon Jeongguk (Jungkook)
Fandom Name: EXO-L’s
Members: Kim Jun Myeon (Suho), Kim Minseok (Xiumin), Zhang Yixing (Lay), Byun Baek Hyun (Baekhyun), Kim Jong Dae (Chen), Park Chan Yeol (Chanyeol), Kyungsoo (D.O.), Kim Jong In (Kai), and Oh Se Hun (Sehun).
Fandom Name: Ahgase (Korean) and IGOT7’s (International)
Members: Mark Tuan, Im Jae Beom (JB), Jackson Wang, Park Jinyoung, Choi Youngjae, Kim Yugyeom, Kunpimook Bhuwakul (BamBam)
Other popular and loved boy groups include NCT (and subgroups NCT-U, NCT Dream, and NCT127), SEVENTEEN, Wanna One, Oneus, Monsta X, Stray Kids, TXT, WINNER, and ASTRO.
Fandom Name: Blinks
Members: Kim Jisoo, Kim Jennie, Park Chae Young (Rosé), Lalisa Manoban (Lisa)
Fandom Name: Once
Members: Park Jihyo, Im Nayeon, Yoo Jeongyeon, Hirai Momo, Minatozaki Sana, Myoui Mina, Kim Dahyun, Son Chaeyoung, and Chou Tzuyu.
Fandom Name: ReVeluv
Members: Bae Ju Hyun (Irene), Son Seung Wan (Wendy), Kang Seulgi, Park Soo Young (Joy) and Kim Ye Rim (Yeri)
Fandom Name: MooMoo’s
Members: Kim Yong Sun (Solar), Moon Byul Yi (Moonbyul), Jung Whee In (Wheein), and Ahn Hye Jin (Hwasa)
Other popular and loved girl groups include GFriend, SNSD, EXID, Itzy, and Everglow.
K-Pop 101: Sub-Units
K-Pop groups tend to be pretty large (6-9 members is average), so oftentimes the band will have sub-units, or smaller groups projects within the group.
Sometimes, a sub-unit will be a pairing (or more) of rappers in a group, such as EXO-SC, a sub-unit of EXO.
In similar fashion, a sub-unit can be a pairing of the main or lead vocalists in a group, such as Jus2, a sub-unit of Got7.
With larger groups like NCT, sub-units can be formed based on musical styles, performance ability, or even popularity. NCT-U is a sub-group of NCT.
*Insider tidbit: “The Seventh Sense” by NCT-U is widely considered to be the best debut of all time by any K-Pop group!*
K-Pop 101: The Lines
Most K-Pop groups are comprised of a Vocal Line (the singers), and a Rap Line (the rappers). In some groups, there is a distinction between the two lines, but in some groups it is a little more fluid. Some of the rappers can also sing well, and vice versa.
The Dance Line are members who are given the main and lead dancer titles.
The Hyung and Unnie Lines are the oldest members of the group.
The Maknae Line are the youngest members of the group, with the actual Maknae title belonging to the youngest member of the group. Fun fact: Jungkook of BTS is called Golden Maknae, because of his ability to sing, rap, dance (and pretty much do everything) well!
BTS’ rap line performing Cypher Pt. 4
K-Pop 101: Group Structure
Each K-Pop group has multiple roles, which really allows each member to shine in their respective categories. The common roles are:
Leader: Responsible for representing the group on camera, and wrangling the Maknaes (and sometimes the Hyungs 😉) This title is usually given to the most mature and well trained.
Some K-Pop Group leaders are Kim Namjoon (BTS); JB (Got7); G-Dragon (Big Bang); Irene (Red Velvet); Jihyo (Twice)
Main Vocalist: This person(s) has the best vocals out of the group. They usually sing full verses or choruses, and tend to be very stable in live performances.
Some K-pop Main Vocalists are: Jungkook (BTS); Wendy (Red Velvet); Baekhyun (EXO); JB (Got7); Youngjae (Got7)
Lead Vocalist: This position goes to the group member(s) with the best vocals after the main vocalist. Don’t get it twisted though: Most lead vocalists can saaaang!
Examples of K-Pop lead vocalists include D.O. (Exo), Jinyoung (Got7), Tiffany (SNSD), Taehyung (BTS), Rose (Blackpink)
Sub-Vocalist: They usually get 1-5 lines in a song, but usually have another role in the group as well, like rapper.
Examples of K-Pop Sub Vocalists include: Jackson Wang (Got7); Sehun (EXO); YoonA (Girls’ Generation)
Main Dancer: The best in the group at dancing and has the ability to do more than one dance style. Most members in K-pop groups can dance, so it’s a combination of showmanship and style that gets a member promoted to the coveted main dancer position.
Examples of K-pop Main Dancer’s include: J-Hope (BTS); Yugyeom (Got7); Kai (EXO); Lisa (Blackpink)
Lead Dancer: Members who are great at dancing, but slightly under the level of the main dancer(s). Lead Dancer’s will still get featured, and may often be in the center of the group’s performances.
Examples of K-pop Lead Dancer’s include: Taehyung (BTS); Sehun (EXO); Wheein (Mamamoo)
Main Rapper: Member who has great technique and skill at rapping, and gets the most lines. There can be more than 1 main rapper in a group.
Examples of Main Rappers include: RM (BTS) Jackson Wang (Got7); Moonbyul (Mamamoo); Chanyeol (EXO); Jennie (Blackpink); Mark (NCT)
Lead Rapper: Similar to the main rapper, and often times just as good! Usually have a shorter verse, or bridge right before the chorus.
Examples of Lead Rappers include: Hongjoong (Ateez); BamBam (Got7); Suga (BTS); Lisa (Blackpink); Sehun (EXO)
Visual: The most attractive member of the group according to Korean standards. The visual gets long slow close ups in music videos, and is often the featured attraction in photo shoots. This may seem like a minor position, but the visual is key to attracting rabid fans and longevity in the industry.
Well known Visuals in K-pop include: Jin (BTS); Taehyung (BTS); Mark (Got7); Jisoo (Blackpink); Seonghwa (Ateez); Irene (Red Velvet); Solar (Mamamoo); Beomgyu (TXT)
Examples of K-Pop Center Of The Group Members: Kai (EXO); Jinyoung (GOT7); Hongjoong (Ateez); Beomgyu (TXT); Nayeon (Twice); Jungkook (BTS)
Face Of The Group: Lastly, we have the face of the group, or the member who first comes to mind when you think of the group! This member can sometimes get the opportunity to make solo appearances on variety shows, or is able to wear a different color or outfit from the rest of the group.
Examples of K-Pop Face Of The Group Members: Nayeon (Twice); Bobby (iKON); Jackson Wang (Got7); Jungkook (BTS); Taeyong (NCT)
K-Pop 101: Content, Content, Content!
I always say that you don’t fall in love with K-pop groups solely due to the music. Oh no! Your love affair begins when you fall into the YouTube rabbithole of “Unhelpful Guide To….” videos; dance practices; variety show appearances; and each group’s own reality show series! The pattern goes a little like this: You find a group that you’re drawn to. Let’s say, it’s BTS (of course!) You may end up watching a few of their official music videos on YouTube while lying in bed. Eventually you’ll be too amped to sleep, so you’ll scroll down to the Up Next video section. It is in this section that you’ll be introduced to fan made videos. Should you choose to watch these videos, you are willingly signing up for a lifetime of addiction and hardcore stanning! LOL. Most fan made videos consist of compilations of the group’s funniest moments, the group’s sexiest moments, top 10 lists, analysis of stage performances, etc.
After you’ve watched a few fan made videos, you’re probably in that giddy place where you’ve fallen in love with the group, picked a Bias, and ordered your first shirt from Amazon! But it doesn’t stop here. Next up is watching the groups official reality series, like Blackpink House, or Run BTS!
At this point, you’re in deep and there is no way out. From here, you’ll spend hours watching dance practices, crackhead moments, unhelpful guides to every member, “try not to get pregnant” challenges (seriously, YouTube it. It’s a thing!), and every stage performance. You’ll go back and watch their very first videos, and then you’ll analyze each member’s best “era.” Le sigh.
Well, there you have it. This guide should at least get you through your very first weeks of being a new K-pop fan! After that, you’ll undoubtedly join Facebook groups or make enough YouTube comments that you’ll be a warmly received member of whatever fandom you’re a part of. Enjoy your K-pop journey, make new friends, learn a bit of the language, and enjoy the happiness that the music brings!
Are you a K-Pop fan? Which group is your favorite? Who is your Bias? Leave me a comment below!
See you next time!