Assume teh position!
Kpop uses a lot of terminology:
Leader, Maknae, Center, Visual… these are just a few of the bewildering terms of the hierarchical orderliness and structure of Kpop. While in Kpop (and Jpop) girl and boy groups the whole underlying theory is that with multiple members – fans will latch onto a particular character – so with several members the chances for finding the right mix of attributes and characteristics that you like in a group member increases – that way the fans loyalty and engagement will be higher compared to the single artist or where group members don’t have a lot of differentiating characteristics. Or so the theory goes.
Face, Maknae, Centre… – understanding group positions
Positions are based on mainly two things: age difference – as in the junior to senior relationship between group members and secondly – the way the members affinities align with what the companies idea of promoting the groups and the members individual images are.
The tension in the Senior/Junior relationship is very real and shows up in most things. Not too dissimilar to the Japanese Sempai/Kohai dynamic the Koreans, I think, take this to it’s ultimate conclusion. Not giving correct respect to your elder or elders can result in collective shunning and adds even more to the high pressure environment of Kpop. A lot of “controversies” have started because fans believe their idols weren’t shown proper deference and respect by some other idol.
Even though the stakes won’t be quite as high, knowing who is your senior or junior sometimes seems as intense as airplane recognition during a particularly vicious dogfight during the Battle of Britain. Whether you use honorifics when adressing someone or you are expected to act cute and subservient – this is determined by your place in the order of age in your group or context.
I imagine if you’ve ever worked in a very corporate and irrationally hierarchical company you just might have experienced old style management where seniority and title outweighs experience and merit.
While severely unproductive and dysfunctional in a company, in the confucianistic part of the world this adds a measure of stability and a massive dose of expectation management as the age hierarchy will provide a framework of how to act in any given situation. Who to bow to? How to pour or drink alcohol in the company of others? Who gets to slap who’s ass with impunity?
In this image you can observe a few things: Everyone is bowing intensely (making me nervous about the possibility of an accidental head butt). Also the taller girl turning to the back
(Sowon of girlgroup Gfriend) was later accused of being rude to the girls (her juniors from WJSN) standing behind her because she wasn’t smiling enough.
To make matters even more complicated age as in biological age isn’t always the correct measure either (and let’s not even start on how Korea has it’s own way of determining age). If in a company the corporate hierarchy takes precedence over age. This also goes for universities – where the point where you started is the determining factor. Add to that the different honorifics: Sunbae for seniors and Hobaes for juniors in work and university context. While instead in private life senior women are addressed “Unnie” (Eonni) if a woman speaks to a woman and “Nuna” (Noona) if a senior woman is adressed by a man. For men being addressed by a junior woman the much used “Oppa” is correct and conversely when addressed by another younger man “Hyung” is the correct term. Whew.
This video gives you some insight into how real the junior/senior thing is, showcased by the always entertaining and discretely bickering performers of Apink. The not very contained glee of the juniors is dampened by the promise of revenge by the elder Leader Chorong.
So if the lead singer is the second best singer then the lead dancer is… yeah you get it. I have absolutely no interesting observations about lead dancers – while it seems pretty common for fans to discuss the relative competence of a lead singer to the main singer and to other idol groups singers, this interest doesn’t really extend to the lead dancers. But in the orderly world of Kpop they’re still a thing. And that’s not to say fans don’t bicker about everything – they sure do! If you have any interesting reflections on the position of lead dancer or any notable individual occupying it, let me know!
As if things weren’t ambiguous enough The Face of the Group is one of those positions where things become really muddy. The Face is the member of a group that will be the most recognisable for the general public and have the main duty of representing the group in most media contexts. Of course this is often a kind of a Catch 22/Zen riddle, as the Face duties will inevitably result in even more recognition. The face needs to be popular, entertaining and thus a good representative of the group.
Sana is one of the, if not the most, popular members of Twice and frequently participates in different shows.
The simplest explanation of the position of centre is the person taking up centre position in dancing formations and photoshoots. But the Kpop world is full of strange intricacies there is more nuances to this: The centre, a lot like the face, will often be the member who best represents the group for the current concept. In Gfriend for example this has varied from release to release depending on the character of the song.
In other groups like Twice for example, the centre is permanent and assigned to a characteristically distinct and strong performer. In the case of Twice: the mighty Nayeon.
Even if you think that positions are strangely artificial and quite possibly completely manufactured, they are a source of endless engagement for a lot of fans. And the idols will in many cases introduce themselves with their name and position (if in a group) when appearing in media. Positions also plugs into the very human need to understand your role in the grander scheme of things – it doesn’t really matter if the scheme of things is who does introductions, dances in the centre of the formation or promotes the fanny packs… Myself I identify as the Main Writer, Principal Square Jaw Dad and Boy Next Door. Let me know what your position is!
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