If you’re new to K-pop, first—welcome. Second—you may be wondering what K-pop fandom words, such as bias, idol and comeback, mean. The K-pop community has been around for decades since the Kim Sisters became the first Korean artist to release an album in the United States in 1959.
While the K-pop industry has been around for more than 60 years, there’s no doubt that more and more fans across the world are discovering the genre, thanks to recent acts like BTS, BLACKPINK and TWICE. As many longtime K-pop fans know, it can be confusing at first to understand the lingo of the K-pop community. With words in both Korean and English, K-pop slang is a language of its own. But don’t worry if you’re confused, as we’ll break down the basic K-pop fandom words that every K-pop fan should know.
Whether you’ve been a part of the K-pop community for years or you’re a first-timer who may have heard BTS or BLACKPINK on the radio and fallen in love with their talent and visuals (we’ll explain this one too), this K-pop glossary is a must-read. And so, without further ado, we present to you 20-plus K-pop terms every K-pop stan should know.
Before K-pop artists are “idols” (more on that later), they’re trainees. Trainees are students at K-pop entertainment companies (who have either auditioned or been scouted) who spend several years training in dancing and singing before they debut as a soloist or as part of a group. Along with singing and dancing, many trainee programs also include lessons in languages, such as Korean (if the trainee isn’t already fluent), English and Japanese.
“Idol” is a word used for K-pop stars. Idols can be soloists or members of a group, but the word is often used to a K-pop artist who has debuted and is no longer a trainee at an entertainment agency.
Though “debut” is a word used for music genres other than K-pop, It’s often used in K-pop to refer to a trainee who has transitioned to an idol by releasing their first official single (either as a soloist or in a group) or performing in public for the first time.
Non-K-pop fans may use the word “comeback” to refer to an artist’s return to music after a long break or after they’ve been cancelled. But in K-pop, the word “comeback” is more often used to refer to when an idol or a group releases a new song. Each comeback also includes a concept or a theme that an idol or a group keeps throughout their promotions and performances.
“Maknae” means the “youngest sibling” in Korean. In K-pop, the “maknae” is often used to refer to the youngest member of a girl group or boy band (a.k.a. Jungkook in BTS or Lisa in BLACKPINK.) “Golden Maknae” is also often used to describe a maknae who excels in all aspects of performing (singing, dancing and visuals—more on that later.)
“Aegyo” is a Korean word that’s derived from the Chinese characters “love (ae)” and “beautiful (gyo)” and is often used to describe the cuteness of someone. In K-pop, aegyo is often associated with the cutest member of a group who expresses their cuteness through gestures, facial expressions and a cute, baby-like voice. A common example of “aegyo” in K-pop is Sana from TWICE.
“Fanchants” are phrases that fans shout before an idol’s performance. Fanchants most often includes the names of each of of the members of a group (or an abbreviated version), as well as words, lines or lyrics specific to that artist.
“Bias” is most often the first word a new K-pop fan learns. “Bias” refers to a fan’s favorite member in a group. “Bias group” is also often used to describe a fan’s all-time favorite grop. “Ult bias,” which is short for “ultimate bias,” is also often used to refer to a fan’s favorite idol out of all the groups they’re a fan of.
“Bias wrecker” refers to a fan’s second favorite in a group, who has a high chance of overtaking their bias and becoming their new favorite.
Most K-pop groups have a leader. This member is responsible for keeping the group organized and serving as the liaison between the group and their entertainment agency. Leaders, who are not always the main or lead of a group (more on that later), also often speak on behalf of the group at awards ceremonies or in interviews. An example of a leader is RM of BTS or Yeji of ITZY.
All K-pop idols are attractive, but the word “visual” often refers to the most attractive member of a group based on Korean beauty standards. The word is controversial among American fans and there is a lot of debate around who the visuals of certain groups are. But a couple of the most agreed-upon visuals are BLACKPINK’s Jisoo or BTS’ Jin.
The Big Three
The Big Three refers to the three big entertainment companies that have launched the most successful acts and are believed to have majorly influenced K-pop: SM Entertainment (Girls’ Generation, Super Junior, SHINee), JYP Entertainment (TWICE, Wonder Girls, Miss A) and YG Entertainment (BLACKPINK, 2NE1, Big Bang). There is a debate on whether The Big Three should be expanded to The Big Four to include Big Hit Entertainment, which manages BTS and TXT, but many fans argue that Big Hit isn’t in the same category as SM, JYP and YG because it’s a newer company and wasn’t around at the same time as The Big Three’s early days.
“Main” is often used to describe the Main Vocal, Main Rapper or Main Dancer of a group. The word is used to refer to the member who has the best vocals, has the best rap technique or is the best dancer.
Like “main,” the word “lead” is often used to describe the Lead Vocal, Lead Rapper or Lead Dancer of a group, who is the second best to the Main Vocal, Main Rapper or Main Dancer.
“Center” is often used to refer to the “face-of-the-group” (another common K-pop term) that describes the member who is most often in the center of a group’s choreography. Centers are often thought of as the group or the member that fans would most often think of when they think of the band. An example would be TWICE’s Nayeon.
An “anti” or an “anti-fan” is someone who hates a specific idol or group. Some antis will go out of their way to discredit the idol they hate by creating fake rumors or finding evidence that diminishes an idol’s talent.
The word “line” is used to group together members of a band who are similar. Rap Line is one of the most common lines used to describe K-pop idols. The term refers to the rappers of a band, such as RM, Suga and J-Hope of BTS. Fans have also used the word line to describe personalities who fit together, such as the Introverted Line of a band. For groups with members from different countries, the word “line” is also used to group together the members from similar backgrounds, such as the Japanese Line of TWICE that includes Sana, Momo and Mina.
New K-pop fans may notice that there are a lot of music shows. Music shows are programs where K-pop idols perform their songs and choreography for the public. Popular music shows include M! Countdown, Music Bank, Music Core, Show Champion, The Show and Inkigayo.
Sub-units are smaller groups within a larger K-pop group. Sub-units often give different members a chance to showcase certain talents or try different music genres that they may not have been able to with their larger group.
Weekly Idol is a TV show that new K-pop fans will hear a lot about. Weekly Idol is a variety show that invites idols to showcase their personalities through games and challenges.
Though not necessarily specific for K-pop, V Live is a livestream platform that most K-pop idols use to connect with fans. Through their official accounts, these idols will upload episodes of behind-the-scenes footage or livestream from their hotels to talk to fans.
“Hyung” means “older brother” in Korean. But the term is also often used between younger and older members of boy bands. One example is BTS’ Jungkook who often calls RM, who is three years older than him, “RapMon Hyung.”
“Unnie” means “older sister” in Korean. In K-pop, the term is often used between younger and older members in girl groups, such as when TWICE’s Tzuyu would call Nayeon “Nayeon Unnie.”
“All-Kill” is when a soloist or a group is number one on all of the main Korean music charts: iChart Weekly, iChart Realtime, Melon Daily TOP 100, Melon 24Hits, Genie TOP 100 Daily, Genie TOP 100 Realtime, FLO Realtime, VIBE Today Top 100, Bugs Song Chart Daily, Bugs Song Chart Realtime.
“Sasaeng” refers to fans who have crossed the line are closer to stalkers. These are fans who invade idols’ privacy or make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe in some way. An example of a sasaeng is a German man who bought business class seats on the same flight as TWICE and tries to give Nayeon a handful of letters that he had written.