K-pop slang: terms you should know, part 1

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Author: Mar Montiel-Cerón

Nowadays, K-Pop is one of the most listened-to musical genres in the world, and with it, the number of people interested in knowing more about popular groups and trends is also increasing. Therefore, it is essential to know the basic terms.K-pop slang itself is extensive and interesting, and more concepts, and expressions are created with each generation, which is why instead of covering all of them in one blog, we would be looking at them in two parts. So regardless of whether you are new to the genre or have been around for several years, in the following blog, I will tell you about the basic slang you need to know to understand K-pop groups and how they are made up. Without further ado, I invite you to have some fun and increase your knowledge of K-pop slang.

Have fun reading while listening to K-Pop ON! (온)! 🎶

BTS. Taken from Pinterest.

Firstly, you have to know that K-Pop fans are known as “K-popers” no matter what group or artist they are fans of. This term is often used by people who aren’t fans of this musical style to refer to  those who are, since K-pop fans call each other by fandom-specific names (e.g., Blink, Army, Stay, or Henecia). Although some define themselves as K-popers because they are casual listeners of K-Pop, without the need to belong to a specific fandom.

Once you are inside and have found your favorite group, what you should do is know the “Fansites”, which are pages created and managed by fans (called “Webmasters or Masters”) to share information about a group or idol. Previously, they were blogs with limited access, which you accessed by passing an idol or group knowledge test that was created by the webmaster to verify that you were not someone strange to the fandom; and if you shared information that came out of the blog without the permission of the administrators, you were exiled. Currently, blogs are no longer used, because, with the rise of social media, most fansites migrate to various platforms and are open to everyone. One of the most famous accounts is Always-GD, which, since August 1, 2008, has followed G-Dragon with caution and dedication.

G-Dragon at the Incheon airport. Taken from the Instagram of Always-GD (2023).

Now, you are probably wondering: Is the master of a fansite a sasaeng? The answer is NO. This is because the fansite administrators are dedicated to following the public agenda of the idol, covering events, and taking photographs and videos that even the agencies themselves come to promote. Contrarily, a “Sasaeng” is an obsessive fan who stalks and engages in questionable behavior with the celebrity they admire, even invading their privacy and endangering their safety. And it should not be confused with “Antis, Anti or anti-fan” terms that are used to describe those who hate an artist or group so intensely that they follow their activities, as much or more than a fan, and in several occasions have even caused them harm. Some antis’ behavior can be so intense and extreme that they are compared to the sasaeng.

Well, then how do I say that I’m someone’s fan? Well, the correct term to use is “Stan”. This is a word that originated in the early 2000s thanks to EMINEM’s song of the same name, and it narrates the unhealthy obsession for the rapper and the questionable actions taken by his fan Stan (“St” from stalker and “an” for fan) to get the rapper’s attention (like a sasaeng). However, in K-pop, it does not have the same meaning; it refers to being a loyal and dedicated fan. It means being an enthusiastic supporter of every performance and activity of the celebrity or group. This fanaticism may or may not be exclusive, and of course, you can be a stan of several groups or celebrities at the same time, without any problem, and if this happens, you would be considered a “Multi-Stan”, that is, someone who likes several celebrities or groups at the same time and for which you have sworn absolute allegiance. However, there are also those who are “Solo Stans” which means they exclusively follow and admire a member of a group or a solo artist and no one else. It should be clarified that sometimes the term solo stan can have a negative connotation since sometimes the solo stan comes to hate the rest of the group members and seeks at any cost to get rid of what for them is a limitation in the career of their favorite.

LE SSERAFIM one of the groups that I start to stan. Taken from Instagram (2022).

Speaking of favorites, I bet that by now you already have your favorite one from a K-pop group. You know, that member that, since the first moment, you have only seen and who stole your heart; and he or she is also the one from whom you want to collect more merchandise. Well, you have to call him or her: “Bias”. However, it comes to pass that your heart starts to beat for a second one, and soon you find out that you have someone else, a second favorite, who has a good chance of overtaking your bias and becoming number one in your heart, so you are going to refer to them as “Bias Wrecker”. Although this is not the end, because suddenly you see that new program where your bias participated, and pow!, a new artist appeared out of nowhere, and now you begin to question your priorities and with it even the loyalty that you once swore to your bias, so for them, you will put the title of “Bias Ruiner”. But do not worry, because despite how many favorites you have, there is a title that you can only give once, and it is “Ultimate Bias”. This will refer to whoever has stolen your heart definitively and permanently. And who you must swear to love forever until eternity. Last but not least, “Ultimate group” is used for your favorite group above everything and everyone. So, when you are on fansites, the first thing you should be doing, after saying your name is listing all your biases.

My Bias Ruiner, Bang Chan. Taken from the Instagram of Stray Kids (2023).

The next thing to know is that musical artists are called “Idols” and are generally signed under an entertainment agency, which acts as a promoter of their music, and who in turn was the creator of the group at the beginning.This is also where (whether soloist or group) the idols were initially “Trainee or Trainees”, because before debuting, they dedicated themselves to training and, improving their artistic skills in singing, dancing, rapping, and even acting, among others that are necessary for their performance as idols. After a while, which can be from months to years, the trainees have their long-awaited “Debut”, which is used to release an “EP (short album)” or a “Single (musical single)” as a their professional beginning, accompanied by an “MV (Musical Video)”, which matches the concept and aesthetics of the group. Once they debuted, during their first year, idols are known as “Rookies” since they have just made the transition from being trainees to idols, and within the entertainment world they are considered as rookies.

After the debut and the promotions, the group can go into a period of inactivity called “Hiatus”, where the agency commonly announces the end of promotions and the beginning of a break. This can last from months to years, and among the most common causes for this period of inactivity is military service, a scandal on the part of the members, the termination of the contract with the agency, health problems, or just their personal choice to take a break. Later, when the time is right, the group or soloist returns to the music scene, and this event is known as a “Comeback”. At this stage, the idols release new music, and this event includes promotions in music and variety shows, aesthetic changes, sound, and even concepts.

Baby Monster next group to debut by YG Entertainment. Taken from Instagram (2023).

Within the K-pop groups, each member has a specific position that is determined by the function they have to perform within the group, and it has come to happen that the functions are shared among the members. The above is mainly determined by the agency and the type of training the idol had. The term “Line” is used to determine which position each member fulfills  according to their role and function within the group, being the “rap line”, “dance line”, “visual line” and “vocal line” among the most commonly used. In addition to the previous lines, the fans and idols of each group make up specific lines according to personality, tastes, affinity, and year of birth, with some of the most famous in the industry being Exo’s Beagle Line, the 95 line of BTS and GOT7’s Foreign line, among others. 

This brings us to the next concept which is linked to the affinity between certain members by sharing a skill or quality that makes them stand out. And it is then when the groups that have already debuted are usually divided into small groups called “Sub-units” which can be composed of two or more members, and work as a new group that creates its music and concept, without leaving aside their main group but giving the members of the sub-unit the possibility to show their skills in a more individual way. Currently, there are also groups like Seventeen or Stray Kids, who have their own way of calling their lines or sub-units within the group. In the case of Seventeen, the term “Units (Rap Unit, Performance Unit, and Vocal Unit)” is used, to refer to the role of each member, or in the case of Stray Kids they are known as “ Rachas (3Racha, VocalRacha, and DanceRacha)” to the subunits that form the members within the same group.

3RACHA sub-unit from Stray Kids. Taken from Pinterest.

In addition to the sub-units and the lines, another way to classify the members of the group is by the position they occupy according to their responsibilities, personality, popularity, and age. The first term to define is “Ulzzang ”, the word used to describe people who fit perfectly with the Korean beauty stereotypes and are considered beautiful, and with it, they have also gained immense popularity. A term associated with “Visual” is the role that the agency assigns to the member of the group that is considered to fit better into the strict Korean beauty canons and therefore provides the group with visual appeal. Additionally, the youngest member of the group is called “Maknae” and is usually the one that the other members take care of and provide for. Similarly, the youngest respects and listens to the older members.

The next term is “Main” and is used to refer to the primary member of each of the lines. The word is used to refer to the member who sings the best, has the best rap technique, or is the best dancer. Then there is the term “Center”, which is used to refer to the face of the group, the one who is the center in the choreography, and the person you first think of when the group is named. Finally, there is the term “Leader” who is the member in charge and responsible for keeping the group organized and focused. It is also the communication channel between the agency and the other members.

It is also important to add here the concept of “All-rounders”, a title that is given by fans to multi-talented or all-rounder idols; those who stand out for their artistic abilities and other varied skills, like NCT’s Ten who impresses with his dance moves, rapping, singing, modeling poses, and language prowess. Another idol known as an all-rounder is Stray Kids’ Bang Chan, who is a rapper, dancer, singer, leader, producer, and songwriter.

NCT's Ten. Taken from Pinterest.

With each comeback, music artists look forward to achieving good results on the music charts, and the most eagerly awaited is the “All-Kill” term used when a group is number 1 in real-time on each of the music charts in Korea: 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 and Bugs Song Chart Realtime. In most cases, this happens as soon as the song is released, and getting an All-Kill is an important indicator of popularity that should never be taken lightly.

In the same way that it is expected to top the music charts with each comeback, it is expected to win awards; and the “First Win” is the first prize that a group or artist gets in music shows. The artists with many awards of this type are usually the most listened to or the ones that everyone knows, although some take many years to achieve it after debuting or even never manage to get it. Then, if the long-awaited first prize has already been achieved, the next one to obtain is the “Bonsang”, an award that recognized groups or artists receive, since the winners of this award sell their songs a lot and have thousands of reproductions, and if they win it, it is more likely to win a “Daesang”, an award considered the highest award a musical artist can receive, and are usually awarded in categories such as Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year; based on the total number of accumulated sales.

Brave Girls with their first award before a 10 years. Taken from Instagram (2021).

For the musical promotions of the groups there are “Music Shows”, programs in which K-pop idols perform their songs and choreographies for the public. And according to their popularity, groups or soloists have the opportunity to win prizes. Among the most popular are: M! Countdown, Music Bank, Music Core, Show Champion, The Show, and Inkigayo. 

During group performances, fans often chant uplifting phrases and even include the names of each member of a group (or an abbreviated version), as well as words, phrases, or lyrics specific to that artist, in order to encourage them. These are known as “Fanchants”. However, these are not the only way to encourage artists; in K-pop many fans use “Lightsticks“, an essential element when it comes to supporting your favorites in live performances. 

The lightstick was created for the first time by G-Dragon in 2006 for his fans (V.I.P) to show their support for the group, and since then each group and even soloists have their own. The lightsticks illuminate in different colors, mainly the official color of the group or fan club, and this light effect created at the concert by the fans is called “Ocean”, while the absence of this is called “Black Ocean”. This occurs when fans turn off their lightsticks to show their discontent with a specific artist or group, that is, as a way of protest, rejection, or visible complaint. This happens mainly during festivals or concerts where there are performances by various groups.

Blackpink and their pink ocean at Coachella. Taken from Instagram (2023).

There are also terms that are necessary to know because of the frequency with which they appear. The first one is “Netizen” which means ‘Internet users’, the ones who react to reports and comment on trending news, thus affecting popularity rankings.

“OST” refers to songs from Korean movies or dramas in which some idols usually participate. The next one is the “Eat the CD” expression, used when an idol sings live and is compared to the studio version, discovering that this one sounds much better than the previous one. On the other hand, there is the term “MR removed” which is when a fan removes all the background instruments from a track, leaving only the singer’s voice, and it is used to see if the singer actually sings well. 

Finally, there is the expression “OT + Number of members”, which comes from the expression One True Pairing (OTP). Among fans, this expression is used to indicate that all the members of the group make a perfect group and you support them as a unit. In this sense, the letters OT are mentioned and the total number of members of the group is added. For example, in the case of Seventeen, it would be OT13, since the total number of members is 13.

Seventeen OT13. Taken from Instagram (2021).

That’s all for today’s blog, and now await the second part, where we will see the terms used between groups, and new expressions to use between fans, and we will talk about all types of albums and goods. I hope you had fun reading it, don’t forget to share it, and if you liked it introduce yourself in the comment section by sharing your Ultimate group, Bias and Bias Wrecker. See you soon!💗

Written by: Marisol Montiel 

Reviewed by: Luisa Quintero


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