If you’re new to the world of K-pop, chances are you've given one look at a performance or group photo and been left confused. A typical comment Western listeners have to the world of K-pop is: Why are there so many members?
Most Western music groups have between three and five members — think Little Mix or 5 Seconds of Summer. K-groups, on the other hand, can have anywhere between three and 23. Yeah, there’s a K-pop group with 23 different members.
One thing that separates K-groups from Western groups is the idea of in-group positions. Each member of a K-group is in one or more specific positions in the group — typically vocal, rapper, dancer or visual. There is also a distinction of a member being the group leader or center. These positions are not always set in stone — a vocal member may sometimes take a big part in a dance break, a rapper may belt out a couple notes during a ballad or a dancer may carry a song’s rap bridge.
Let’s take NCT, our 23-member boy group, for instance. NCT is an interesting case because they are technically three different groups with some members popping up in multiple ones. NCT is the umbrella name for subunits NCT Dream, NCT 127 and NCT U. They all have different concepts but do come together to create music on occasion. They actually also have a fourth C-group called WayV, but for the sake of simplicity, I will not be covering them.
The positions previously mentioned are also found in NCT. Taeyong of NCT U and NCT 127 falls under all of the positions (rapper, vocalist, dancer and visual) along with being a leader and center. Not every member falls under multiple positions, like Doyoung, who is only a vocalist.
The reason for labeling members under a specific group is because of the scouting and recruiting process for forming a group. When scouting, a K-music company may be looking for a vocalist, not necessarily someone who would be in every position. Many idols, like Lucas of NCT U, were scouted right off the streets for his visuals. While some companies may look for a member who can fill multiple positions, it’s just as typical for a company to scout for a specific position to be filled.
So, because groups typically have one or two members that fall under a specific position, it makes sense why most K-groups have five or more members in total.
However, with our interesting NCT case, having multiple subgroups and members is not just because of positions but also because of their company's vision: SM Entertainment seeks unlimited members for any concept they would want to do. So, if we get a bit more technical with it, NCT has unlimited members, not just 23.
K-groups are unique, but like everything else, there are specific reasons behind their design. NCT is an interesting case because their concept is supposed to always be evolving, but other groups have many members because of how companies use their member positions. K-groups have a goal to always be improving, which is clear in the group details and selections, even as that itself evolves.