Every Friday this summer, Refinery29 explores at the passionate, rollicking world of fandom. We’ll take a look at how we organize, create, debate and show our passion for the things we love — the good, the bad, and the loud.
But the K-pop world is stuffed with unique etiquette, inside jokes, and in many cases, its own entire vocabulary. Little Mix fans may have a favorite member, but K-pop fans have a bias. While many American artists dream of their Grammy speeches, K-pop artists stand in front of the mirror pretending to hold a daesang. So where to begin? We figure that one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with a new culture is to start with the lingo.
Here's an entry-level primer on some of K-pop's most common phrases and terms for those who are ready to dive into a new, exciting community. Or, as fans often say, getting sucked into the K-hole.
For a long time, the term "K-pop" has been used to describe a "genre," when it's simply a generic, catchall term for popular music that comes from Korea. It's not an ideal word, especially since it doesn't acknowledge the diversity of musical styles within the industry and the visual elements that often go hand-in-hand with the music. BTS' Min Yoongi (Suga) articulated this challenge in an interview with the Grammy Museum earlier this year:
“I think rather than approach K-pop as a genre, a better approach would be ‘integrated content.' K-pop includes not just the music, but the clothes, the makeup, the choreography…all these elements amalgamate together in a visual and auditory content package. It sets it apart from other genres.”
Translates to "acting cute" or "cute action," like the cute or childish facial expressions expressed by both male and female idols in the form of a baby voice, gestures, and more. Some people enjoy doing it! But others, like Monsta X's Joohoney — once the King of Aegyo — has now sworn it off (or so he says).
When a song becomes number one on all major music charts at the same time.
Often shortened to "anti," this is the exact opposite of a fan. They despise a group or artist so much that they devote time to mocking, criticizing, or making derivative works about it. Many of these anti-fandoms even have names, like TWICE's critics "Thrice." Different than sasaeng (defined below).
Most simply, having a bias means having a favorite member within a group. But in K-pop, the word is a bit more nuanced than that, and can mean different things to different people. For some, it's the person you're most romantically attracted to — for others, the person who stands out to you or who you simply become attached to. Fans may sometimes even develop an ultimate bias, who is their favorite not only among a single group but among all K-pop idol groups.
How you choose a bias is up to you, but as many fans say, you're often not the one with the power: the bias chooses you.
So you may think you have your bias set in stone, but that's when the bias wrecker comes in, doing something that captures your attention in a way that makes you rethink or question who your bias truly is.
Refers to the three biggest entertainment companies in South Korea: SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and YG Entertainment. These juggernauts have produced the biggest, most successful acts over the years, but with scandal plaguing YG and the rise of Big Hit Entertainment thanks to BTS, the dominance of the Big 3 is being challenged.
Meaning "grand prize." The highest, biggest achievement a K-pop artist can receive for selling the most digital and physical albums, awarded at two end-of-year award ceremonies: the Golden Disk Awards and the Seoul Music Awards.
Following the release of a music video, a group will often release a YouTube video of them performing the choreography in their dance practice room. They often have a lot of fun with it.
While comebacks usually refer to stars who take major time off between new work, a K-pop comeback simply means a group coming out with new music. But even in the fast-paced K-pop ecosystem, this means a whole new look: new concepts, photoshoots, choreography, and even new hair for members of the group that are teased out over the weeks leading up to the release.
Fan-made videos on YouTube that are edited mashups of funny clips and memes of certain bands or members.
Fans will shout chants tailored to specific songs as a show of support to a group. This often involves naming all the members of the group during the intro or repeating back lyrics throughout a song.
A gesture in which a person forms a small heart shape using their thumb and index fingers.
Meaning "the Korean wave." This is a term used to describe the spread of South Korean culture and entertainment to the rest of the world.
Someone who views their idols or biases in a sexual way.
Korean culture values a respect for elders, and this is reflected in the language through honorifics. Idols use these terms to show respect to those who are older or higher status than them, and fans use them as well to refer to older idols. Men will refer to women as noona (누나, older sister) and men as hyung (형, older brother). Women will call men oppa (오빠, older brother) and unnie (언니, older sister).
Sunbae (선배, senior) is used in the entertainment industry to describe somebody who has trained for more time than you or who debuted before you. The opposite is hubae (후배, junior).
Hwaiting! (화이팅 / 파이팅)
A term loosely derived from the English word "fighting." It's a shout of encouragement similar to "you got this" or "break a leg."
When a person trains and officially debuts in a K-pop group, they can be referred to as an "idol," basically meaning "K-pop star."
The moment in a choreography, song, or performance that is considered the most dramatic or best part.
A fancy flashlight that's waved around at K-pop concerts. These aren't simply fun glow sticks, but instead have evolved to become symbols of devotion to fans' favorite artists. These are custom-made for many groups and often show off the unity and power of a certain fandom.
Idols who share certain traits often grouped together and referred to as a "line." Traditionally, this is for idols born in the same year (ATEEZ, for example, has a robust '99 line composed of Yeosang, Yunho, Wooyoung, and San). But it can also refer to positions within a group (BTS' rap line is RM, Suga, and J-Hope) or personalities (fans have dubbed Yuta and Doyoung members of NCT's "woke" line).
The youngest member of a group, often treated like the baby of the family. Then there are golden maknaes, who are, despite their young age, as impressive and multitalented as their elders.
At K-pop concerts, this denotes the time when those on stage introduce themselves, speak to fans, and give speeches.
What's usually known as an EP in the West. Because of the incredibly fast metabolism of the K-pop industry where idols make comebacks multiple times a year, groups will often release more mini-albums than full-lengths, and then compilation albums that include a new songs at the end of the year.
Someone who is multi-fandom or "multi" is a fan of many groups. Others (especially in Korea), prefer to be "solo stans," or fans of only one group.
A bit like TRL or American Bandstand in the U.S., music shows in Korea are programs in which K-pop artists will compete against one another, performing new music for the public. The most major shows include M! Countdown, Music Bank, Music Core, and Inkigayo. Fans will then vote for their favorite performance between different artists. Getting a music show win is a big deal for idols; a group's "first win" is often a memorable, special moment in their career that symbolizes the moment when their hard work will finally start paying off.
Translating to "who" in English, this is a term used by K-pop fans on social media to refer to brand-new groups or those who have debuted but haven't found major success yet.
Meaning “Original Soundtrack,” this refers to songs written for a Korean drama. Many idols and groups record songs for dramas to help with promotion.
Included within most physical K-pop albums will be a card with a random member's face on it. Fans like to collect cards with their bias on it.
The most prominent move in a song's choreography. Idols will often teach this move to fans and show hosts how to do it when promoting their new music. Some point dances have become canon and are known by all K-pop fans.
Within idol groups, there are typically certain positions and functions for each member. Some groups have multiple rappers, vocalists, and dancers, and these roles can overlap. The breakdown usually looks like this:
Leader (often the oldest, but not always — usually a spokesperson for the group)
Visual (good-looking or visually striking members)
Visual (good-looking or visually striking members)
A rookie or rookie groups are those who have recently debuted.
Meaning "stalker fans," these are fans who will stop at nothing to get close to their biases or favorite groups. Many have been known to break into idols' homes, steal their personal information, cause traffic accidents, and in the worst cases, even assault them.
The Korean word for selfie.
A portmanteau for "skin" and "relationship," skinship is the term for when idols make platonic displays of physical affection with each other. Due to the often strict dating bans placed on K-pop stars, skinship is usually only accepted within idol groups, between idols of the same gender.
The opposite of a hard stan, soft stans have a friendly or protective feeling towards their bias because they're so lovable/adorable.
A sub-unit is a smaller group of idols within a group who perform together. Some groups, like NCT sub-unit NCT127, perform and release music regularly with their sub-unit. Others, like EXO's CBX and SEVENTEEN's BSS have gotten together once in a while for fun. BTS recently released music for their newest mobile game BTS World in sub-units, like Jimin, Jungkook, and Jin's "Dream Glow" featuring Charli XCX.
These types of shows have become increasingly popular in South Korea. They're essentially music reality shows with eliminations in which trainees compete to debut in an idol group — think Making the Band and X Factor, but with dancing. Groups who come from these programs tend to have an advantage, since they already have gained momentum and a fanbase. The most popular of these shows is undoubtedly Produce 101, which so far formed I.O.I, Wanna One, and IZ*ONE.
Before debuting with a K-pop group, every idol must first learn the ropes as a trainee. Men and women are trained by entertainment companies on how to become a star — from dance and vocal lessons to Korean language class for foreign trainees. Some idols don't train for very long, but others, like BIGBANG's G-Dragon, was scouted as a child and trained for 11 years before he debuted.
A misnomer that describes a genre of fan-made YouTube video that introduces newcomers to a band. This is one of the best ways to get to know a K-pop group and its individual members.
Another way of typing a smiley face, :3, TwT, or, twt. Meaning happy or overjoyed.
A platform idols use to livestream to their fans, post behind-the-scenes footage, video series, and more. It's free, but there is premium content available for purchase. These days, idols like to randomly turn it on when they're bored or eating to check in with fans and show them what they're up to.