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K-Pop School: Differences Between Main, Lead, & Sub-Vocalists

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Vocalists in K-Pop: Meanings of Main, Lead, and Sub-Vocalists

The secret to success for K-pop groups comes down to a combination of positions in the group filled with exceptional talent. These positions are quite general and are found in almost all K-pop groups but vary in the amount in each. The main categories are vocalist, rapper, and dancer. Within each of these main categories are subcategories that many people find confusing. By breaking down each category and adding some examples, you will be a K-pop position expert in no time.

Each of the main vocalist positions—lead, main, and sub—holds its own importance to the group and one can not say that one position is better than the other or the person in the position is better when compared to another because each artist brings a unique artistic perspective that creates a unique K-pop sound and visual.

Lead Vocalist

The lead vocalist has certain attributes that can be found in general throughout all K-pop groups.

Lead Vocalist Attributes

  1. The lead vocalist is able to reach one or more higher or lower octaves than their fellow groups mates.
  2. Because they are able to reach these octaves, their voice is featured mainly in the chorus and sections where vibrato is needed.

The above two are practically guaranteed when it comes to K-pop lead vocals. Here are some common misconceptions of a lead vocalist.

Lead Vocalist Misconceptions

  1. They get more lines because they have a better voice. This is not true because the company puts together many think-tank-type meetings to decide who gets to sing what parts. This all depends on who is being featured in the song, how many people there are to divide the lyrics between, and other key factors that go into lyric selection.
  2. The lead vocal has a better voice, which is why they are the lead vocal. This once again is not necessarily true. First, it depends on your personal opinion or the opinion of an expert you trust. Overall they may be able to reach those octaves and provide vibrato, but this does not make them the best because they may not have very good range, or their voice may not suit lyrics as it does the vibrato.
  3. There is only one lead vocal per group. Though people say this, and it appears to be the case on many group profiles, this is not necessarily true. This really depends on the size of the group. For a group of five, one main vocal is usually true but when you have nine members and above you may have two or more lead vocals.

Lead Vocal Examples

  • Girls Generation's Tiffany, Sunny, and Seohyun: Girls Generation is a nine-member girl group, which is why they have more than one lead vocal. Each of these girls has their own vocal appeal and really blend well with one another.
  • Shinee Jonghyun: By far one of the most well-noted vocalists in general. He is known for his three-octave voice and his almost perfect pitch.
  • Block B Jaehyo: Not only is he known for being the visual of his group, but he is also an impressive lead vocal. He may not get a lot of lines, but when he opens his mouth, his talent really shows through.
  • B1A4: Jinyoung has a great octave range and impressive vocal range in general; his voice is also very unique within his group.

Main Vocalist

Just as the lead vocalist, the main vocalist is categorized by some generalizations that can be found across K-pop as well as some misconceptions.

Main Vocalist Attributes

  1. The main vocal may also have a superior octave range, but overall, compared to the lead vocal, they have a superior vocal range.
  2. Because they have a generally wider vocal range, their voice is applied to more of the song.
  3. Their voice is underlying and supporting the lead on the chorus and vibrato.
  4. More often than not, they receive multiple solos within the songs.

Main Vocalist Misconceptions

  1. They are not as talented as the lead vocal. This is by far not true the misconception comes down to people not understanding the difference between having octave range and vocal range.
  2. The main vocalist is just support for the lead. Once again, not true, though they support the lead throughout the song, the main vocal may have harder vocal parts because of their wider vocal range

Main Vocalist Examples

  • Girls Generation's Taeyeon and Jessica: Taeyeon is one of the most impressive main vocals in K-pop. She has a superior vocal and octave range, as well as an almost perfect pitch. Because of her vocal ability, she has done many OSTs (original soundtracks). Jessica has a very bubbly voice that is unique and makes it quite impressive for a main vocal.
  • Shinee's Onew: another extremely impressive vocal talent, his voice is very unique accompanied by his range and his explosive solos on songs. He is a real joy to listen to.
  • Block B's Taeil: Though Block B is know as a hip-hop group with a very rugged bad boy image, Taeil is able to round out the group and really put them in the spotlight in the K-pop scene. His voice is strong and powerful and is often showcased throughout their songs.
  • B1A4's Sandeul: He may look cute and small and oh so cuddly, but when he opens his mouth, the pure power that comes out will make you fall flat.


Sub-vocalist or supportive vocalist is a very unique part of K-pop in the fact that there is a set standard for this position. Whereas there is always room for main vocalists and lead vocalists to switch a bit in their standards and structure, sub-vocalists usually follow the most general and acceptable rules and structure. There are also far fewer misunderstandings when it comes to sub-vocalists.

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There are two types of sub vocalists:

  • The first is the true supporting vocalist, the one or ones who have decent vocal ability and are very much helpful in moving the song forward while providing support for the main and lead vocalists.
  • The second is not really a vocalist at all; their main focus is on a different aspect of the group altogether; these are your dancers and rappers. Though some dancers and rappers are good singers and help support the main and lead, some don't sing at all and instead focus on their respective art forms in the group.
  • The sub-vocalist has between 7 to 10 seconds of the song. They either have one line or, at times, one word.

There is only really one misconception about the subvocal that brings about a lot of debate within the K-pop community, and this is:

  • The sub-vocalist does not really do anything and is not worth being in the group. This statement is rather unfortunate because it shows the lack of understanding when it comes to k-pop groups. First, the K-pop industry is more than just vocals; it's about visuals and different genre influences coming together to create a clean, well-rounded appearance and entertaining performance.
  • Though the sub-vocal my not have a lot of lyrical lines, they impress with self-written raps and expertly choreographed dances that really make K-pop entertaining and bring the song together to complete a perfect package.

Sub-Vocalist Examples

  • Girls Generation's Yuri, Yoona, Hyoyeon, Sooyoung: All four of these girls can carry a tune, but their true passion lies within dance. Each of them holds a dance position in their group, and all four get really condensed lyrics.
  • Shinee's Key and Taemin: What is impressive about Taemin and Key is that they are not only both very vocally talented, but they impress with their individual talents as well—Taemin being a dancer and Key being a rapper. But even so, they are quite unique in the fact that their vocal talent really rivals that of the other members of their groups.
  • Block B's U-Kwon and B.Bomb: an impressive set of dancers that really know how to entertain a crowd; they both are exceptionally talented singers as well. Though their vocals are limited to small lines within the songs, they really know how to show impressive all-around skills.
  • B1A4's Baro, CNU, and Gongchan: Here is an example of both types of vocalists. Baro and CNU, though both great vocalists with a surprisingly wide range, are also very talented rappers. They are featured in the song in many ways, which is unique to their sub-vocalist status. Gongchan is an actual sub-vocalist; it is his primary function in the group, and he carries the title well.

Now that you have learned the functions of the vocalist and its subcategories, you will be able to look at artist profiles and understand the meaning behind the seemingly confusing words. Do be careful, though, when reading online profiles because many people who put them up are unable to distinguish between the main and lead vocal and often switch them about unintentionally.


Maine on December 20, 2017:

I think you made a mistake. In SHINee Onew is the Lead Vocalist, while Jonghyun is the Main Vocalist.

Onew: Lead Vocalist

Jonghyun: Main Vocalist

Jungkook's yeoja chingu on July 09, 2017:

There is no jungkook in main vocalist example his voice kills me ,he should be there in the list

Armyxblink on May 10, 2017:

Kim taehyung of bts

Is the only strongest vocalist with widest range not being the main vocalist

Maybe because the genre ? Hip hop tend to suit tenors more

But taehyung definitely needs more exposure

Clearly in those songs he was the best OBVIOUSLY




someone like you


Almost all bts songs he doesn't sing in his range

Although alot of lines suit him too

But he never got them ..

Black pink

Rose is clearly the main vocalist both technique and range

She has a very electrifying voice ...very unique

Jennie has a DISTINCTIVE voice too like really really unique

Jisoo has the harmonizing voice

Stay with me

Jennie and rose shine really hard in this song

Both capable of rapping and singing

Jisoo has really sweet voice and

Lisa ( do I really have to say anything ? )

Rapper like her is a with swag and presence is really refreshing

Both wining cards Lisa and taehyung

Both have uniqueness in their group

And as I see Lisa is actually being appreciated for it

Taehyung is yet to be appreciated

Fighting !!

Dany on May 10, 2017:

In bts

The only kpop group not having the best vocalist as main vocalist

Taehyung OBVIOUSLY the best vocalist ...the most stable in his range.. the widest range

Although jungkook suits more the base of hip hop genre

That is probably why he is the main vocalist


V is considered a vocalist not sub as some people say

A baritone like him is so rare

A baritone with his range is so rare

I would like to see him in his range for once cuz it is also so rare

How can u actually ask him to be stable if he is forced to sing out of his range or even growl ( as being the only person who can pull that off)

Tenors growling will weaken their vocals but what about taehyung ?

If he was trained as a baritone he would be really a winning card to bts

wilfred on April 24, 2017:

Where's Seulgi and Wendy?

Nico Pedersen on April 08, 2017:

I've read 4 articles about this, and yours is the most elaborate, but it's says the opposite of all the others. They basicly say that Main is the best, and Lead is the second best. Maybe it's the octave range and high notes part i don't get, cause all the ad-lib is normally the main, i think. So now i'm even more confused than before!

Melonhead on March 25, 2017:

Good article, but fix the apostrophe mistakes...

BANAna on December 03, 2016:

Wait what? I thought jinyoung is the main vocalist and sandeul is the lead? Im so confused. Someone help me

jc on November 20, 2016:

The main vocalist usually sings better than the lead vocalist...

Dat Le on October 26, 2016:

It was absolutely wrong about lead and main vocalist

Main vocalist is the best singer in group. They control sense and harmonize very good so they always sing almost the diffcult parts like reach high/low-note, adlibs and they must sing louder than the others in chorus

Lead vocalist sing very good too but they control their skills not as the main so they don't often get many diffcult parts. They also get many parts than the others and usually start or ending the song and get the bridge parts. They also support for main vocalist in chorus

Epic Lia on July 21, 2016:

Some of you would probably want an updated comparison with new groups so I'll done for BTS and Red Velvet.

(This is all my opinion though)


Lead Vocal- I believe that Jimin is the fit one for this position because he has a high vocal range and is usually the one doing the high notes. But yes, I do understand that Jungkook can do those too but it can't be BTS without the other members.

Main Vocalist- Definitely Jungkook. Jungkook has a for more wider and superior vocal range, there's really not much to add on since it's really obvious.

Sub Vocal- Jin. I am not sayin his voice is weak (he fits perfectly fine in the pointers the author of the article has made) but Jin's voice has been maturing more though, if BigHit continues to invest some more vocal training for Jin, he would be a possible fit for Lead Vocal because of his high ranged voice and his beautiful vibratos!

Sub Vocal- Taehyung (V) is another Sub Vocal, but just like Jin. Taehyung has a lot of potential to be a Main Vocalist this time. With his wide range in voice, he can go deep and then sing in falsetto in a matter of seconds. If BigHit invests more in the vocals of Taehyung and Jin, these are the possibilities they would get, but for now, they are Sub Vocals, which isn't a terrible thing ♡

Red Velvet:

Lead Vocal- Seulgi is definitely the Lead of this group. If you compare her voice with Wendy, her voice is a lot high and more suitable for higher parts. (Keep in mind in the beginning of One Of These Nights, Wendy starts off low and mellow and Seulgi comes in high and sweet.)

Main Vocal- It is definitely Wendy since she has a wide range of octave's and pitches as she sings. Wendy's voice is pretty much self-explanatory when it comes to being a Main Vocalist.

Sub Vocal #1- Although Joy started off as a rapper, she has showed her talents to us vocally as well. Out of the three Sub Vocals, she stands out more vocally since the Irene and Yeri are more into Rap and Dance, but Joy also has a potential to be a Main Vocal with her full honey-like voice and her vocal range. I'm really glad she's starting to sing a lot in songs though!!

Sub Vocals- Yeri & Irene. Both Yeri and Irene aren't that powerful vocalists, so they're kind just there in songs. But Irene is a rapper so she still has a big audio presence but with stage presence, Yeri is definitely more focused on that as she gives the stage more life and that young-feel since she's the maknae.

Hopefully this helped a little bit more because it did take me a while to understand since i'm not familiar with the group examples ^^

gugugagagugugaga on December 21, 2014:

well i guess they're your top fav groups then? i think u cn also add up some other spicy rising stars in kpop like apink and bts. maigad their voices are powerful and the distinctive criterias rly showed up in them individually. thanks for the info anyway~

John Paolo B.Magdaluyo from Philippine on June 29, 2013:

I am currently in with KPop music though I don't have any damn clue what they are saying. Anyway, good music, good vocals. I want to note Minho in the group SHINee, his a good as well, either, I don't have knowledge on musical skills so I couldn't make a clear conclusion about him. Good dancers as well.

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