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Each member of a KPop group is often given several roles by fans (or possibly by the labels). These roles may be something like the "main vocalist" or "lead dancer". Normally I'd think "main" and "lead" would be largely synonymous in this sort of context, but one group member will be the lead for one thing and the main for another, which is quite confusing. So for example, here are the roles KProfiles.com gives to Red Velvet:

Irene: Leader, Main Rapper, Lead Dancer, Sub Vocalist, Visual, Center
Seulgi: Main Dancer, Lead Vocalist
Wendy: Main Vocalist
Joy: Lead Rapper, Sub Vocalist
Yeri: Sub Vocalist, Sub Rapper, Maknae

Here's how the Blackpink Fandom.com site describes Blackpink members:

Jisoo: Lead Vocalist & Visual
Jennie: Main Rapper and Lead Vocalist
Rosé: Main Vocalist & Lead Dancer
Lisa: Main Dancer, Main Rapper, Sub-Vocalist, Maknae

It's easy to understand the role of a sub-vocalist or sub-rapper, but what's the deal with the "main" and "lead" roles? Is one of them higher than the other, do they correspond to "primary" and "secondary"?

As a sub-question, does anyone know how this terminology arose? Is it a translation of how group members are described in Korean? Because these titles seem to me to be just too close in English to have originated in English.

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  • It seems you are looking at the translated version of the description. Have you looked at the original (Korean) version?
    – Bebs
    Jul 17, 2020 at 7:46
  • @Bebs I have no idea where the "original" would be. I tried looking at their official Korean sites, but couldn't see anything like these terms on their profiles. I see these usages all over the place on English sites, particularly Quora. Probably most English speakers using them would have no idea where they originated either. Jul 17, 2020 at 7:54

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The term 'lead' in 'lead vocal' in KPOP actually means 'guide'. The main parts (or let us say, the heavy/difficult parts and chorus) usually belong to main vocalists, while the lead vocalists often take the parts where are pre-chorus, verses, not-that-difficult-part of main parts/chorus, or the beginning of the song (lead other vocalists). For example, in WJSN, lead vocalist Seola sings the first sentence of lyrics in their songs (e.g. Cantabile, I-YAH).

But this could be different varying with different groups, or according to different songs, which means lead vocalist could also sing the main/difficult/chorus parts of a song (very common, such like TWICE Nayeon (Nayeon is usually distributed to chorus parts together with their main vocalist Jihyo) and Jeongyeon (e.g. check their new song CRY FOR ME)), contrasted with Jihyo, to whom the chorus always distributed.

This 'lead vocalist sings main parts/chorus' also happens especially when there are not many members in a group, or only one main vocalist in a group, where the line distributions would be flexible. For instance, in BlackPink Rosé and Jisoo always share the main vocal parts together. There is an interesting example. In Kill This Love, both Rosé and Jisoo sing the pre-chorus parts (the choruses of BP's title songs are often nearly vocal-blank, which is why pre-chorus happens here). But you could still hear the first turn of second part of pre-chorus (from 나 어떡해 나약한 날 견딜 수 없어) belongs to Rosé, which I believe there are some reasons why they adopt such turns.

In effect and personally, I would like to say that there are not many differences between lead and main vocal except high notes' parts.

Additionally, the Korean noun of lead vocal is 리드보컬 (abbrev. 리보) and main vocal is 메인보컬 (abbrev. 메보). Both of them are transliterated words loaned from English.

Check the terms' explanation here and the differentiation here.

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  • So the "lead" is leading a call-and-response section of the song? If so, I could see an analog in some styles of gospel music. Kirk Franklin used to "lead" his gospel songs, but he definitely wasn't the main vocalist --he was barely singing. "Stomp!" is a good example of this. Jul 21, 2021 at 13:27
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The main vocalist usually receives the majority of vocal lines per song, especially the most challenging ones, because of their broad and steady vocal range. They often support the lead vocalist during the chorus, and are also more likely to receive solo parts than sub vocalists are.

The lead vocalist is actually secondary to the main vocalist, but takes the vocal lead in songs by singing before the main vocalist(s) during verses.

Read this. The explanation is clear

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    If possible, could you provide an example, or maybe a resource where I/we could read more?
    – Aaron
    Jul 28, 2020 at 18:31
  • How did these terms arise? Are they translations from Korean? Jul 28, 2020 at 21:50
  • I am not sure about that
    – elqldk
    Jul 29, 2020 at 16:04

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