In order to meet the diverse interests of the public, Korean entertainment companies are increasingly releasing more groups with larger size.
“With this many members, surely one of them must be your type,” Korea JoongAng Daily quoted a saying widely used by the Kpop fan community.
This expression was born when fans noticed an increase in the average number of idol group members. In the first and second generation K-pop groups, with a series of artists that debuted between the late 1990s and early 2010s, 5 members used to be the standard number.
It can be seen that a K-pop group with more than 10 members, which used to make the public stir, is no longer a rare thing. For example, NCT, the most populous Kpop group today, has a total of 23 members.
The reason why Kpop groups have so many members
Early K-pop groups mostly had few members. In 1996, H.O.T, the first male idol group of the Korean music industry, debuted with a 5-member lineup. Similarly, S.E.S, the first girl group in K-pop, was introduced to the public in 1997 as a 3-member group.
Following that was the appearance of Fin.K.L (4-member girl group), g.o.d (5-member boy group) and Baby VOX (5-member girl group). Groups of more than 5 people like Shinhwa and Sech Kies were rare at that time.
With second-generation K-pop idols, a term referring to artists who debuted from the mid-2000s to the early 2010s, the 5-member group model became the standard formula. Most of the second generation K-pop idol groups, such as DBSK, SS501, Big Bang, Wonder Girls, Kara, F.T.Island, SHINee, f(x), had a debut with a 5-member lineup. Although Super Junior debuted with 12 members in 2005, at first, they were just a project group scheduled to work for 3 months.
When SNSD made their debut with 9 members in 2009, the number of members in the group immediately became a hot topic. The memorization of all the names of all 9 members was once considered an interesting way for people to prove that they are “up to date”.
In addition to a series of famous hits, SNSD also built a large fanbase by actively appearing on television. Each member was sent to participate in several different reality shows. According to Korea JoongAng Daily, SNSD‘s resounding success has proven the effectiveness of the large group strategy.
The trend of large groups reached a climax in 2012, when EXO debuted with 12 members, surprising Kpop fans. Initially, many viewers expressed curiosity about how the management company plans to arrange the lineup, from the line distribution to the way 12 people dance and coordinate on stage. Many argue that having too many members can make EXO‘s performance messy, weird, and distracting.
However, after EXO rose to become one of the most popular groups in Korea, thereby making the saying “With this many members, surely one of them must be your type.” became popular. The idea of forming a group with a large number of members began to be widely recognized in the Korean entertainment world.
“They didn’t know what people would like, so they just prepared everything,” Korea JoongAng Daily quotes what K-pop listeners jokingly reason as to why agencies started putting in as many members as possible.
At a time when the idol industry is entering a saturation phase with dozens of groups debuting in just one month, capturing the audience’s attention and turning them into fans has become a fierce competition.
The solution offered by the Korean entertainment company is to maximize the diversity of individuals’ interests. The large number of members means that there will be many different looks, personalities, and talents gathered in a group.
In particular, when the audience begins to like a member of the group, they tend to become fans of the whole group – which is of great benefit.
After the 13-member group Seventeen debuted in 2015, the idol group with more than 10 members no longer surprises the public.
The addition of foreign members
Nowadays, most of the crowded K-pop groups have foreign members.
That’s because the industry’s audience is no longer confined to Korean. In order to achieve the goal of developing on a global scale, many entertainment companies began to recruit foreign trainees. They found that one of the most popular and effective ways to reach foreign audiences was to launch groups with non-Korean members.
An employee working at a K-pop agency shared with Korea JoongAng Daily, “As the foreign market became increasingly important for K-pop idols, there has been a growing need to satisfy fans from many different nations and cultures. That has led agencies to add members that can appeal to different cultures – usually members from those countries. Such additions to have more diversity in K-pop groups naturally resulted in the overall increase of members”
As a result, increasing the recruitment of foreign members to make K-pop groups more diverse has led to an increase in the number of members in a group.
These days, it’s hard for K-pop fans to come across a group that only has Korean members. The nationalities of Kpop idols are becoming more and more diverse. In Kpop, there are Thai, Chinese, Japanese, American, or even Indonesian and Vietnamese idols. Some popular names can be mentioned Lisa (BlackPink), Bambam (GOT7), Momo, Mina, Sana (TWICE), Yuta (NCT), Victoria (f(x)), etc. who contributed greatly to increasing the group’s popularity at home.
The fan’s point of view
Initially, a group of many members often faced ridicule and complaints from the public that it was difficult to remember all the members’ names.
However, after they succeeded and built a loyal fanbase through quality music and performances, fans not only accepted the large lineup of members, but also considered this as the characteristic of the group.
In particular, many fans expressed their interest in the beautifully choreographed, elaborate choreography that only large groups can perform. The public praises many groups such as EXO, WJSN, The Boyz, IZ*ONE for making good use of their lineup to deliver spectacular and impressive performances.
However, many opinions point out that the model of a large idol group can lead to friction within the group’s fanbase itself. One of the most common controversies among K-pop fans these days is the line distribution among the members.
With a lineup of more than a dozen people, it is not uncommon for some members to sing for only a few seconds in the whole song. This will make the singer’s fans feel angry, think that their idol is being treated unfairly, and even generate hate for the members who get more lines or screen time.
However, the trend of debuting a large group of members in Kpop does not seem to show any signs of cooling down.
CLASS:y, the winning group of the music competition show My Teenage Girls, will debut with a 7-member lineup in April. Also this month, the 6-member girl group ILY:1 is scheduled to release their debut song. Recently, Brand New Music announced information about YOUNITE, a 9-member group with the participation of trainee Lee Eun Sang. SM Entertainment also said that they plan to add new members to NCT with no specific limit.
At the list of idol groups about to debut in 2022, Korea JoongAng Daily commented that “The more the merrier” seems to be the spirit of K-pop as of now.