Line distribution refers to the amount of time that an artist in a group gets to showcase their talent in a particular song. For example, it is the number of lines each singer gets in a song that’s predominantly vocals or that each rapper gets in a song that’s mainly rap or both. It has been a topic of discussion but mostly heated debate when it comes to the real importance of line distribution in K-Pop and whether it needs to be equal or not. Recently, in August of 2020, the YouTube channel ‘Gurachul’ held an interview with the immensely popular K-Pop composing duo, Black Eyed Pilseung (BEP), which consists of Choi Kyu Sung and Rado, where the topic of line distribution is brought up, especially in the TWICE songs that he has produced.
BEP became popular after producing the hit song ‘Touch My Body’ for SISTAR and quickly followed up with that success by producing for GOT7, TWICE, APINK, CHUNGHA, COSMIC GIRLS, APINK, and most recently ‘Don’t Touch Me’ by Refund Expedition. Based on his views, it is not shocking at all that these are the groups that are mostly brought up when it comes to unfair line distribution. According to Rado, the line distribution entirely depends on the composer, and for him personally, he would much rather give the most lines to the lead vocalists because that is their job. Regarding TWICE, he said, “First of all, Nayeon’s voice is very refreshing and cute. And Jihyo is just an outstanding singer. I think the start, chorus, and the ending are the most important in a song. A good singer has to start off the song if you want people to view the group as good singers.” While this sounds so far so good, he goes on to say that Tzuyu’s job is just looking pretty and that’s her role. Understandably, this did not sit well with Netizens, fans, and non-fans alike, sparking another fresh debate about unfair treatment that manifests itself in the line distribution discrepancies.
There are self-explanatory reasons why line distribution is an essential part of K-Pop. A vital and integral part of K-Pop is composed of K-Pop groups, and groups are what brought K-Pop to the forefront of the global music scene, be it BTS, BLACKPINK, BIGBANG, or 2NE1. It is very evident from recent controversies that everyone is aware of (read: BIGBANG and AOA) that keeping a group together where everyone is on the same page is quite a herculean task. However, when members constantly keep being overlooked by their own group and their own producers and composers, a feeling of underhanded resentment is sure to build up even if it is not acted upon. The line distribution often defines an idol regardless of their assigned position. EVERGLOW, GUGUDAN, SISTAR, LOONA, NCT, and GFRIEND are among those groups that have consistently undermined some members in favor of others.
While this is by no fault of the members and depends entirely on the producers, it is even more reason to be furious about this kind of distribution. An important example of this is WinWin and Johnny from NCT who consistently get the least amount of lines despite their voices and talents being widely appreciated and, in some cases, even preferred by audiences.
Alternatively, artists who get the maximum lines also face fans' wrath for “hogging” all the screen-time or taking away lines from other members when again, it is not up to them at all. A good example of this is Nayeon from TWICE and Jennie from BLACKPINK, who get unnecessarily hated on for no fault of their own. Especially now, we’re quite well aware of the detrimental effect public opinion can have on an artist’s mental health. As such, it does no one good when producers/composers, time and time again, opt for such unfair line distribution. Those artists who continue to be pushed to the periphery are overshadowed by those that are preferred by producers and remain unrecognized. As they are unrecognized, they go unused, and as they’re not put to use, one may never know whether a particular song would much better suit this singer rather than the lead singer.
It is important to point out that not all unequal line distribution is unfair. SHINee, WINNER, 2PM, and 2NE1 have/had some of the best line distributions in K-Pop. ITZY has almost perfect line distribution and despite being a larger group, SEVENTEEN has always been quite consistent and fair with their line distribution as well. The same cannot be said, however, about ATEEZ. Groups like BTS, Red Velvet, EXO, and BLACKPINK have heavily improved on their line distributions. Initially, Jin would be the member who got the least lines in a song, but as his voice grew more stable and his talent clearly shone bright, he was highlighted in more and more songs that demanded the exact tone of voice. Jin’s voice is undoubtedly unique and calls for equally impactful parts meant for him. As BTS’ music grew and became more experimental, Jin was able to shine. One might point out "Dynamite" in this regard as having really poor line distribution.
However, while determining line distribution, it is also important to consider how comfortable an artist is with the part they’re being given. Jungkook is the main vocalist of BTS and the only vocalist who is most comfortable with English and English lyrics (RM is the rapper). He would face little to no difficulty during the live performance of the song. It was, therefore, a no-brainer that Jungkook would be assigned a major portion of the song. When it comes to rap, the song doesn’t demand heavy rap, and for the portion that it does, the rap-line has it quite perfectly sorted. One cannot simply demand more lines for someone in an English song where they themselves are probably not that comfortable in the language. Having completed 7 years as a group, it is safe to say that the members have quite a lot of say in the production process and therefore, it wouldn’t be a mistake to assume that they are in good hands. In groups with not that many members like BLACKPINK and Red Velvet, line distributions are far more clearly perceptible. However, for the same reason that they have fewer members, a large chunk of the song might go to one member simply because it suits their voice more, both in-studio as well as live and not because another singer is being overlooked. Physical condition, air capacity, and ability to sing their parts live are also taken into account when it comes to distributing lines. The most stable voices understandably end up getting the most lines. In this case, even though the line distribution is unequal, it is fair.