While maknaes are known to be doted on by group members, there are also instances when they are regarded as very dispensable members who can just leave and not really make a difference. Here are three different cases of maknaes who have somehow struggled throughout their idol careers. 

INFINITE’s Maknae: Sungjong 

This one is not really serious at all. On the contrary, all Infinite members love their maknae Sunjong. For his part, Sunjong is every bit the maknae everyone expects him to be. He is super adorable, blessed with both a face and demeanor that doesn’t seem to age, and he is always there for his hyungs. Thus, it is no wonder Sunjong is the subject of intense doting from all the members. But as Infinite is one of those groups that couldn’t help but be very casual with each other, they always give each other the harshest treatment, one would think that they’re enemies if you don’t really know them any better. They love giving each other cutting comments (in jest, of course) and subject each other to very realistic and scary pranks. And in the case of the maknae, he gets ten times the smothering attention, ten times the pranks, and ten times the cutting comments. 

Since the start of each Infinite member’s social media account, all six members (including Hoya who was his roommate before the latter left the group) seemed to have understood SNS as the ultimate platform to make fun of their maknae. Each time Sunjong posts a picture which he claims in the caption showed his best angles and had great lighting, his hyungs would comment that it looks bloated or ask him what happened to his chin. In a number of instances, the members have taken it a step further by actually posting similar pictures of themselves imitating Sunjong’s posts, and parodying the maknae’s captions. There have also been a number of instances when the members would comment on their maknae’s fashions, usually comparing his clothes to food, like this incident when they compared Sunjong’s trenchcoat to an orange. 

Alas, who can forget the numerous instances when Sunjong was subject to intense ribbing in variety shows with his acting debut in Tonniverse where he said his iconic line, “When you have a lot of thoughts, [the solution] is lemon candy.” Even though he had other acting gigs after this, he will never bury the slight embarrassment from this career-defining moment, thanks in part to his members who somehow always make it a point to bring it up at every opportunity. 

But take note that Sungjong doesn’t take all this “attention” just sitting down. As much as he gets all this “bullying”, he also makes it a point to fight back and pull off antics with each of his hyungs. There was this one time that he kept on asking Sungyeol for favors like coming with him to events but often ends up accompanying his other hyung. Alas, when Sungyeol “exposes” the maknae’s mistakes on SNS, Sunjong retorts by saying he will never get tired of making Sungyeol mad. 

iKON’s Maknae: Chanwoo

The idol career of iKon’s Chanwoo has never been easy from the start. Most known as a child actor who appeared in K-dramas in the 2000s, everybody was a bit surprised when he suddenly appeared as an idol hopeful who joined Mix & Match, a reality competition that aimed to complete the line-up for iKON with new contestants plus a member of Team B, the group that only recently lost to Team A, which eventually debuted as WINNER in the program WIN: Who is Next. The entire TV audience saw with their own eyes how Team B’s leader, BI’s, expression dramatically changed from a smile to a scowl upon seeing Chanwoo enter the competition. In one of the show’s interviews, BI was quick to deny that he was not pleased particularly with Chanwoo and defended himself by saying he didn’t really dislike Chanwoo particularly. He said he was just not good with the idea that there would be more contestants that would compose iKON, as he was already very comfortable with his Team B members. Well, we saw what we saw. 

Anyway, Chanwoo was eventually selected as the final member of iKON at the expense of the other two contestant trainees, Jung Jinhyeong (who eventually debuted as solo rapper Jey) and Yang Hongseok (who went on to join CUBE and debut with PENTAGON). People who watched the show did remark that despite the two being more talented and outgoing than Chanwoo who was more awkward, it seemed that YG and the show’s producers have angled the show in his favor. Thus, with only his looks to contribute as he doesn’t have a lot going in terms of singing, dancing, and rap skills, his stable of haters was established. iKON debuted with relative success, but public sentiment towards Chanwoo remained lukewarm – he is a good-looking and sweet boy but doesn’t really contribute much to the dynamic of the group. 

Enter the “bullying” event of 2015, which resurfaced quickly after BI’s marijuana incident which caused him to leave the group. A live broadcast from 2015 has B.I allegedly “bullying” Chanwoo. In this broadcast, B.I was shown punching Chanwoo and snapping Chanwoo’s baseball hat off his head rather aggressively. The other members caught on camera seem uncomfortable with what was happening. Koreans pointed out that they almost look used to the situation and predicted there might have been a frequent bullying habit from B.I to Chanwoo.

There were parts of the broadcast that captured raw reactions from Chanwoo that showed him to seem actually hurt and offended by B.I’s actions. While at the time the video first became controversial, iKON clarified that such aggression is only a sign of affection and that the members are extremely close with each other, some Korean netizens didn’t buy it then and are not buying it now.

While Chanwoo has also been seen being the “evil” maknae through the years by fighting back and being mischievous towards his hyungs, it cannot be denied that he has been getting the shortest end of the stick when it comes to his career in iKON. He has never been highlighted, has never received the most lines in any song, and just usually comes off as a regular member who doesn’t give off unique charms. A lot of anti-fans have gone on to say that unlike BI’s departure from the group, there wouldn’t be much of a difference should Chanwoo be the one to leave the group as he doesn’t really contribute much. 

It seems that even after seven years, Chanwoo hasn’t really gotten himself a break and is still pretty much considered a filler rather than a major player in iKON. But then, with Chan reviving his acting career through the movie My Chilling Roommate, maybe we can finally witness the true blossoming of our maknae’s popularity. 

EXO’s Maknae: Sehun

Now, here’s a story of a maknae defying initial perceptions and making an actual mark not just in his group but in the K-pop landscape. When EXO debuted and when the group finally broke through popularity-wise via Wolf and Growl, let’s just say that like most maknaes, Sehun was not someone who had the attention of K-pop fans. Armed with killer looks and height, people were quick to dismiss EXO’s maknae as just another pretty face who didn’t really offer a lot when it comes to talent and overall charisma. Kai has dancing covered, the vocal line of Chen, Baekyun, and D.O is remarkable, and the Chinese members just ooze with charisma, leaving Sehun in the shadow of Chaneyol. See, Chanyeol is pretty much what Sehun is, and arguably more. Sehun is a rapper, and Chanyeol is as well, and arguably the better one at that. Sehun is tall, but Chanyeol is taller by two centimeters. Sehun is charismatic, but so is Chanyeol.  While it can be argued that Sehun’s dance skills are better than Chanyeol’s, Kai still reigns supreme in the department. 

It also doesn’t help that at the start, Sehun didn’t get that much exposure in EXO songs. Initially, it was reported that SM wasn’t particularly fond of Sehun’s speech patterns, as people noted he had a lisp. Later on, it was noted that he doesn’t have a permanent condition but rather only has a funny sound in his voice because he used to wear a lingual crib, which is a wire orthodontic device that’s supposed to help a person overcome the habits of thumb sucking and tongue thrusting. For us commoners, it’s pretty much like wearing braces. Apparently, our maknae has stopped wearing it and has since then improved on her diction and pronunciation. 

But then, a couple of incidents have involved Sehun in his career, including SM still giving him very little exposure in EXO songs and giving him rather silly parts like the iconically cringe-inducing) “Shawty, I’ma party till the sun down”. Is Sehun telling us he only parties until around 5:30 to 6 in the evening? How does that make sense? Does Sehun have buffet lunch parties for him to end his parties at sunset? 

And then, there’s that one issue handsome idols get plagued with: the gay “scandal”. From the start of his career, the issue Sehun’s sexual preferences have been the subject of much speculation. The wildest yet most popular of all these Sehun gay rumors went viral around 2017, with people pointing to him allegedly dating Chef Suke (Shawn E. Choi). The chef and restauranteur actually were initially known as a friend to both Sehun and Chanyeol, but for some reason, a lot of events around that time and IG posts of the chef only have Sehun, from him attending an EXO concert with a report of only the maknae leaving with him, Sehun’s birthday where the chef only posted a picture of the both of them without the other guests, a trip among “friends” to the Philippines that ended up with only the two of them, a number of EXO members attending the premiere of D.O’s movie, but Sehun sitting separately with the chef, among so many other incidences. Fans countered these rumors by claiming that Chef Sukle actually is married and has a family of his own. 

Sehun had to deal with these speculations again in February 2021, when someone on his Instagram Live asked out of the blue if he was gay. After reading the question, Sehun reacted by giggling and moving on to read the other questions. 

It seems that through the years, Sehun has learned to take all of the challenges in his career in stride.  Despite the rumors, it seems that his career not just as an idol, but as an entertainment industry personality has continually progressed. In EXO, he and Chanyeol have debuted the group’s second sub-unit, EXO-SC. On television, he has appeared in variety shows and has even acted alongside industry A-listers like Song Hyekyo and Jang Kiyong as well as in variety shows like Busted! and On Rent. He has even debuted on film via the Chinese release Catman in 2021. He had his first starring role in a Korean movie in The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure with Kang Haneul and is set to appear in his first TV drama lead role in Everything That We Loved

While these three cannot be easily qualified as maknaes on top, their growth and popularity cannot be denied. Here’s to more activities and work for our three maknaes who couldn’t seem to catch a break. 

Featured Image: A picture of Sehun from EXO Official Twitter page