Last Updated on September 17, 2023 by BTS 101
One thing North American audiences might not know about South Korea is that every male must do between 18 and 21 months of mandatory military service. This service must be performed between the ages of 18 and 28 by law.
Korea cultural note: In Korea, they have traditionally marked age differently than in North America (although officially, this was changed with a new law in December 2022 adopting international age calculation).
Traditionally, newborn babies are immediately described as being “1 years old,” not zero as we would say here. And age is calculated not from your actual birthday, but just from your year of birth; everyone born in the same year is considered the “same age” and everyone turns one year older on January 1 of each year. This is something to keep in mind when watching older BTS content – when they refer to their age, they mean Korean age.
This means a few unusual things:
- A baby born at the end of December can already be considered “2 years old” just a few weeks later in January of the following year
- When discussing age, Koreans often say they are one or two years older than we would say they are (this is “Korean age” versus the way we calculate it from birth date in North America, referred to as “International Age”)
- Members born in the same year (like RM and j-hope, V and Jimin) have a special connection because they are “the same age”
BTS was granted a special temporary extension to the mandatory enlistment law by the Korean government in late 2020, giving each member until age 30 (international age) to enlist, rather than by age 28 (international age). This extension was technically granted to anyone who had been awarded the Korean Order of Cultural Merit, but since all members of BTS have been given this prestigious award, and few, if any, other Kpop bands have, it was clearly a BTS-specific extension.
However, the time has come and the members have started staggered military service enlistment, starting with Jin in December 2022.
Pretty much all idols in every other boy group have had to take a long break from recording and performing before they turn 28 to do their military service. Other groups usually cycle through their members – one or two will go away for a couple of years while the remaining members continue to record and perform without them, and then a couple more will go when the first group comes back. This has worked for many of the top bands but it does impact their career, and often has led to breakups or members breaking away for solo careers during and after the turmoil of the army service years.
It sounds like the members will enlist earlier than these dates, but these are the absolute last dates they could enlist:
- Namjoon would have to enlist by the end of 2024
- Jimin and Taehyung would have to enlist by the end of 2025
- Jungkook would have to enlist by the end of 2027
However, it seems that BTS will be compressing their military years and will have some overlapping enlistment as the HYBE announcement refers to an expected end date for all members of 2025. In order to reunite by the end of 2025, all members will have had to enlist no later than June 2024.
Actual enlistment dates:
- Jin – December 13, 2022 (Army service, 18 months; expected completion date June 13, 2024) – Bangtan Bomb of the other members dropping him off here. Jin left monthly video messages behind for ARMY:
- j-hope – April 18, 2023 (Army service, 18 months, expected completion date October 18, 2024) – Twitter pics of the other 6 (including Jin!) dropping him off / Bangtan Bomb of the dropoff (Jin is not shown as he is not allowed to make any money while enlisted, and it’s a monetized video). Hoseok’s letter to ARMY for 2023 Festa.
- SUGA – September 22, 2023 (Civil service, 21 months, expected completion date June 22, 2025)
- RM – RM became Ambassador for the Korean Ministry of National Defense’s excavation team on June 1, 2023, but this is a separate role from his official military service.
Will the band be able to survive and continue making top music while also managing their military service? We hope so, and they certainly will be leaving us with plenty of content – solo work from all members will be released in a staggered way by those not currently serving, and there is plenty of unreleased recorded content to come – not to mention years of past content to catch up on!
Other Kpop Bands to Explore
In the meantime, BTS’ parent company, Hybe, has branched out from being a one-band-operation into worldwide domination. They’ve launched new bands and brought more acts and other labels into their international fold. In particular, you’ll hear a lot about TXT and Lee Hyun, the only other acts under the BigHit label. Through other subsidiaries and acquired labels, Hybe also manages Enhypen, Gfriend, Seventeen, fromis_9, Le Serrafim, NewJeans, Zico, and BOYNEXTDOOR, among others.
If you’d like to explore Kpop outside of BTS, then there’s lots of other really fun music and great bands to get to know from other music companies. Here are some of our favourite Kpop singles and groups that might make for good listening if you’d like to delve deeper into the world of Kpop.
TXT – stands for Tomorrow X Together, a five piece boy band under BigHit and BTS’ “little brother” band. They (along with soloist Lee Hyun) are the only other act officially under the BigHit label. Starter songs: Blue Hour, Crown, We Lost The Summer, 0x1=Lovesong (written in part by RM), Magic, No Rules, Lover/Loser, Good Boy Gone Bad
Enhypen – This is the band that was created through the reality show i-Land, with BTS making two chaotic appearances as mentors in episodes 7 and 12; since they are also managed by HYBE, a lot of BTS or TXT fans follow Enhypen as well. Starter songs: Drunk-dazed, Fever, Tamed-Dashed
Seventeen – Seventeen are a 13-member band under Pledis, which is one of HYBE’s wider labels, so they often bump into BTS in the HYBE building and have appeared in each other’s TikToks and on Suchwita. Much like BTS, they write their own music (member Woozi is their primary composer and producer, and also famous as he looks a LOT like SUGA) and do a lot of their own choreography, plus their performances are amazing if you are into dance at all. Mingyu, The8, and DK from Seventeen are all good friends of Jungkook, and with Yugyeom of GoT7, and Cha EunWoo of the band Astro, they all hang out together as part of the “97s” group (sadly, Moonbin of the band Astro was also part of this 97s group until he passed away in April 2023). Starter songs include Left & Right, Pretty U, Don’t Wanna Cry, Very Nice, Rock With You, Darl+ing, Hot, Super, F*ck My Life
ITZY – ITZY is a girl group and they’re a good girl group starting place for BTS fans as two of their members – Ryujin and Yuna – appeared in the BTS Universe videos (as j-hope’s girl and Jungkook’s girl, respectively). Starter songs: Wannabe, Not Shy, Dalla Dalla, Shoot!, Loco
If you like ITZY, then it’s time to dive into girl groups! The biggest ones are:
Blackpink – Hugely famous and sells millions of records worldwide, they’ve also done collabs with Dua Lipa, Selena Gomez, and Ariana Grande. Most of their members have solo tracks too (Rose, Lisa, Jennie, and Jisoo). Starter songs: DDU-DU DDU-DU, How You Like That, Kill This Love, Pretty Savage, Ice Cream, BOOMBAYAH, Lovesick Girls, Shut Down; Lisa’s songs Money and LaLisa were worldwide smashes and you’ve probably heard them too
Twice – Super popular and have many big hits in Korea that are soooo catchy. Starter songs: Fancy, Feel Special, Cheer Up, Can’t Stop Me, What is Love?, Alcohol-Free, The Feels
Red Velvet – Has many fantastic songs that you will NOT be able to resist. Also one member – Wendy – is Canadian! Starter songs: Russian Roulette, Psycho, Peek-a-boo, Bad Boy, Queendom
IU – a solo singer-songwriter who is an absolute delight in concert and other videos. One of her early albums was the first one that Jungkook ever bought, and her song with SUGA, called Eight, won them both awards. Starter songs: Lilac, Celebrity, Eight, Love Poem, BBIBBI
Le Serrafim – is a young girl group who just debuted in 2022 under the wider HYBE banner – starter songs Fearless, Anti-Fragile, Eve Psyche and The Bluebeard’s Wife
fromis_9 is also a girl group also under the wider HYBE banner (they are Seventeen’s sister group at Pledis) – start with We Go, To Heart, #menow
NewJeans is yet another 2022 debut girl group under the wider HYBE banner, and they’ve had huge success on the international charts already – start with Attenion, Hype Boy, OMG, Super Shy
Other fun girl group starter songs to check out: Love Dive and Eleven by IVE, Dolphin by Oh My Girl, After School by Weeekly, ASAP by STAYC, Hands Up by Cherry Bullet (which features Jin and V’s girls from the BU), HIP by Mamamoo, Next Level by aespa, Tomboy by (G)I-dle
Other big names in boy bands you might want to check out include:
Stray Kids – a lot of BTS diehard fans find themselves drifting into Stray Kids – they have the same chaotic energy, are online literally all the time, and like BTS, write their own music. They also have the bonus of having two Australian members who are fully fluent in English and do a lot of English content online. (Fun fact: Stray Kids member Lee Know (real name, Lee Minho) was a backup dancer for BTS in 2017 and performed on the Wings tour with them.) Starter songs: Back Door, God’s Menu, Double Knot, Going Dumb, Thunderous, Maniac, Circus
The Boyz – The Stealer, Reveal, Bloom Bloom, No Air, Drink It, Thrill Ride, Maverick – we are partial to The Boyz because two of their members, Kevin and Jacob, are Canadian! They are also known for their absolutely AMAZING choreo – if you love unique, innovative, crisp dancing then definitely check out their performances from the competition show Road to Kingdom.
Ateez – Wonderland, Say My Name, Inception, Pirate King, Deja Vu – Ateez, Stray Kids, and TXT are sometimes referred to as the three top “4th Generation” kPop bands. Their member Wooyoung is a HUGE BTS fan and so Ateez has several very cool BTS covers (with full choreo) on YouTube – don’t miss their rocking cover of Stay by The Kid Laroi as well.
NCT – 7th Sense, Chain, Touch, Kick It, Superhuman, Whiplash; NCT is a huge band that often breaks into subunits for smaller releases so if you get into NCT, there’s a complicated web of performers and content to explore, including NCT 127, NCT Dream, and WAYV.
Lee Hyun – Lee Hyun is a solo singer with BigHit, although he was originally a member of the co-ed group 8Eight and the duo Homme. He’s older than BTS, as as one of only three acts that BigHit manages (along with BTS and TXT), he has known the members for a long time. He has his own YouTube channel where he posts vlogs and you’ll sometimes see BTS showing up in them, and they regard him as a kind of big brother. Homme’s song “I was able to eat well” was covered, hilariously, by j-hope and Suga (SOPE) at the 3rd Festa concert called the Happy BTS Day Concert (paid content on Weverse).
Block B – Her, Shall We Dance, Nillili Mambo, Very Good – Block B is the band that BTS “battles” at the 2014 MAMA awards; their main rapper Zico performed on the underground scene with RM before either of them were famous and is now a solo act under HYBE Labels. Speaking of which – definitely check out “Any Song” and “New Song” by Zico, too.
EXO – Love Shot, Monster, Tempo, Call Me Baby, Wolf – EXO is the OG Third Generation Kpop group and their fandom is also very organized and motivated online – sometimes leading to friction with ARMY.
GoT7 – You Calling My Name, Not By The Moon – although now reunited, they did have a long hiatus so you may see GoT7 members pursuing solo careers, including Jackson Wang (a good friend of RM’s) and BamBam (try his awesome song RiBBon) – both English speakers so they show up on American TV often. Meanwhile, GoT7 member Yugyeom is a very good friend of Jungkook and they even have matching tattoos of an ox (for the year they were born) and the word “truth.” GoT7 and BTS did a very cool joint performance at MAMA 2015.
iKon – Love Scenario, Killing Me, Rhythm Ta, CLIMAX, Apology – underrated and very cool, the song Love Scenario in particular was a monster hit and is a great song for transitioning into other Kpop.
MonstaX – Gambler, Love Killa, Hero, Jealousy – Kihyun of MonstaX is a close friend of SUGA.
Shinee – a second gen group who paved the way for the advanced choreo we see today; their member Minho was in Hwarang with V, and their member Taemin is said to be a good friend of Jimin’s and the two of them had a “dance off” back in 2017. Try their songs Don’t Call Me, Replay, Ring Ding Dong, Tell Me What To Do
Big Bang – Big Bang was a huge hip-hop act in the late 2000s that dominated the music scene and serves as a template for BTS and Block B. Their leader, G-Dragon, wrote and produced most of their music and still holds the record for the most production credits for a Kpop musician. Another member, Taeyang, is a longtime inspiration for Jimin and they collabbed on the song Vibe in 2023; Taeyang also appeared in an episode of SUGA’s talk show, Suchwita. Try their hits Bang Bang Bang, Haru Haru, Fantastic Baby, Lies, Bad Boy.
Epik High – With Canadian member Tablo as their main songwriter, Epik High’s songs have a more traditional hip-hop sound than many other Kpop acts. Their emotional and political lyrics were a huge inspiration to young SUGA, and he and Tablo are good friends now (rumour has it that SUGA, Tablo, and Eric Nam have a group chat!). Tablo also appeared on an episode of Suchwita and has a collab with RM on Indigo. Try: Love Love Love, One, Map the Soul, Wannabe, Born Hater
P1Harmony – younger up-and-coming boy group getting a lot of international attention, mostly thanks to their very funny and chaotic Canadian leader, Keeho (try Do It Like This, Doom du doom, Jump)
BtoB – Fabulous 2nd Gen balladeers! Try: Pray (I’ll Be Your Man), It’s Okay, Beautiful Pain, WOW, Missing You
Peakboy – is a solo rapper who is a good friend of V, and V appears in his video for his song Gyopo Hairstyle, plus Peakboy features on V’s solo song Snow Flower. Peakboy and V are part of a close-knit friend group in Korea known as the “Wooga Squad” which also includes well-known actors Park Seo-joon (Hwarang, Itaewon Class, Parasite, and soon to be in the The Marvels), Park Hyung-sik (Hwarang, Strong Girl Bong-soon, the Korean version of Suits, and also is a member of the band ZE:A), and Choi Woo-shik (Train to Busan, Parasite, Our Beloved Summer). Together this friend group filmed the 4-episode reality show In The Soop: Friendcation in early 2022 – available on Disney+.
Eric Nam – here at BTS 101 we have a huge soft spot for Eric Nam, a Korean-American host, emcee, and singer. He’s known BTS for years as they appeared multiple times on After School Club, an English show for teens in Korea that he hosted, and on Eric’s later show Yongnam. These days he has his own podcast (Daebak Show) where he interviews Kpop idols, his own YouTube variety show featuring other Kpop idols like Peniel from BtoB and Amber from f(x), and he also makes his own music. Try his cute singles Can’t Help Myself or I Don’t Know You Anymore.
Got your own favourite Kpop act you’d like to recommend? Let us know via our contact form and we’ll add them to this list.
Interested in learning more about these bands and how BTS fits into the history of Kpop? We’ve got an article about that, too!
Ready for even more? Deep dives into the Korean language and pop culture, including kDramas and movies, are part of the Hallyu Wave. You can find lots of great Kdramas and Korean movies on Netflix to get you started!