Last Updated on November 5, 2021 by BTS 101
One thing North American audiences might not know about South Korea is that every male must do 18 months of mandatory military service. This service must be performed between the ages of 18 and 30 by law.
Pretty much all idols in every other boy group have had to take a long break from recording and performing before they turn 30 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.
BTS is now facing this situation as Jin, the oldest, is turning 30.
Complicating this discussion: In Korea, they mark age differently than in North America. 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 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
- Members born in the same year (like RM and j-hope, V and Jimin) have a special connection because they are “the same age”
Jin was born in 1992 and that means he’ll turn 30 by North American reckoning in December, 2022. But by Korean reckoning, he’s actually already 30 – he turned “30” in January of 2021.
Why isn’t Jin in the military, then? BTS was granted a special temporary 2-year extension by the Korean government in late 2020. 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. The extension was granted because BTS is so essential to the Korean economy – between music sales, concerts, merchandise, and a general interest in tourism for Korea, they account for a measurable percentage of the country’s GNP.
However, it’s unlikely that BTS will be given a complete exemption from military service. Although it is possible, other kPop bands have already launched lawsuits demanding the same treatment and access to extensions, and it’s a slippery slope for the government that they don’t really want to slide down. In fact, they recently tightened up their laws so that idols that hold dual citizenship – previously exempt from service – now must officially renounce their Korean citizenship if they want to be exempt, affecting several younger idols from foreign countries.
Some have suggested that BTS all do their military service together, which would result in a complete absence of the band for a two-year cycle. Others have suggested that their recent performances without SUGA – he missed all performances in late 2020 and early 2021 due to having shoulder surgery – have shown that the band can continue without some members while they take turns doing their service.
Will the band be able to survive and continue making top music while also managing their military service? We hope so – but in any case, it is a major upcoming issue for them that you’ll see talked about a lot online.
BTS hopes to be able to do at least one last live tour as OT7 before Jin must enter the military by the end of 2023. Get your tickets – if you can!
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, and Zico, 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. TXT sometimes appear with BTS and BTS are sort of like big brothers to them. Starter songs: Blue Hour, Crown, We Lost The Summer, 0x1=Lovesong (written in part by RM), Magic, No Rules, Lover/Loser
- 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. Starter songs: Back Door, God’s Menu, Double Knot, Going Dumb, Thunderous
- ITZY – ITZY is a girl group and they’re a good 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Other fun girl group starter songs to check out: 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
- Other big names in boy bands you might want to check out include:
- 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 vLive).
- 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” by Zico, too.
- 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.
- EXO – Love Shot, Monster, Tempo, Call Me Baby – 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 – sadly now defunct, 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.”
- Seventeen – Left & Right, Pretty U, Don’t Wanna Cry, Very Nice, Rock with You – Mingyu from Seventeen is another good friend of Jungkook, and he, Yugyeom of GoT7, and Cha Eun Woo of the band Astro hang out together as part of the “97s” group.
- 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.
- Ateez – Wonderland, Say My Name, Inception, Pirate King – 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.
- 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.
- MonstaX – Gambler, Love Killa, Hero, Jealousy – Kihyun of MonstaX is a close friend of SUGA.
- Shinee – a first 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. 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!). Try: Love Love Love, One, Map the Soul, Wannabe, Born Hater
- BtoB – Fabulous 2nd Gen balladeers! Try: Pray (I’ll Be Your Man), It’s Okay, Beautiful Pain, WOW, Missing You
- SF9 – Good Guy, O Sole Mio, ROAR – you can also try their “little brother” group, P1Harmony, which features a very funny Canadian member, Keeho
- 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).
- 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 single Can’t Help Myself or his latest comeback 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!