BTS restarts conversation on K-pop stars' military service in South Korea

BTS restarts conversation on K-pop stars' military service in South Korea

Parliament is now debating a new amendment that would allow the singers to do just three weeks of military training.
05 Jul, 2022

A surprise decision by South Korean boy band BTS to take a break from live shows has rekindled debate about mandatory military service in a country setting global pop-culture trends while facing a decades old Cold War threat.

Military service is hugely contentious in South Korea where all able-bodied men aged between 18 and 28 are meant to serve for about two years as part of efforts to defend against a hostile North Korea.

Over the years particular categories of men have won exemptions — either allowed to put off service for a certain time or allowed to do shorter service — including men who win a medal at the Olympics or Asian Games and classical musicians and dancers who win a top prize at certain competitions.

Under a 2019 revision of the law, globally recognised K-pop stars were allowed to put off their service until the age of 30.

Parliament is now debating a new amendment that would allow K-pop stars to do just three weeks of military training.

For BTS and in particular for the band's oldest member, known to fans as Jin, the outcome of the deliberations in parliament will be momentous.

While the band's management company has long presented the seven BTS members as keen to do their duty, the reality of two years of full-time military service is coming sharply into focus as time ticks by.

Jin, 29, has put off his service for as long as he can and is facing the imminent prospect of a full stint — meaning two years out of the public eye — when he turns 30.

For Jin and his band mates, waiting for parliament to decide has been hugely stressful and is the main reason they are taking a break from performing, said Yoon Sang-hyun, the lawmaker who proposed the amendment to include three-week training for K-pop stars.

"The members cited exhaustion and the need for rest as the main reason but the real reason was Jin's military service," Yoon told Reuters.

The extent to which BTS had raised South Korea's profile around the world through "soft power" should be taken into account when considering their military service, Yoon said. "BTS has done a job that would take more than 1000 diplomats to do," he added.

Since their 2013 debut, BTS have became a worldwide sensation with their upbeat hits and social campaigns aimed at empowering youth.

BTS became the first Asian band to win artist of the year at the American Music Awards last year, and they met U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in May to discuss hate crimes targeting Asians.

Choi Kwang-ho, secretary-general of the Korea Music Content Association, a coalition of K-pop agencies including the band's Big Hit management company, said the wait for a decision was excruciating. "The young artists have been tortured with hopes that never come true," Choi said.

A Gallup poll in April showed nearly 60% of South Koreans supported the bill exempting globally successful K-pop stars from full military service, with 33% opposed.

The band and their management company have steered clear of the debate but in April Big Hit official Lee Jin-hyung told a news conference in Las Vegas that some band members were having a "hard time" because of "uncertainties" over the parliament debate. He called for a decision.

Jin, asked hours later about Lee's comments, said he was letting Big Hit handle the issue though adding that what Lee said reflected his view.

K-pop is not the only sector hoping for a change in the rules. The new administration of President Yoon Suk-yeol is considering exemptions for some engineers and researchers in the computer chip and other tech fields.

The Ministry of Defence pointed to a constitutional requirement for all citizens to do their duty to defend the country.

"Adding pop culture artists in the scope of art and sports personnel who are eligible for the exemption requires careful consideration in terms of fairness," a ministry official said.

Some young men also wonder about the case for special treatment for BTS.

Seo Chang-jun, 20, said he understood why Olympic winners got an exemption but wasn't sure about BTS. "The Olympic Games are national events where all Koreans cheer for the same team but not everyone is a BTS fan. Many people aren't interested in them," he told Reuters.


M. Saeed Jul 05, 2022 03:30pm
What happened to the Student's compulsory youth training program in Pakistan, which even carried some addition marks in HSS exams?
M. Saeed Jul 05, 2022 03:37pm
We should also restart the mandatory military service in Pakistan, which was existing during the 70's-80's in pre-degree colleges.
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Jul 05, 2022 04:36pm
Who cares?
DreamChild Jul 05, 2022 07:46pm
~I Live In The US..I Surely Have no Say In Another Country's Laws. If For A Moment I Could Humbly Offer my Small Opinion. BTS Is A Worldwide Power. yes..A Power. They're Ambassadors Representing Their Wonderful Country&Have Used Their Power&Position To Help Make The World A Better Place Not Just For The Korean People but Everyone. Not Something To Be Taken Lightly. They've Demonstrated Time&Time Again Their Heart's Desire Is To Encourage The Youth Of The World To Keep Going. They've Given Precious Hope Where Hope Was Lost. It's True "Not Everyone Likes BTS" but The Number Of People In The WORLD Who Do Can't Be Overlooked. This Global Fanbase Are Acting In Many Physical Ways On Positive Messages Of BTS. An Olympian Inspires Youth To Keep Working Hard &One Day, They Too, Can Achieve Their Dreams. BTS Have Inspired The Same. They've Lit The Same Fire Of Ambition In Young People All Around The World. They're A Bright Star Of Hope For A Better Future. Please Don't Extinguish Their Flame.
Bia s Jul 06, 2022 01:06am
@Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad we
Shirley Jul 06, 2022 04:28am
They have done so much for South Korea and for everyone across the world . They have helped kids and adults with health issues with their music also they talks. Let it be three weeks please because two years is a long time to be gone from music. Everyone still needs them. Thank you . I am 75 years old
ChelleRM Jul 06, 2022 05:30am
I believe they should be exempt from service. They have power to reach so many people and represent South Korea to the world !! They are a powerhouse!! Keep up the good work BTS and BigHit.
Anonymous Jul 06, 2022 05:54am
@DreamChild They inspired the groups Enhypen and Tomorrow x Together
Nancy Jul 06, 2022 09:02am
Haters can't wait to laugh when the boys break-up for military service. Even 6 months of military service would be fair enough for BTS. They make a lot of money for South Korea and are even government diplomats! Just my own opinion. I'm sure it's not as easy as a that, but wishing they could be exempt, or do the 3 weeks.
Karen Vineyard Jul 06, 2022 09:33am
I thought this was issue behind the announced break. Im from US understand the mandatory service thing re the Korean history but hoping a reduced or credit for their work in promoting for S Korea globally would be considered. Seeing stocks drop & reading they are like 5th in the country's gpa makes this a huge $$$ issue the government can't hardly afford to ignore either.
Queen Jul 06, 2022 10:44am
Why should BTS be allowed to do only three weeks of military service when other popular Kpop groups like EXO are doing full time military service of two years? This is discrimination.
Somers Jul 06, 2022 02:49pm
Seo Chang Jun, you obviously do not understand what is soft power. Go back to school to relearn. Olympians give glory to SK. BTS gives worldwide stage glory to SK, boost your country economy and increase job opportunities. Your Olympians benefits personal levels more. Impact is different.
Jean Meiers Jul 06, 2022 02:53pm
After the significant funds they have generated for the country, the outstanding portrayal of South Korea positivity, their representation to the UN and United States, the BTS men have more than paid their dues. I would agree the 3 week maximum fitness program as being enough if the government believes they need to participate militarily at all.
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Jul 06, 2022 03:35pm
@DreamChild Great South Korean multinational corporations like KIA, SAMSUNG, LG, Hyundai, Dawoo etc. have been the real and true ambassadors of the country as compared to these guys, by creating millions of jobs all over the world and helping people of all ages, race, ethnicity, background, creed, class, color, education, wealth, health and national origin to make a honorable living, to say the least.
samantha Jul 06, 2022 03:52pm
me personally i just think that they’ve done already enough for south korea so they deserve something not so stressful and “many people aren’t a fan of bts” so many are so like..what was the reason for that.
samantha Jul 06, 2022 03:57pm
@Queen bts has taken over their fame literally in other countries example america if u showed a non kpop fan a photo of exo they will usually say that’s bts no matter what’s different with the amount of members, hair, face, etc (unless they know exo) also bts has made south korea gain wayy much popularity and money
Merry Jul 07, 2022 03:28am
@DreamChild but for me it's unfair to the other groups that served during their peak and one more thing their fandom has been using this exemption thing to degrade other groups who are part of hallyu wave like Bigbang, Sujo, EXO even the blackpink and called them losers and useless coz they serve not exempted they also mocked the military men in uniform when their faves achieved something. And they also have big accounts in twitter that promotes racism and bullying and yes I'm a fan of other group just last year and fanwars is so toxic .
Merry Jul 07, 2022 03:32am
@samantha it's because EXO were never promoted to west but they also have big fanbase to west and they are just waiting for them to finish the military service. They have international offers/collab with clean bandit but the company is the main enemy like rejected those offers for EXO.
Beth E. Jul 07, 2022 03:34am
@Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad No one ever sat and watched days worth of Samsung ads for their products like they do with BTS videos. No one ever wanted to learn more about SK, or generate feelings of brotherhood bcuz they bought a cell phone or a refrigerator, or a bluetooth player. Businesses create rivalries, competition, ugly legal battles, mistrust. China is wary of all foreign injection and trade yet BTS has been Welcomed with open arms bcuz of the good feelings and mutual economic benefit they create for their country. That never happened with Dawoo. Are you saying that the 1,000s upon 1,000s of jobs generated when BTS performed for four days in Las Vegas a month ago were of no benefit to anyone? I'll bet there are a few stage hands and food vendors who would beg to differ. People made $$$$$ from those shows. BTS has done more for the global economy than Samsung. And, I own Samsung products. But I never thought I wanted to visit SK bcuz I have a Samsung TV.
Kimenm Jul 07, 2022 04:42am
@Queen Not really. When you base it on the level achieved by BTS, and the money brought into the country, there is a huge difference. Just as the classical musicians that had to get 1st Place to be exempt. Not second. First. Put feelings aside. BTS has outdone EXO as far as achievements, world influence and money brought into S. Korea.
. Jul 07, 2022 12:42pm
@Queen because they have done so much already. Not saying EXO haven't but BTS literally carry diplomat passports and have met Biden, have spoken multiple times for the UN etc... I believe a short service it granted
Kim Min Jul 07, 2022 07:31pm
@Queen BTS have brought so much to South Korea as well as the world. They have done many things that no other kpop group ever did. In fact there is no kpop group to out done BTS. So with everything they have done that other kpop groups were not capable of doing BTS deserve to be treated specially. And if BTS go to military service from the news I've seen South Korea will have a huge loss.
dee Jul 09, 2022 11:30pm
Tbh BTS no matter fan or not has done what no other artist or entertainer has or will ever do they have done so much for world not just Korea. World made them who they are not Korea tbh. Either 3 or 5 week boot camp would be enough but imo BTS should have done military when covid hit then they be done now but whatever HYBe screwed that up tbh