Military service is demanded in South Korea, where able-bodied males have to serve 18-21 months before they are 28 years old.
And there’s no carve-out for celebrity, including the members of K-pop supergroup BTS — though CNN reported that South Korea’s parliament in 2020 enacted legislation that lets “pop stars — namely those who ‘excel in popular culture and art’” defer until age 30.
There had been years of debate over whether BTS members should be required to serve in the military, but CNN reported Monday that “with Jin turning 30 this year and the band’s announcement of a break in June from group musical activities to pursue solo projects, members are now making plans to serve.”
But no worries. The seven band members were all born between 1993 and 1997 and will be back in 2025, all having completed their mandatory service, according to Big Hit Records, which manages the group.
Big Hit Music said Monday that all seven band members are “moving forward with plans to fulfill their military service,” noting that “as each individual embarks on solo endeavors, it’s the perfect time and the members of BTS are honored to serve.”
According to The Guardian, the announcement that Jin will soon enlist “ends long debate over whether (the) K-pop group should get an extension.”
After Jin, whose actual name is Kim Seok-jin, in order of birth and thus service, the other BTS members are Suga (who turns 30 in March), J-hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook.
“While many fans of the K-pop sensations were hoping the band members would be given special consideration due to their contribution to the South Korean economy and international prestige, the artists will each serve almost two years in the military,” The Guardian said.
According to the BBC, “The K-pop group have been the world’s best-selling artists for the past two years — known for catchy, upbeat hits like ‘Dynamite’ and ‘Butter.’ They’ve also been praised for their advocacy on young people’s mental health.”
Some view the band, which formed in 2013, as “national treasures,” the article said.
Duty to serve
“All able-bodied South Korean men under the age of 30 must serve in the military for between 18 and 21 months — a duty intended to maintain the country’s ability to defend against a possible attack by North Korea, with which it is technically still at war,” The Guardian reported.
Women are not conscripted, but can choose to serve.
Failure to serve is a crime in South Korea, which can lead to both stigma and jail time. South Korean actor and singer Steve Yoo became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2002 to avoid serving in the military. He was deported from South Korea and cannot go back, according to multiple news reports.
The article noted some famed South Koreans have been allowed to provide “alternative public service,” a list that includes Olympic Games medal winners, and prize-winning classical musicians and dancers.
According to Korean JoongAng Daily, Yoo tried to visit Korea in 2015 by applying for a visa for overseas Koreans, but the Korean Consulate General in Los Angeles denied his application. He appealed and the Korean Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 2020, saying the denial procedure was wrong. But when he filed again, he was turned down and again appealed.
“A Korean court ruled in April that the past Supreme Court decision was only related to the procedural flaw. According to the court, the 2020 ruling did not mean Yoo was entitled to a visa, and that afterwards the Consulate General appears to have followed the correct procedures to deny his visa,” the article said.
Military Times reported that ”since the draft forces young men to suspend their professional careers or studies, the dodging of military duties or creation of exemptions is a highly sensitive issue.”
The Associated Press said, “After enlisting, Jin and other BTS members will receive five weeks of combat training before being assigned to specific units and duties, according to officials at the Military Manpower Administration, who stressed that the singers would go under the same process as other South Korean men.”
Until 2013, entertainers were usually assigned to radio and TV duties where they promoted the military. But the “entertainment soldier” system was ended amid concerns about its fairness, AP said.
Public opinion surveys in South Korea are mixed, as Military Times reported. It cited two surveys with different results, one in which 6 in 10 support exemptions for entertainers and another where 54% said BTS members should fulfill their duty.
Big Hit Music in a release said it will withdraw its request to delay Jin’s enlistment.