By Jongyeop Jeong, 12th Grade
Last Monday, October 17, the discussion concerning the military duty exemption surrounding BTS, which has continued until recently, was finally resolved. Its management company Big Hit Music announced that starting with their eldest member, Jin, the remaining six members will all serve in the military in the upcoming years. According to the agency, the group members were content to carry out their duties.
BTS has grown into one of the world’s best-selling musicians over the past few years. According to Entrepreneur, their influence has been so significant that in 2017, BTS accounted for 1 out of every 13 foreigners that visited South Korea. They currently have six No. 1 Billboard hits, 30 million albums sold worldwide, and two Grammy nominations. Recently, the boy band announced that they would take a break as a group while pursuing their separate careers. The band reunited to perform a free concert in Busan on October 15 to support the port city’s campaign to host the 2030 World Exposition. Only two days after, the debate about whether BTS would get a military exemption ended, as BTS voluntarily expressed its intention to join the military.
All South Korean men between 18 and 28 must serve in the military for around two years unless they have a reasonable justification, such as having a disorder. It’s a crime for one to refuse to complete military service, and in the worst scenario can result in imprisonment and bring social stigma. The duty is compulsory as the country is still officially at war with its nuclear-armed neighbor North Korea.
Due to the band’s international fame, the country’s government enacted a bill in 2020 allowing them to postpone their duty until they reached 30. However, their fandom “army” sparked the controversy that BTS members should be allowed to perform alternative public service- that is, to serve in public facilities instead of active duty military service- or even receive an exemption due to their international prestige and contribution to raise the nation’s reputation and economy. Some lawmakers actually had suggested granting an exemption to BTS, despite concerns that it would invite accusations of favoritism, as they are “national treasures” of the country.
The current military law of South Korea only grants exemptions to specialists in art and sports, including high-achieving classical musicians and Olympic medal winners. Some famous examples are Seong-jin Cho and Son Heung-min, both globally successful individuals in their respective fields. The issue is that the law lacks equity in giving equal representation as it excludes pop culture artists. What impact would’ve had if the government granted BTS the military exemption? First, they would’ve counted pop culture artists among the arts specialists. Second, they would’ve developed strict criteria to determine what the artists need to qualify for the exemption, such as a No.1 success on the Billboard hits or a prize that gives them international recognition.
Members of BTS decided to join the army during their prime, despite the voices of the government supporting their exemption. However, this doesn’t signify an end to their journey. They are expected to reform around 2025 after all members have finished their military service. Additionally, when addressing the band’s chances in August, South Korea’s defense minister, Lee Jong-sup, said that the group could still perform while in the military. “There would be a way to give them a chance to practice and perform together,” he said.
- BBC. (2022, October 17). BTS: K-pop stars to take time out for military service. BBC News. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-63282589
- Bienasz, G. (2022, October 20). South Korea could lose billions during BTS military service hiatus. Entrepreneur. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://www.entrepreneur.com/business-news/south-korea-could-lose-billions-during-bts-military-service/437605
- Guardian News and Media. (2022, October 17). BTS members to do military service in South Korea. The Guardian. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/oct/17/bts-k-pop-members-military-service-south-korea#:~:text=Announcement%20ends%20long%20debate%20over,to%20reform%20in%20about%202025.
- 박소희. (2022, October 17). BTS, 맏형 진부터 군대 간다‥”입영 연기 취소”. MBC NEWS. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://imnews.imbc.com/replay/2022/nwdesk/article/6417868_35744.html