K-pop is bigger than it’s ever been, and at the heart of the hype is seven-man boyband BTS. With their slick moves and ear-worming hooks, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook have conquered the world: they were the first K-pop band to reach number one on the US charts and have sold tens of millions of records.
BTS played a huge role in propelling K-pop into the mainstream but, thanks to South Korean law, they could soon find themselves conscripted into the army. South Korea requires all able-bodied men to undertake 18 months of military service by their 28th birthday. Which means that BTS, despite bringing billions to the economy and putting a global spotlight on K-pop, might have to drop it all for a year and a half of army training.
While lots of countries around the world don’t have compulsory military service in peacetime, plenty still do – and for good reason. Thanks to its 1,340-kilometre-long border with Russia, Finland obligates some kind of military service. South Korea, meanwhile, faces the threat of North Korea, a state with one of the largest standing armies in the world and which the South is technically still at war with.
In special circumstances, Koreans can get their military service postponed or reduced. Take Tottenham Hotspur footballer Son Heung-min, for instance. Son served three weeks of basic training in 2020 but exempted from the rest of his service after being part of the South Korea football team when they won the Asian Games in 2018.
Currently only medallists at the Olympic and Asian Games and internationally-renowned classical musicians can get an exemption. BTS, despite being the youngest-ever recipients of the Order of Cultural Merit from the President of South Korea (an award that celebrates contributions to Korean culture), don’t technically qualify.
So, should BTS get an exemption? Well, according to The Guardian, South Koreans are split. On the one hand, some believe BTS should be setting an example for ordinary Koreans, and that if they’re excused it could start a precedent for celebrities avoiding military service. Others believe BTS can do more good for the country by simply continuing what they’re doing.
BTS’s entry into military service has already been deferred longer than most thanks to a 2020 law that allows pop stars to defer service until they’re 30. The oldest member of BTS, Jin, is 29 years old and so would be required to report for service by the end of this year.
So, will being record-breaking global pop stars be enough to see BTS avoid conscription? Or will certain members of the group have to take a temporary break? Guess we’ll have to just wait and see.
Got five minutes to spare? Want to tell us what life is like in your city? Take the Time Out Index survey here.