Photo: BTS’s Enlistment in the Military
Anyone who has existed online within the last 8 years has come across the international icons that are BTS. BTS, short for Bangtan Sonyeondan (translates to Bulletproof Boy Scouts in Korean), are the international sensations that have solidified its icon status as the biggest (K-pop) boy group in the world. Having debuted in 2013, the Bangtan Boys have dominated global charts, appeared on major magazine covers around the world, and rule social media with their billions of engagements on every platform. The revered superstar group, known for selling out stadiums in seconds, just announced their planned enlistment into the South Korean military along with a hiatus to last until 2025.
Though a bittersweet tragedy to the millions of ARMY (the BTS fandom name) members, it has been a topic of controversy and debate for those that are educated on South Korean history and law. For K-pop fans that have been attentive to the scene, the time in which their favorite male idol has to perform their compulsory military service was an inevitable impending doom. South Korea has a conscription requiring all able-bodied male citizens of South Korea to enlist in the military for a duration between 18 to 21 months. The age range that South Korea allows its citizens to enroll in service is 18 to 28 years old. However, the current age range from eldest to youngest in BTS’s members is 31 years old to 25 years old respectively.
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The seven Bangtan Boys, RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook, have been under examination by the South Korean government for about two years in evaluating their eligibility for military exemption. Jin, the eldest of the members, turned 31 at the commencement of 2022. BTS was granted a two-year extension once the time to enlist arrived, but has not reached a verdict on whether BTS was going to receive a pardon during this dragged-out examination, BTS and HYBE (BTS’s record label) took it into their own hands to inform the world of the Bangtan Boys’ intention to enlist and fulfill their duties before 2025.
What the Country Faces to Lose with BTS’s Hiatus
The requirements for enlistment are pretty straightforward. Able-bodied males must self-enroll in the mandatory service for 18 to 21 months before the age of 30. Judging by how the Bangtan Boys danced at 110% (per usual) at their free concert in Busan on October 15, they definitely passed the physical for being able-bodied with flying colors. There are, however, cases of exemptions granted to those with national prestige in the arts or athletics. Exemptions are very rare but are given to individuals deemed to have brought international renown to South Korea through their skills. Examples of those who qualified for exemption from the conscription are Olympic medal winners and classical musicians recognized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. The controversy that fans, South Korean citizens, and the South Korean government deliberated over was if BTS’s global influence in music permitted their exemption.
Those favoring an exemption for the Bangtan Boys noted some great facts. Aside from their massive cultural impact in about every country in the world, BTS was stated to have contributed over 5 trillion South Korean won (about US $4.9 billion) to the South Korean economy. With the announcement of military enlistment and a group hiatus being announced to live until 2025, it’s predicted that the South Korean economy is projected to lose billions. Many people against an exemption for BTS fail to realize their economic impact, hyper-focusing on how a military exemption would be unfair to the many other male K-pop idols and that had paused their careers for mandatory service. BTS’s enlistment not only hurts the hearts of the fans, but the country’s wealth. The exemption opposers also seem to disregard how grand BTS is in the eyes of the world. Having spoken at United Nations conferences and existing as the only Korean act to be nominated for a Grammy, BTS shouldn’t be held to the same standard as any other idol out there, even if idols before them have done it. BTS’s achievements outshine any other K-pop act to this date.
The Smart Move to Honor Their Country
Making headlines internationally, this is actually a smart move for the careers of the Bangtan Boys to retain their honor in their country. In South Korea, military service has been a long tradition for as long as the conscription has been set, going back to 1957. Military service is culturally part of a male’s upbringing to adulthood and ditching service would translate to an unappreciation and dishonor from the country.
One K-pop idol has unfortunately been a demonstration of what happens when someone dodges their obligations to the country. In 2002, Yoo Seung-jun was called up for his service, but in an effort to evade his drafting, he became a U.S. citizen, for he had lived in the U.S. since he was 13. In contrast to what he believed was the right move for his career and fans, this move by Seung-jun led to his deportation from South Korea for it was seen as an act of desertion. In addition to deportation, Seung-jun also received a ban from South Korea, having not been allowed to enter the country unless it was for a trial reviewing his requested ban reversal. To this day, Seung-jun has struggled to re-entry into the country, has appealed his ban in 2019 but still received a denial in a visa request in 2020.
Furthermore, the draft evasion led to many fans dissociating themselves from his camp. Ultimately, it was a complete backfire. Though this is an evasion, which differs from the hypothetical exemption BTS would have received, it goes to show the extremity of the military service’s importance for the honor of South Korea’s people and government. Granted that the BTS ARMY is a very loyal fandom, and the probability of their dissociation with BTS would be low, it would still strike most non-ARMY Koreans as unfair and disreputable. BTS, however, has stated times before that, regardless of the result of the South Korean government, the Bangtan Boys plan to comply with the drafting and carry out their duties.
What to Expect From BTS Until the End of the Hiatus
The Bangtan Boys are currently composing their solo projects. J-Hope released his hip-hop solo album, ‘Jack in the Box’, in July of this year and headlined Lollapalooza Chicago. Jung Kook, the youngest member, and center of the BTS, currently is featured on a Charlie Puth single that has charted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 16 weeks (and counting). Jin announced his upcoming solo single album, ‘The Astronaut’, which is co-written by Coldplay. The other four members have yet to announce anything about their projects, but the ARMY can expect to hear about a solo project by each member within the next year.
Between the release of the solo projects and the completion of the Bangtan Boys’ military service, the BTS ARMY will have to withstand the hiatus. Fortunately, fans can still expect pre-recorded content and possibly some music releases during BTS’s military time. Luckily, many big boy groups that have attended military service as a group were able to take temporary leave and perform for a day. It’ll be a great day once that comes, as it’s always fun (and a tradition) to see the idols dancing in their military uniforms. Until then, it is undetermined when fans will get to see BTS perform again.
‘Jack in the Box’ by J-Hope is available to stream on streaming platforms.
Charlie Puth’s single, ‘Left and Right feat. Jung Kook of BTS’ has a music video on YouTube and is available to stream on streaming platforms.
Jin’s solo single album, ‘The Astronaut’, will be released on October 28 on all streaming platforms.
By Nino Vongphachanh
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