BTS band members must do military service, South Korea’s defence ministry says

'When duty calls, we’ll be ready to respond and do our best'

Mariel Padilla
Monday 25 November 2019 09:17 GMT
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BTS are the first South Korean musicians to top the US Billboard charts
BTS are the first South Korean musicians to top the US Billboard charts (Getty)

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The seven members of the K-pop group BTS, the first South Korean musicians to top the Billboard charts, must fulfill their mandatory military service, the country’s defence ministry confirmed this week.

By law, able-bodied South Korean men must register to spend about two years in the armed forces, as part of a conscription system seen as crucial to the country’s defence against North Korea. Women are exempt, but can enlist.

K-pop stars are no exception, Lee Nam-woo, an official with ministry of defence, said at a news conference Thursday.

The public has shown significant interest in the government’s consideration of exemptions for popular artists who have contributed to the country’s reputation, he said, but the exemptions have been denied.

All seven members of BTS are in their 20s.

“As a Korean, it’s natural,” Jin, whose birth name is Kim Seok-jin, said in a CBS News interview in April. “And someday, when duty calls, we’ll be ready to respond and do our best.”

Big Hit Entertainment, a South Korean entertainment company that manages BTS, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Athletes and classical musicians have occasionally been granted exemptions if they won gold medals at the Asian Games or any medal at the Olympics or received international awards.

Draft exemptions are highly sought after in South Korea, where more than 230,000 young men each year, usually between the ages of 18 and 28, must interrupt their studies or careers to join the military. However, the defence ministry said fewer than 45 people are exempt every year, according to Reuters.

Tamar Herman, a Billboard journalist who has covered K-pop and the East Asian entertainment business, said the group and their fans are generally aligned and in support of the military rule.

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Their K-pop peers have served, so starting a precedent now by exempting BTS would be disruptive, Ms Herman said. It’s also a matter of national pride. Celebrities’ careers have been ruined for trying to evade service, she added.

BTS has not previously said whether its members will stagger their time in the military or all register at once, Ms Herman said.

“There’s this idea that this might put a halt to their popularity, but their fandom is so big, I personally don’t think it will,” Ms Herman said. “Only time will tell.”

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