K-pop group BTS enlists in South Korean military


@bts_group_pics on Instagram

Carla Paz, Staff Writer

World famous K-pop boy band BTS announced their enlistment into the South Korean military on Oct. 17. This announcement comes after years of speculation from the South Korean government of possible military exemption and a hiatus brought to light by the group in June 2022. The oldest member of the group, Kim Seok-jin, better known as Jin, will be the first to enlist at the end of October and will last 18 months. The plan for the other six members’ enlistment periods has not yet been made public by their label HYBE, but regardless, all of the members will complete their service by 2025.

Since the Civil War between North and South Korea began, all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 to 28 have been drafted into the South Korean military. Though there has not been any recent active warfare between the two countries, South Korea still keeps the enlistment policy. The country gives the option to defer enlistment until the age of 28 for citizens. In 2020, the government amended the law to make it so that the K-pop idols can defer their enlistment up to the age of 30. This amendment gave Seok-jin, who turns 30 in December, the option to continue his music career. However, because of the success that BTS has worldwide, the South Korean government was debating whether BTS should qualify for a military exemption or not.

A military exemption is not new–many Olympic athletes and classical musicians have received military exemption in South Korea. If the government chose to approve BTS military exemption, they would’ve been the first idols to receive this permission. The possibility of BTS getting military exemption has been controversial among Korean citizens because it is viewed as a special privilege. In South Korea, joining the military is practiced as a rite of passage for men, and anyone who has taken loopholes is deemed to be wrong.

Famous Korean-American pop singer Yoo Seung-jun renounced his Korean citizenship to become an American citizen in 2002 and many South Koreans saw this as an attempt to avoid military conscription. This resulted in his being banned from entering the country, which is still in place to this day, even after multiple appeals. Even though the government decides on the exemption for BTS, the group and HYBE have never advocated for exemption. After years of waiting and deferring, BTS members decided to enlist.

The South Korean government wanted to wait before they made a decision due to the amount of money and positive attention that BTS brings to the country. Since 2013, BTS has brought in $29.4 billion to South Korea’s economy through tours, merchandise, and sponsorships. In terms of tourists, the Hyundai Research Institute found that in 2017, one in every 13 tourists who visited South Korea came to the country because of BTS. Every year, BTS has generated an estimated $1.1 billion from merchandise alone.

This K-pop group has not only been a great contributor to South Korea’s economy but also to the perception of the country worldwide. In 2017, BTS launched a campaign with UNICEF called “Love Yourself,” which encouraged fans to overcome hardships and learn self-acceptance. The campaign led to the group’s appearance at the United Nations (UN) in September 2018. In 2021, they once again went to speak at the UN, but as Presidential Envoys for Future Generations and Culture for former South Korean president Moon Jae-In. One million people tuned in to watch their address on the UN’s live stream. This month, the group performed a free concert in Busan, South Korea to 55,000 in-person fans and 49.07 million people watching through a live stream across 229 countries, to support South Korea’s bid for the World Expo 2030.

Even though BTS has contributed to the economy of the country and the South Korean government was contemplating military exemption, they took it upon themselves to enlist. After the news was announced, HYBE’s stock fell 2.5 percent. HYBE’s stock has lost half its value since BTS’ hiatus announcement in June. Many BTS fans are sad about the news, but they are supportive since it’s a decision that the group made themselves. In their statement, BTS referenced their recent single “Yet to Come,” promising fans they will come back stronger than ever.