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[Newsmaker] Discussion over BTS members' military service reignited

BTS (Big Hit Entertainment)
BTS (Big Hit Entertainment)

K-pop sensation BTS becoming the first Korean act to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart with its recently released single has reignited a debate over the seven members’ military service.

Under the current law, all able-bodied South Korean men are obliged to serve in the military for 18 to 22 months.

The band’s eldest member Jin, whose legal name is Kim Seok-jin, has to start military service before the end of next year, according to Big Hit Entertainment. Jin was set to begin his military service this year after turning 28, but the BTS‘ agency said that the singer was able to push it back for a year as he is enrolled in an online graduate school program. The law allows master‘s degree students to delay military service until they turn 29.

This is not the first time that BTS members’ military service has become the subject of a heated debate. Last year, criticism of the current exemption system rose after the boy band recorded its third No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. BTS fans and those who support BTS‘ military service exemption said that the current law is outdated and unfair.

Introduced in 1973, the military exemption law allows classical musicians and athletes who have won awards in state-recognized domestic and international competitions to serve in alternative service or be exempted from military service. The law does not apply to pop artists like BTS.

The debate ended last November when Culture Minister Park Yang-woo officially announced that BTS will not be exempt from the military service during a press conference held after attending the UNESCO Forum of Ministers of Culture in Paris.

“In the case of BTS, I wish I could allow exemptions for them under certain standards, but the Military Manpower Administration and the Ministry of National Defense (in charge of conscription) are inclined to downsize the overall scope (of exemptions),” Park said at the time.

This time around, there is a move to delay the BTS members’ military duty.

On Thursday, Rep. Jeon Yong-gi of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea submitted a revised bill that aims to allow figures who’ve made great contributions in popular culture and arts to postpone mandatory military service. Jeon’s bill includes a proposal to allow a person to delay military service until he turns 30 upon recommendation by the Culture Minister and confirmation by the head of Military Manpower Administration.

The lawmaker emphasized that exemption and postponement are two different issues and the country should provide a choice to pop artists, whose careers usually peak in their 20s.

Meanwhile, the members of BTS have not expressed clear opinions on this topic. Jin only briefly referred to the possibility of military enlistment in April last year when he appeared on CBS’ “Sunday Morning.”

“As Koreans, it‘s natural. Someday when duty calls, we will be ready to respond and do our best,” Jin said during an interview on the American TV show.

By Song Seung-hyun (