South Koreans are divided about whether the members of BTS, K-pop’s megastar group, should be exempted from mandatory military service.
Very few able-bodied young men 18 and older have been allowed to skip military service, with South Korea on constant alert, that North Korea, with whom it’s still technically at war, could launch an attack at any time.
Even popular K-pop stars such as Exo and G-Dragon had trained and served in the military for at least one and a half years.
Exemptions have been given before to award-winning classical musicians who are recognised worldwide, as well as to Asian Games and Olympic Games medallists, which the existing law allows.
This very short list includes Tottenham striker Son Heung-min, whose team beat Japan to take first place in the Asian Games of 2018, and Cho Seong-jin, the first Korean pianist to win the International Chopin Piano Competition.
But now it seems possible that BTS’ Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, RM, Jungkook and V, who earn billions of dollars for South Korea, may set a precedent.
2020 was the year that South Korea’s national assembly approved a Bill commonly called the “BTS law,” that allowed pop stars to defer military service until the age of 30 upon obtaining permission from the Ministry of Culture.
It is also the year that the group established itself as a global cultural phenomenon, reaching number one on the pop charts in the United States with their song Dynamite.
The UK’s Guardian newspaper recently reported that BTS has been worth more than US$3.45 billion (SGD4.75 billion) to South Korea’s economy, which is more or less equal to the contribution from 26 medium-sized companies. BTS was also responsible for 800,000 tourists visiting the country in 2017.
By the end of this year, BTS’ oldest member, Jin, turns 30. And if the law remains the same, he will start his stint with the military next year.
South Korea’s legislators are now discussing ways to allow BTS members to be exempted from military service.
Last week, Rep. Sung Il-Jong of the People Power Party said that a Kpop song that reaches number one in the US would affect South Korea’s economy by as much as US$1.38 billion (SGD1.90 billion), while an athlete winning gold in the Olympics would bring in about US$210.7 million (SGD290 million).
In the past, BTS members have expressed their willingness to perform their military duties, with Jin saying in 2020 that he will “respond whenever the country called”.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post quoted Lee Jin-hyung, the chief communications officer for HYBE, the company that manages BTS, as saying at a press conference earlier this month that the “military service revision bill pending at the National Assembly would hopefully come to a conclusion as soon as possible”.
He expressed the hope that the group “would continue its activities without a long period of break”.
The report cites a Gallup Korea poll that found that 33 per cent of those surveyed thought BTS members should not be allowed to skip military service, while nearly twice as many – 59 per cent – said they should.
There were also South Koreans who expressed concern over setting a precedent in allowing BTS members to skip military service.
Office worker Choi Hyung-seok told The Observer, “It is true BTS are promoting national prestige but the standards for evaluating national prestige are too vague. If famous singers are exempted from military service, starting with BTS, there will probably be many cases of abuse. I think it’s important to have some flexibility so that male celebrities can do their work as well as serve the country.” /TISG
BTS achieves milestone on Spotify, outdoing all other K-pop artists
Send in your scoops to firstname.lastname@example.org