No one is exempt from military service, not even K-pop stars from hit boy band BTS. The boys were informed by the defence ministry of South Korea that mandatory service will remain mandatory, regardless of their celebrity status.

The announcement has sparked conversation and debate in South Korea about whether people like artists and athletes should serve the full 18 months of military service, especially if things are going well for their careers.

But then again, how is that fair to every other person who has a flourishing career in another industry? Aren’t artists and popular figures citizens just like everyone else at the end of the day?

“Exempting pop culture artists from military service even though they have made a contribution to the country’s reputation is not in line with the government’s stance to uphold justice and fairness,” announced the defence ministry on Thursday (Nov 28).

BTS has certainly risen to fame in the K-pop world, bringing back the glory to South Korea. They have released three No. 1 albums on the Billboard chart in less than a year, garnered a 2019 Grammy nomination, performed on stage in cities all over the world, and become UNICEF ambassadors of good will.

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In Korea, once men turn 18, they are eligible to undergo a physical examination by the Military Manpower Administration. If they are found fit for service, they will be conscripted. For Korean women, military service is not mandatory.

Currently, South Korea has nearly 600,000 soldiers, most of whom were enlisted into service. In terms of exemptions, the defence ministry noted that fewer than 45 people are allowed to skip military service each year.

In the past, South Korean authorities have granted exemptions to certain athletes of a particular calibre—such as those who won gold medals at the Asian Games, or any medal at the Olympics.

Classical musicians who have been bestowed with international awards and recognitions have also been allowed to skip their military service.

Just last year, Son Heung-min, a player for the English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, was given an exemption from military service as he helped the South Korean national team win the gold at the Asian Games.

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Bringing international glory to the country has been considered as grounds for exemption from mandatory military service before, but in the case of BTS, the defence ministry remains unmoving.

The band members, who are all in their twenties, were not available to comment on the ministry’s announcement. /TISG