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New proposal to allow BTS members to serve South Korea without joining military

By | Published on Tuesday 20 September 2022


With time rapidly running out to make a decision on the question of whether or not the members of BTS should do their military service, a member of the main opposition party in South Korea has proposed a bill that would allow them to serve the country in alternative ways.

If passed, the proposed bill, put forward by politician Kim Young-bae, would allow the pop stars to carry out activities in the national interest other than actually serving in the military. This would seemingly include the work they are already undertaking as ambassadors for South Korea’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo.

Under South Korean law, all able-bodied men must begin serving around two years in the military at some point between the ages of eighteen and 28. There are formal exemptions for athletes and classical musicians with an international following, but nothing for pop acts.

So far, no member of BTS has entered military service, despite the oldest member, Jin, turning 28 two years ago. This is thanks to a change in the law that allowed some pop artists (mainly – some argue only – the members of BTS) to defer the start of their military service until the age of 30. But Jin is now 30, and that means he must enlist by December under current rules.

Military service is a big issue in South Korea and public opinion over the possibility of BTS not doing it has not always been on their side. The country’s parliament is also divided, which is why it has taken years to reach a definitive decision on the matter.

It is unprecedented for pop stars to be exempted. And, indeed, many previous K-pop groups have basically been forced to wind down as their members enter the military. However, the country has never before had a pop group who have driven as much international attention as BTS, nor who have been so important to the country’s economy.

With that in mind, there have been previous suggestions by politicians in the country that a different approach could be taken with BTS, either by allowing them to continue to perform while undertaking their stint in the army or – as Kim is now formally proposing – by having band members serve their country in other ways.

Announcing his proposed bill, Kim said: “Korean pop celebrities active in the international field make unimaginable economic and social contributions. I believe pop celebrities will make important contributions to the national interest, including promoting a bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan, through doing alternative military service”.

Recently, the South Korean government said that it was considering carrying out a survey to gauge public opinion on the matter. An independent poll conducted by Realmeter last week indicated that 61% of South Korea’s population is in favour of the idea of BTS service alternative military service, such as that proposed by Kim. Although this is down from 65.5% in a similar survey conducted in April.

The members of the group are, of course, currently focussing on solo activities. And as much as they and their management company Hybe insist that they are still working together as a group as well, it is widely assumed that the current prioritising of solo projects is an effort to get ahead of individual members potentially having to disappear from public life for two years.