And Finally Artist News

South Korean government considering putting question of BTS’s military service to the public

By | Published on Friday 2 September 2022


As the debate in South Korea over whether or not BTS should serve military service continues to drag on, the latest idea is to put the matter to the South Korean public, as the country’s government has failed to reach a conclusion.

Yeah, that’s right, a referendum on the future of a pop group. Why can’t we have votes like that, instead of bloody Brexit? Actually, this is more a survey to gauge public opinion than a full on referendum. And it’s not definitely happening. But still, I think my point stands.

Defence minister Lee Jeong-seop said earlier this week that he had instructed the ministry to conduct a survey quickly – although later clarified that he’d actually just asked his department to assess whether or not such a survey is necessary.

The matter is, of course, becoming ever more pressing. 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 so this means he must enlist by December under current rules.

Military service is a big issue in South Korea, with opinion divided on whether BTS should serve or not. The group bring a lot of money into the South Korean economy and are obviously hugely successful internationally. But they would not be the first group whose career has been stalled, or even ended, by members having to join the military (something that arguably paved the way for the group’s success).

Earlier this year, Lee Jeong-seop suggested that it could be possible for members of the group to carry out their military service and still perform together, but no agreement on what should happen has yet been reached.

Of course, currently the seven members of the group are focussing on solo work, but have insisted that they are not on hiatus as a band. Indeed, they are set to play a show in Busan, South Korea in October, as part of their recently appointed role as ambassadors for the city’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo.

Although public opinion has not generally been in favour of BTS skipping military service, a private survey earlier this year found that 60% of people in South Korea now support them not having to do it. So it may be that an official government poll is what ultimately allows the group to continue working together for the foreseeable future.