Words: Thomas-Bradey Riseley
K-Pop stans can breathe a deep sigh of relief – for now.
The K-Pop world was rocked recently when hearing the news that BTS, arguably the biggest boy band in the world, would have to disband temporarily to enlist for South Korea’s mandatory military service. The bands’ varying age range – 23-28 years old – means that they reach the threshold for enlisting at different times. The law previously stated that all able-bodied men in the country would have to serve in the military for 18 months by the time they are 28. BTS’s oldest member, Jin, turns 28on Friday December 12 and would’ve had until December 31 to enlist. The new law defers the age limit to 30.
Up to now, the law allowed exemptions for top artists athletes and musicians; Tottenham Hotspurs’ Son Heung-Min is exempt due to his display as captain of the South Korean national team, which led them to gold at the Asia Games in 2018. Notably it allowed exemption for top musicians, particularly those in the classical field, but not K-Pop stars. The criteria needed to qualify for consideration of the exemption is to “excel in popular culture and art”, something the band have done in spades with their single ‘Dynamite’ debuting at Number 1 on the US Top 100 in August and being nominated for a Grammy in November.
This law being passed at the time of Jin’s birthday shows the significance and relevancy of BTS on global pop culture and what a positive effect they are having for South Korea. As possibly the country’s biggest cultural export, they need to be protected. In 2019 South Korea’s economy had the worst quarterly performance since the global financial crisis; the same year the band were the first South Korean act to headline Wembley Stadium.
Big Hit Entertainment, who represent the band, have already stated that this is a “duty” the band would have to fulfill. Whether or not they enlist together is out of their hands. Their Government has to decide whether or not they can enlist at the same time, weighing up the impact the loss of all seven members will have. Other K-Pop bands, such as Shinee [link to their website/home page], have members serving and others continuing solo work.
Hopefully we can see BTS back on the road continuing to impact the charts for at least the next two years.