BTS set to join South Korean military


“c3c27683gy1fpzo3jp0qnj21gs0z4n5a” by Yun_Q is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

BTS, a South Korean boy band, has garnered hundreds of millions of devoted international fans. Their fans are all across the world: in Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, Brazil, the US, and more. With all of this international success, many fans were shocked when BTS made the announcement: BTS would be going on a hiatus so their members could enlist in the South Korean military. Their fans, the “BTS Army,” have mixed emotions.

K-Pop Culture

Science teacher Ms. Briana Clarke is a huge fan of K-pop. She hosts Edgewood’s K-pop Club every Thursday in her room. She has listened to K-pop since 2009, long before K-pop’s breakout popularity in the U.S.

“The reason I got into K-pop was, at the time, I got really bored with American and Western music. I loved the fact that K-pop videos incorporated choreography,” she explains.

K-pop is well known for putting a heavy emphasis on choreography. Most K-pop artists are groups with extremely talented dancers, so they make choreography a major part of their music videos and tours. K-pop choreography is so popular that fans will host competitions to see who has memorized the most routines or who can recognize a song and jump in faster.

Since Clarke has been a fan of the genre for so long, she is used to the Korean rules. Many of her favorite groups have members in and out of enlistment all the time.

“SHINee has one member finishing their military service soon. And EXO, a few of their members are currently serving. It’s something that K-pop fans view as normal. I think it’s funny that Western fans reacted so heavily to it. Everyone is freaking out,” explains Clarke.

“iwm9ks1lc-mx83ej-nx-dje3-jdxm-bts-lal-72j-kdi3-2018-bb5-billboard-su7-1500” by Yun_Q is marked with CC0 1.0.

Western fans, upon hearing their favorite group was going on hiatus, were very vocal. Some fans were expecting it, like  Clarke, and were just waiting for the news to drop. Some fans were even excited for it. They hoped that a break from the group would allow their solo career’s to flourish, leaving the group with a fresh perspective in a few years time. Disha Gajera, 12, is happy for BTS.

“The members themselves admitted they wanted to go into the military. They need a break. They’ve been working nonstop since 2014, it’s crazy… I think this is a great excuse for them to work on solo stuff and settle down,” she explained.

While some fans were prepared, others were… not. Other fans were blindsided, left in the dust. You could compare their disappointment to the experience felt by American fans when the King of Rock, Elvis Presley, shipped out to the Army. They felt like their comfort group was disappearing, or that the might not come back in one piece.

Korean Conscription

South Korea requires all able-bodied men between the ages of 18-28 to enroll in South Korean military service. This military service is often considered an extreme honor and duty for citizens. Since it is mandatory for almost all citizens, it has become an ingrained part of the culture. There are very few exceptions to conscription, all of which are done in order to further benefit the country.

Those with a conscientious objection, like a moral or religious issue, may instead aid the community in a civilian way. Some work for the prison system as administration or sanitation staff, but these exemptions require a longer time in service. Classical musicians can request an exemption if they win first place at an international competition, assuming they need time to build their skills and further compete. Some Olympic-level athletes can get exemptions if military service would interfere with their abilities at an international competition.

Recently, a new form of exemption was created. Members of notable K-pop groups may defer their enlistment until the age of 30, at which time they are still required to enlist. Many speculate the catalyst to this new exemption was BTS’s Kim Seok-jin, who was about to turn 29 at the crux of BTS’s popularity. “Jin” would have been the first member of BTS to enlist, quickly followed by the  younger members of the group. Because of the exemption, Jin was able to postpone his conscription.

Republic of Korea (Jeon Han)












The Situation

Since BTS was so popular, they majorly improved South Korea’s economic status and worldwide appearance. K-pop has become a stable export for the Korean government, and they were worried about the impacts of conscription on BTS’s momentum. The Korean government was considering granting the group an individual exemption, allowing them to skip military service entirely. This was no small feat. Since the development of their relationship with North Korea, South Korea has taken military service very seriously. Only the most elite competitors were given the ability to skirt their duty and continue their careers.

The government was not willing to give BTS an exemption unless they truly needed it. They reviewed several private surveys that discussed the approval rating for a BTS exemption. The country appeared very split, with a slight majority favoring BTS. The Korean government still was unsure what to do. While the government was trying to decide, BTS had already made up their mind. The members of BTS were going to enlist in the military at their required time, regardless of a long-term exemption. They think of it as their duty and plan to do it with pride. While Ms. Clarke was not shocked by the announcement of their enrollment, she was surprised by the government’s moves.

“I think it was a really interesting bout. Military service is very important to Korean citizens. BTS from the start have always said that they wanted to go in. It was interesting to see the government step in because they made Korea a lot of money. K-netizens [South Korean fans online] had a big divide, some thought it was unfair to other groups,” said Clarke.

She explained that she had an outsider perspective. Korean citizens can better understand the issues than Americans across the pond, but she does have personal opinions about the issue.

“I think they should serve. It is a duty to their country. They are very humble guys, they don’t want that exception for themselves. It would go against a lot of the things they have sung about,” Clarke explains. 

The members of BTS will be enlisting in the South-Korean military. The specific dates and timelines have not been announced, but there will be some time between each member’s enlistment. They claim to be excited for this journey, and fans are anticipating major support once BTS reconnects in a few years.