Will BTS be exempt from serving in military? Members' contributions to be scrutinized

For the first time, BTS' military service benefits will be judged by the National Defense Commission to determine if they will be exempt from serving

                            Will BTS be exempt from serving in military? Members' contributions to be scrutinized
An official discussion about BTS' mandatory military enlistment will take place on September 9 (@bangtan.official/Facebook)

K-pop has become popular worldwide. But its idols have always had a deep-rooted sense of patriotism towards their country and their culture. Ever since the boy band BTS took the world by storm, there has been an on-going discussion about their future. Manipulative interview questions are always directed towards their future in Korean society linked to their eventual enlistment in the military.

Every male-born citizen of South Korea (and other east-Asian countries) enlist in the military for a period of 18 months. The final age of enlistment was initially 28 years but was increased to 30 years in December 2020. Those that enlist have to spend 2 years of their life in the military before they have crossed 30 years of age. This rule is applicable to all South Korean men, barring athletes and people with disabilities.


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Official government announcement may release regarding the military enlistment of BTS members (BTS/ibighit.com)

K-pop idol enlistments

Many idols over the years have joined the Korean military and returned to resume entertainment activities like its no big deal. But what was noticed is that over a period of time with no new releases (while group members joined the military one by one) there was a decrease in their popularity. Bands like EXO, 2PM, Big Bang, and many more have been very popular boy bands but what is evident in each of these groups is their decreasing worldwide reach after their mandatory military stints.

With that being said, it is a well-known fact that BTS has helped boost the South Korean economy a lot. BTS’ popularity is fueling tourism to Korea, the study of the Korean language around the world, and an interest in Korean culture, beauty, food, movies, television, and music.


Is BTS willing to enlist?

BTS has brought in an estimated total of 5 billion dollars a year to South Korea’s economy. Because of their achievements, South Korea’s parliament had passed a bill in December of 2020 that increased the age limit for enlisting into the military from 28 to 30 for K-pop idols. This was done prior to the birthday of Jin, the oldest member of BTS who turned 29 last year.

With this sudden change of policy right before his birthday, fans have been discussing the possibility of BTS’ exemption from military enlistment. Over the past few years, a lot of questions were directed at the members of BTS with respect to their thoughts on being called for their mandatory military service. Jin of BTS has always taken these questions well as he has said over time he does not fear being enlisted. He said that it would be a privilege for him and the other members of the band to serve the country and whenever he is called for enlistment, he will be sure to go without question.

Discussion over BTS' mandatory military enlistment (@BTS_official/Twitter)

Official discussion of BTS’ enlistment

The Korea Music Contents Association (MCON), an incorporated association established for the development of the K-pop industry, has surprisingly disagreed with the requests for amendments to the Military Service Act in order to exempt members of BTS.

The proposal for the amendment was originally raised formally by Rep Yoon Sanghyun in June of 2021, which asked for an amendment to the Military Service Act so as to include pop culture artists from being exempted from mandatory military enlistment. Due to this request, the National Defense Commission of South Korea will have a hearing on September 9 and discuss the proposal before a decision is made.


Statements from MCON Association

This is the first time that BTS' military service benefits will be judged by the National Defense Commission. To strengthen their argument that popular culture idols should not be exempted from mandatory military service, MCON Association provided an industry opinion on the official review report from the National Defense Commission, which was released at the end of August. 

According to MCON Association, the benefit of popular culture in Korean history is fairly low in comparison to the achievements by sports personas as a definite way to determine the merits of sportsmen is through that of the Olympic games and more. They also argued that as there is a high risk of controversy in the field of popular culture as it is directly related to personal profit activities and tends to conform to the popularity in the eyes of the public which is controversial and definitely not the purpose of merit in sports.


Official statements

Mr Choi Kwangho, the secretary-general of the MCON Association stated that it is quite possible for sports personas to generate a similar amount of revenue as popular culture personas like K-pop idols but if roles were reversed, the popular culture personas would not be able to win medals or make history for the country.

He added, “Since the military service benefit system was introduced in 1973, a total of 1804 people have been exempted. I would like you to seriously consider whether the contribution of the 7 BTS members has reached the level  of national prestige as compared to the 1804 people who promoted national prestige.”