BTS Military Service Exemption: Conscription is a requirement for all able-bodied Korean men between the ages of 18 and 28, and on October 17 it was revealed that members of the popular South Korean boy band BTS will be enrolling to serve for a period of one and a half to two years. The news of the band’s monetary value began circulating shortly after the announcement.
It was estimated in 2018 by the Hyundai Research Institute that they brought in $3.6 billion in annual revenue to the South Korean economy. In the intervening four years, their impact has risen by leaps and bounds. Forbes claims that just their YouTube channel brings in $2,000,000 monthly in revenue.
Since BTS has been instrumental in the international success of Korean cultural exports, the announcement of their enlistment understandably sparked concerns about a drop in revenue for the country. I, along with many other fans, reacted differently to the news of their enlistment than we did to the BTS revelation in June that they were taking a hiatus from the band to focus on separate careers.
The decision to enlist was not a shock to those who were aware of it. Fans of the group, who are collectively known as the “BTS ARMY,” are aware of the members’ frequent declarations that they will join the military if called upon. In other words, it was more of a question of when than if. It was evident that conscription was taken seriously in South Korea, as even famous people had slim chances of being exempted.
Although I have always found these concepts puzzling, evidence of their veracity can be found in the biographies of other notable Koreans. Like many others, my introduction to K-pop came about by chance, via Psy’s popular 2013 single “Gangnam Style.” Psy had to reenlist in the South Korean military before he became famous around the world on the grounds that he had not fulfilled his obligations the first time around.
It can have devastating results for someone in Psy’s position to even appear to be seeking to escape military service. Yoo Seung-jun, a Korean performer, became an overnight phenomenon after his debut in 1997. He had promised to join the military, but then he became a U.S. citizen just before he was to report for duty, so the authorities barred him from entering the nation.
Because of this, he lost all support in South Korea. In 2020, I immersed myself in Korean pop culture and began actively listening to Korean music. The concept that artists had to essentially vanish and put their careers on hold because of the fantastic legacy of the Cold War made no sense to me as I gained knowledge about the field.
Maybe it’s good for society as a whole that the rich and famous don’t get a free pass sometimes. Nevertheless, there are always exceptions, and many have pondered why BTS, with all its impact on South Korea’s culture and economy, did not make the cut. There is a little window of opportunity for granting exemptions.
To avoid military duty, one must first meet specific criteria, such as achieving world-renowned status as a classical musician or dancer or achieving Olympic or Asian Games gold. The rationale is that success in international competition is good for Korea’s image as a nation.
BTS not seeking a military exemption speaks volumes: The K-pop global superstars’ move not to seek a special exemption from mandatory service probably saved them from having public opinion turn against them at home. via NBCNews https://t.co/7ZmqYi9n5d
— Jeffrey Levin 🇺🇦 (@jilevin) October 24, 2022
People in the arts, athletics and other fields also tend to reach their creative peaks in their early 20s, and hence should be given unfettered time to work on achieving their goals during this period. Why, in this day and age, when Korean corporations like Samsung, Kia, and Hyundai are household names around the world, when Korean films like Parasite are regarded as milestone achievements in global cinema, and when K-pop and K-drama stars help promote everything from Korean skincare to Korean cuisine, should athletes and classical artists be seen as the sole flag-bearers of a country? This justification fascinates me.
My interest in Korean culture and feminism began with a passing fascination with a visually arresting music video by BTS and has since expanded to encompass other Korean musicians, Korean pop culture, and Korean dramas. To add insult to injury, I am just one of the millions. It’s unlikely that any other Korean Olympian would have garnered as much attention.
No, K-pop group BTS doesn’t qualify for an exemption to mandatory Korean military service https://t.co/8JhLftKrqg
— VERIFY (@VerifyThis) October 24, 2022
It’s no secret that BTS has a big, international fan following that spans linguistic and cultural boundaries thanks to the universal themes explored in their music, which often reflects the experience of being a young person in the 21st century. Perhaps the larger surprise is that policymakers are still resistant to change in a time when such marvels are possible.
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