BTS might still be able to perform overseas while serving in South Korea’s military, says the country’s defense minister Lee Jong-sup.
While all South Korean men between the ages of 18-28 are required to serve in the nation’s military for at least 18 months, the K-pop stars have been able to delay their military service. The government in 2018 passed a revision of the Military Service Act (which some referred to as the “BTS Law”) that allowed postponements of military service until age 30 in certain circumstances.
But BTS member Jin turns 30 in December and must be drafted next year under current rules, causing fans to worry about the future of the group.
Lee Jong-sup recently said during a parliamentary session that by allowing BTS to continue performing even while serving, the military could serve national interests without affecting the shrinking pool of personnel due to low birth rates.
“Even if they join the military, there would be a way to give them a chance to practice and perform together if there are scheduled concerts abroad,” he said, according to a report by Reuters. “As many people highly value [artists serving] in the military, that may help boost their popularity even more.”
While South Korea allows for some elite athletes and classical musicians to avoid the mandatory military service, there is currently no similar exemption for pop artists. The 2018 Military Service Act revision allowed K-pop entertainers to apply for a deferment if they’ve received government medals for elevating South Korea’s cultural influence around the world. All seven members of BTS qualified after being awarded the country’s Hwagwan orders of cultural merit from the government in 2018 during the Korean Popular Culture & Arts Awards.
BTS also has made appearances at the United Nations and, in May, at the White House where they spoke out against racism and anti-Asian violence.
The military-service issue is contentious in South Korea. Attempts by such entertainers as Steve Yoo and MC Mong to avoid their military service have damaged their careers. The BTS members have said they are willing to serve. But the looming prospect of a forced interruption for the group was among the warning signs before the band’s recent decision to take a break and pursue solo projects.
Some South Korean politicians have begun to see the K-pop stars as more than typical celebrities. In May, at a National Assembly hearing, Lee Ki-sik, commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration, said, “Perhaps it’s necessary to reconsider the system while taking into account the question of fairness and public opinion.”
The South Korean parliament is also now debating a bill that would shorten military service for K-pop stars to three weeks from about two years.