The latest proposal aimed at allowed BTS‘ members to avoid South Korea’s mandatory military service stint appears unlikely to do the trick. According to the Korea Times, a lawmaker from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea proposed a revised bill on Monday (Sept. 19) that would make an exemption for decorated pop stars such as the seven-man boy K-pop band to swap their military obligations for an alternate service.
The fourth go at allowing pop celebrities who have gotten orders of merit from the government — which BTS received in December 2020 — to skirt the required two-year military hitch for all able-bodied men between 18-28 was proposed by Rep. Kim Young-bae, who reportedly said, “Korean pop celebrities active in the international field make unimaginable economic and social contributions. I believe pop celebrities will make important contributions to the national interest, including promoting a bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan, through doing alternative military service.”
BTS were announced as the PR ambassadors to Korea’s bid for the World Expo in July. There is already a provision that paves the way for noted athletes, actors, directors and classical musicians who’ve made a significant international impact to complete their service in other ways.
However, according to Korea JoongAng Daily, the nation’s Defense Minister said it would be “difficult” to offer this type of alternate military service to BTS because of “aspects of fairness on fulfilling mandatory military service.” The Minister’s comments during a meeting of the National Assembly on Tuesday (Sept. 20) reportedly came after a recent poll asking citizens if pop culture artists who’ve “elevated the nation’s reputation” should be allowed alternate programs showed that a majority (60.9%) believed that they should.
The Daily also reported that earlier this week, Lee Ki-sik, the commissioner of Military Manpower Administration, said that the framework for military exemption should be “quickly” dealt with because of fears that adding “pop culture artists… may garner feelings of discrimination, discrepancy and discouragement among the younger male generation who are fulfilling their military duties.”
Military service requirements have hung over the members of the group since they launched nearly a decade ago, no more so than when eldest member, Jin, 29, faces the mandatory age cap for enlistment in December, when he turns 30.
But back in May, South Korea’s Culture, Sports and Tourism minster Hwang Hee said during a news conference that the rule should change. “It’s time to create a system for incorporating popular culture-art figures as art personnel,” Hee reportedly said. “The system has been operated meaningfully to give those who have enhanced the national status based on their excellent skills more chances to contribute to the country, and there is no reason the popular art-culture field should be excluded from this.”
In 2018, South Korea passed a revision of the Military Service Act (which some referred to as the “BTS Law“) that allowed K-pop stars to postpone their military service until they turn 30. The law 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’ members have said they are willing to serve. But the looming possibility of a forced interruption for the group was among the warning signs before the band’s decision earlier this year to take a break to pursue solo projects. The South Korean parliament has since debated a bill that would shorten military service for K-pop stars to three weeks from about two years.