Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 1 October 2020

Should BTS be exempt from mandatory military service because of their economic clout?

The seven-piece are worth a staggering $4.65 billion to South Korea's economy: will time away from fans affect that?

After announcing that members of BTS would be pursing higher degrees at university, critics have accused them of purposely delaying mandatory military service. AFP 
After announcing that members of BTS would be pursing higher degrees at university, critics have accused them of purposely delaying mandatory military service. AFP 

They are undeniably the biggest boy band in the world right now, but soon, BTS will have to break up (well, sort of).

Why? Because compulsory military enlistment in South Korea has to happen by the time a citizen is 28. The seven BTS members range in age from 22 to 27, and so all have to enlist in the next few years.

This means each of them will be out of action for at least 18 months, which means years of interruption to the powerhouse. Would it be better for them to stagger? Or all enlist at once?

It looks like the company behind BTS, Big Hit Entertainment, are trying to delay the inevitable. It announced on Tuesday that band members Jimin and V would start studying for their MBA through the Hanyang Cyber University in September. Other members Jin, RM, Suga and J-Hope are also currently pursing higher degrees with the same university.

However, critics have now come out and accused the seven-member band of using the graduate programme to delay mandatory military service.

Should BTS get an exemption from military service?

There's no arguing that BTS have already done a lot for their country, with a report in 2019 suggesting the seven-piece were worth a staggering $4.65 billion (Dh17bn) to South Korea's economy.

After all, they've helped break down doors for K-pop in the West, they've broken records, topped international charts and have united fans around the world, who go by the moniker the Army.

Their army is truly global. But is that enough?

Someday, when duty calls, we'll be ready to respond and do our best

Jin

Serving in the military is considered a societal duty and generally any time the idea of exemptions is brought up, it stirs much debate in the country.

"As a Korean, it's natural," said Jin in an interview with CBS about mandatory military service. "And, someday, when duty calls, we'll be ready to respond and do our best."

In the past five years, BTS have become arguably the biggest K-pop group of all time.

But perhaps the real test of their legacy will be seeing how they'll get through enlistment, which will threaten their global momentum. It may seem tricky considering the group are at the height of their careers, but it's already evident that BTS fans are incredibly loyal.

How mandatory military service works

In South Korea, all healthy, able-bodied male citizens between the ages of 18 and 28 are required to serve.

There are exemptions given, but currently only to those with health conditions that would affect their ability to serve, as well as to gold-medal-winning athletes, classical musicians, dancers and artists.

Actors and K-pop stars are not included.

Deferment is possible, but only up until the age of 28. This means Jin and Suga, both 27, will soon have to enlist. While serving, access to phones and the internet is limited, meaning fans aren't likely to hear much from their favourite idols for a while.

Groups might worry about their star power dropping when a member is gone for so long, but trying to dodge the compulsory service is terribly damaging to a person's brand, too.

Because, if everyone else has to do it, why not them?

What does this mean for BTS?

In November 2019, South Korea's Ministry of National Defence announced that it would not be issuing a change to its exemption rules for the K-pop stars, despite an outcry from fans.

"In the case of BTS, I personally wish I could allow exemptions for them under certain standards, but the Military Manpower Administration and the Ministry of National Defence [in charge of conscription] are inclined to downsize the overall scope [of exemption]," Culture Minister Park Yang-woo said in Paris, while attending the Unesco Forum of Ministers of Culture.

Scroll through the gallery to see BTS through the years:

Some groups stagger their members' service, so they can continue producing music and touring, while other groups don't manage it, and end up with all their members enlisting at about the same time.

Exo, another hugely popular K-pop group, are currently in the midst of such a transition. Three of their members (Suho, Xiumin and Do) have enlisted, and while the group have still released a studio album, a lot of their recent material has been solo works or other projects.

Is that the future for BTS? Solo albums for the next five years? Will their Army stand by them?

Watch this space.

Updated: September 28, 2020 11:57 PM

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