Artist News Legal

BTS confirm that they will carry out military service in South Korea

By | Published on Monday 17 October 2022


Hybe’s BigHit Music has announced that the seven members of BTS will enlist in full military service in South Korea after more than two years of debate over whether or not they should be granted an exemption.

In a statement issued this morning, the label says: “BigHit Music is proud to announce today that the members of BTS are currently moving forward with plans to fulfil their military service. After the phenomenal concert to support Busan’s bid for the World Expo 2030 [this weekend], and as each individual embarks on solo endeavours, it’s the perfect time and the members of BTS are honoured to serve”.

The oldest member of the group, Jin, will be the first to enlist in the military after he completes promotional activities for his recent solo album later this month.

Under South Korean law, all able-bodied men must begin serving around two years in the military at some point between the ages of eighteen and 28. There are formal exemptions for athletes and classical musicians with an international following, but nothing for pop acts.

To date, no members of the group have enlisted, despite Jin turning 28 two years ago. This is thanks to a change in the law that allowed some pop artists (mainly – some argue only – the members of BTS) to defer the start of their military service until the age of 30. But Jin is now 30, and that means he must enlist by December under current rules.

“Since the creation of BTS over ten years ago, the band has risen to international success, broken records, and catapulted K-pop into the global stratosphere”, the statement continues. “BigHit Music has focused to the milestone moment when it would be possible to respect the needs of the country and for these healthy young men to serve with their countrymen, and that’s now”.

“Jin will initiate the process as soon as his schedule for his solo release is concluded at the end of October”, it goes on. “He will then follow the enlistment procedure of the Korean government. Other members of the group plan to carry out their military service based on their own individual plans. Both the company and the members of BTS are looking forward to reconvening as a group again around 2025 following their service commitment”.

Military service is a big issue in South Korea and public opinion regarding the possibility of BTS not doing it has not always been on their side – although it has shifted more recently. The country’s parliament has also been divided, which is why it has taken years to reach a definitive decision on the matter.

There have been various proposals from politicians suggesting alternatives to military service for the BTS members – most recently a bill put forward by politician Kim Young-bae, which would have allowed the pop stars to carry out activities in the national interest other than actually serving in the military.

However, responding to that bill, Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup stated earlier this month that the government felt that it was “desirable that members of BTS carry out their mandatory military service”.

With time running out and the possibility of an exception being made for the members of BTS appearing more unlikely, BigHit and parent company Hybe have seemingly made the decision to get ahead of any final political resolution of the matter.

Today’s statement concludes: “With the release of their first anthology album earlier this year it opened the path to allow the members to take some time to explore individual projects. As part of the Hybe family, we support and encourage our artists and are beyond proud that they will each now have time to explore their unique interests and do their duty by being of service to the country they call home”.

What this means for the future of BTS is unclear. When the group announced that they would be focussing on solo projects for the time being earlier this year, that was taken as an implication the band itself was going on hiatus, possibly so they could enlist in the military. Although they and their management insisted that BTS was still a going concern.

The military service obligations in South Korea have long been an issue for the country’s boybands – with efforts to keep things going via shrunk down line-ups or solo projects while other members do their stint in the army not always particularly successful.

BTS arguably benefitted from this, because it cleared the way for them to gain success domestically. However, the huge success they then achieved globally means BTS are not just another K-pop band. Indeed, in 2019 it was estimated that the group was delivering $4.65 billion per year to the country’s economy. Hence why the big debate around their military service has been so heated.

It remains to be seen if the group will be able to maintain their status as the country’s biggest pop act while each band member completes their military obligations – or if another act will succeed in taking over during the partial down time. Right now, BigHit is insisting that “there’s much more yet to come in the years ahead from BTS”.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.