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K-pop music companies file complaint over new law they say only benefits BTS

By | Published on Monday 12 April 2021


The Korea Music Content Association has filed an official complaint on behalf of a number of K-pop companies over an amendment being made to South Korean law that will allow male pop musicians in the country to defer their mandatory military service by two years. The organisation says that the criteria for benefitting from this rule change are so narrow that it will pretty much only apply to members of BTS, despite initially appearing to be a broader change in favour of K-pop stars as a whole.

In its objection, the KMCA says the amendment is “unrealistic and unfair”, according to Korea JoongAng Daily. The new rule allows any artist who has received a cultural merit from the country’s Ministry Of Culture, Sports And Tourism to defer their military service by two years. This basically means that they need to sign up to do that service before the age of 31, rather than age 29 like everyone else.

However, that cultural merit honour is only usually given to artists who have been active for fifteen years or more – the average age of recipients being 60. A rare exception was made to give the award to BTS in 2018 in recognition of their massive rise to global success.

This, says a spokesperson for the KMCA, “clearly means that no musicians [other than BTS members] will be eligible” to defer their military service under the new rules.

“If a male musician would want to meet the criteria before he turns 28, he has to begin his K-pop career when he’s thirteen years old at the latest”, they went on. “And that doesn’t even mean that they can defer their services. That’s only the requirement to apply for the merit. There’s a separate set of standards to see whether they actually get the chance to defer their services”.

The law that says that all able-bodied men in South Korea are required to enlist in the military before they turn 29, then serving for a minimum of two years, has become international news over the last year because BTS member Jin turned 28 in December.

This is, of course, an issue that has been faced by many other K-pop groups before. Indeed, other popular groups being forced into hiatus while members do their military service has arguably created a gap in the market for each new generation of groups, BTS included, to exploit.

Other acts have tried to keep things ticking along while certain members are doing that military service by having their bandmates embark on solo careers in the gap. But that does not guarantee that the group will simply be able to pick up where they left off when everyone eventually returns – fans having often moved on by then.

Usually this has not been a concern for South Korean politicians and military officials, who have generally been of the opinion that it’s just something that all K-pop stars have to deal with. However, in the case of BTS, the outfit’s global success has been so great that a sudden halt in their career could have a noticeable affect on the country’s economy.

The KMCA’s complaint has been submitted on behalf of 27 of its 28 members – the notable exception, predictably, being the agency behind BTS, HYBE (formerly Big Hit Entertainment).

The spokesperson for the organisation goes on: “We are not blindly saying we want lower standards. The current bars are unrealistically high. How are musicians supposed to meet a criterion that’s impossible to achieve? All we ask is that the ministry come up with standards that can be met and fulfilled by musicians, not extraordinary measures that cannot be made”.

The amendment was passed by South Korea’s parliament last year, and is set to come into effect on 23 Jun this year.