YEONCHEON, South Korea — Jin, the oldest member of K-pop supergroup BTS, began his 18-month mandatory military service at a frontline South Korean training camp on Tuesday as fans gathered near from the base to say goodbye to their star.
Six more younger members of BTS are set to join the military in the coming years, which means the world’s biggest boy band has to go on hiatus, likely for a few years. Their enlistments have sparked a fierce national debate over whether it’s time to overhaul the country’s conscription system to expand exemptions to include high-profile artists like BTS, or to only provide such benefits to nobody.
With lawmakers squabbling in parliament and polls showing sharply divided public opinion over offering BTS members exemptions, their management agency said in October that all BTS members would fulfill their mandatory military duties. Big Hit Music said the company and the members of BTS “look forward to reuniting as a group again around 2025 following their service commitment.”
Jin, who turned 30 earlier this month, entered the training camp in Yeoncheon, a town near the tense border with North Korea, for five weeks of basic military training with other new conscripts, the Defense Ministry said. After training involving rifle shooting, grenade throwing and marching practice, he and other conscripts would be assigned to army units across the country.
About 20 to 30 fans – some holding photos of Jin – and dozens of reporters gathered near the camp. But Jin didn’t meet them because a vehicle carrying him entered the training camp without taking him out.
“I want to wait (for) Jin and see him join the military and wish him the best,” Hong Kong’s Mandy Lee said before Jin entered the camp.
“Actually, it’s complicated. I want to be sad. I want to be happy for him,” said Angelina from Indonesia. “Mixed feelings. He has to serve (for) his country.” Angelina, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.
A few dozen fans might be considered a small turnout considering Jin’s huge popularity. But Jin and his management agency had previously asked fans not to visit the site and informed them that there would be no special event involving the singer, to avoid any problems caused by crowds.
Weverse via AP
The authorities have still mobilized 300 police, military, rescue workers and others to maintain order and guard against any accident, according to the army. Strict security measures were expected as South Korea is still reeling from October’s devastating Halloween crash in Seoul that killed 158 people.
Hours before entering the camp, Jin – whose real name is Kim Seok-jin – wrote on online fan platform Weverse, “It’s time to raise the curtain.” He posted a photo of himself on Sunday with a military buzzcut and a message that read, “Ha ha ha. This is cuter than I expected.”
By law, all able-bodied South Korean men must serve in the military for 18 to 21 months under a conscription system established to deal with threats from North Korea. But the law grants special exemptions to athletes, classical and traditional musicians, ballet dancers and others if they have won top prizes in certain competitions and boost national prestige. K-pop stars and other artists do not enjoy such benefits, even if they achieve worldwide fame and win major international awards.
“Although BTS members chose to go into the military, there are still regrets,” said Jung Duk-hyun, a pop culture commentator. “Those in the pop culture sector experience little disadvantage and injustice, compared to those in the pure art sector or athletes. be constantly discussed.
Exemptions or dodging of duties are a very sensitive subject in South Korea, where conscription obliges young men to suspend their studies or their professional career. Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and Lee Ki Sik, head of South Korea’s enlistment office, have previously said it would be “desirable” for BTS members to fulfill their military duties to ensure fairness in the country’s military service.
Chun In-bum, a retired lieutenant general who commanded South Korea’s special forces, said the government must repeal any exemptions because the army’s dwindling recruiting pool is a “very serious” issue amid the decline in the country’s fertility rate. He called a debate about BTS’s military service “useless” because it was not brought up by BTS members, who showed willpower in the line of duty.
BTS was established in 2013 and has a legion of global supporters who call themselves “the army”. Its other members are RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook, who is the youngest at 25. The group increased their popularity in the West with their 2020 megahit “Dynamite,” the group’s first all-English song that made BTS the first K-pop group to top Billboard’s Hot 100. The band has performed in sold-out arenas around the world and has even been invited to speak at United Nations meetings.
Hybe Corp., Big Hit’s parent company, said in October that each member of the group would focus on planned individual activities around their military service plans for the time being. In October, Jin released “The Astronaut”, a single co-written by Coldplay.
Jung, the commentator, said the sold projects could give the BTS members much-needed time to develop after working together as a group for many years. But Cha Woo-jin, a K-pop commentator, said it’s unclear whether BTS will enjoy the same popularity as a group when they reunite again after finishing their military duties in a few years. .
In August, Defense Minister Lee said serving BTS members would likely be allowed to continue practicing and join other non-serving BTS members on overseas group tours.
Cha said that the global influence of K-pop won’t be affected much because of the enlistments of BTS members because they “seem to represent K-pop but aren’t all K-pop.” Chung agreed, saying other K-pop groups like BLACKPINK, Stray Kids, and aespa could still make progress.