K-Pop Group BTS Set to the Participate in Military Service

Illustration by Diane Kim

Melanie Martinez

Co-Science and Tech Editor

Known around the world for their powerful messages of self-love within their music and eccentric dance moves, South Korean band BTS has cultivated fans beyond language barriers.

The members of Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS) began their music career after debuting in 2013. They shot into the spotlight in 2015 with their album series The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, including Part 1, Part 2, and the repackage Young Forever. Since then, they have garnered a huge following not only in South Korea but also in other countries worldwide. However, BTS wasn’t considered globally mainstream artists until later. 

During this time of success, the underlying question of military service loomed for the group as their eldest member started to near the mandatory age to serve. Contrary to other countries where military service is a voluntary decision, in South Korea, able-bodied men must serve by the age of 28. Many assumed that BTS would be exempt from military service, like prestigious athletes and other South Korean musicians, due to their economic contribution

Prior to the announcement by BTS’ management company HYBE Entertainment, a formal confirmation of the group’s enlistment had not yet been released. The legal debates on their military service coming to no solutions left the status of their exemption in the air. 

Eldest member Kim Seokjin (“Jin”) had his enlistment postponed due to a recent law allowing postponement for those who received the presidential Order of Cultural Merit award. 

The Military Service Act allows those recommended by the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism to be exempt from military service in light of their contributions to the arts and sports fields. However, this act does not extend to “popular culture,” which created controversy about BTS’ enlistment. The argument for their exemption was their achievements in being on the U.S. Billboard “Hot 100” and album chart “Billboard 200”. Over the years, the discussion on this issue never progressed or reached a solution. 

In an interview the band had with Rolling Stone, Jin explained that “…the country sort of told [him], ‘You’re doing this well, and we will give you a little bit more time.’” Jin emphasized that the military is “an important duty for our country. So [he feels] that [he] will try to work as hard as [he] can and do the most [he] can until [he is] called.”

In October 2022, BTS held a free concert in Busan, South Korea. The South Korean government used this to determine the extent of their impact, despite knowing all the economic contributions they have made in recent years. Based on the results of the concert, they would decide to exempt BTS or not. However, BTS performed and announced their planned enlistment without talking to the government.

BTS has brought around $3.6 billion to the South Korean economy. They have also brought money in areas like consumer goods, such as merchandise and cosmetics, and Korean popular culture, adding another $1.1 billion in revenue. In total, BTS contributed $29.1 trillion to the South Korean economy between 2014 and 2023. Losing this source of income would greatly affect the South Korean economy.

BTS’ announcement has had a huge impact on their fanbase, nicknamed ARMY. Twitter blew up the day that the announcement was released as many fans expressed their sadness for the group’s military hiatus. Despite the initial sadness, ARMY all over the world showed their love and support for BTS, and eagerly expressed a promise to wait for them until 2025. 

BTS’ music has touched many ARMY, some of which attend at UCSB. Marlene Gonzalez, an ARMY since 2017, described her somber emotions after hearing the news. 

“It was a long time coming and I am sad that they will be gone for two years,” Gonzalez said. Despite her initial sadness, she expressed support for BTS. “I look forward to when they return and the amazing music they will make. Until then, I and the rest of ARMY will be waiting for them.” 

Ultimately, the news of BTS moving forward with their military service was inevitable. Rather than waiting for the government, BTS took it upon themselves to decide what was best for the group. This not only shows their dedication to their country, but also to each other as they look toward the future. In the past few years, BTS have made a huge impact on the music industry and their two years of absence will be heavy hitting for many ARMY around the world.