BTS, K-Pop Allowed to Extend Delay to Korean Military Service

Patrick Frater
·2 min read

South Korean lawmakers on Tuesday completed passage of an amendment to existing legislation and will allow some K-pop stars exemption from military service until they are 30. The significance was not lost on fans of BTS, currently one of the biggest music acts in the world, but whose band members would have soon been forced to enlist.

The bill revising the Military Service Act was introduced in September, after BTS became the first Korean group to top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, with single “Dynamite.” The band last week also earned a first Grammy nomination.

Under the previous iteration of the law, all able bodied men in Korea are obliged to sign up before their 28th birthday. The law stipulated exceptions and reduced terms of service for top classical musicians and folk music acts, and Olympic medal winners. But it granted no let out for pop celebrities.

In the prospectus published ahead of its October IPO, BTS’s management firm Big Hit Entertainment was forced to warn potential investors that its biggest profit-generating client might have been affected.

“Pop artists tend to make their highest achievements in their 20s but many of them had to pursue a graduate degree to delay their service,” said Jeon Yong-gi, co-sponsor of the bill.

The new criteria now push the age of sign-up to 30 for individuals who apply and are then recommended by the ministry of culture. BTS band member Jin will turn 28 on Friday this week.

Passage of the bill attracted relatively little local media attention in Korea. Some publications instead chose to focus on the service’s increased willingness to accept as fit for duty men with heavy tattoos. Rules on extreme body weight are also to be relaxed, making more men eligible for duty.

In a normal year, some 200,000 men are conscripted. But South Korea’s population is aging and the military services face a shortage of able-bodied men perceived as necessary to potentially face down a threat from unpredictable and nuclear-armed North Korea.

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