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BTS Requests Deferral From Military Enlistment

All seven members of the group have applied to delay mandatory enlistment so they can continue their activities as artists through 2022

Oysmita Majumder Nov 26, 2021

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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On November 25th, 2021, it was reported that all seven members of South Korean group BTS have submitted applications for deferring their military enlistments for the purpose of continuing working together and promoting as a group until December 2022.

Under the original South Korean Military Service Act, all able-bodied male citizens between the ages of 18 to 28 years must enlist in the military and serve for a period of around 20 months. However, exemption from the otherwise mandatory service would be provided to athletes who had won medals at the Olympics or Asian Games, or to classical and folk musicians who had won specific awards, as they are responsible for boosting the country’s prestige via their work-based achievements. 

An amendment to the ‘Military Service Act’ was announced last year on December 1st, 2020, after the massive international success of BTS’ first all-English single, “Dynamite.” The South Korean national assembly introduced the amendments just days prior to the group’s oldest member Jin’s 28th birthday. The revised law now allows K-pop artists who’ve received government medals for their domestic and global contributions– like the highly prestigious ‘Hwagwan Order of Cultural Merit,’ (which was awarded to all seven members of  BTS, circa 2018)–to defer their enlistments till the age of 30.

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Due to the law’s revision, Jin will now be able to continue participating in all group activities, until his 30th birthday in December 2022. In another hotly-debated topic among South Korean netizens, the country’s National Assembly is yet to decide on a possible exemption of BTS from the country’s mandatory military service. A subcommittee of the South Korean National Assembly’s defence committee met this Thursday to debate the prospect of their military exemption in the near future, as a result of the group’s extensive work in promoting Korean culture on a global scale.

As cultural envoys and diplomats to South Korea and a significant contributor to the country’s economy, BTS’ global influence is impossible to ignore. The septet’s growing popularity is not merely limited to the spread of Hallyu –their efforts have been stated to be responsible for sparking and perpetuating an interest towards the study of the Korean language, culture, television, films, fashion and food internationally. They’ve also been largely involved in fueling tourism inside of Korea (an estimated one in every 13 tourists are said to visit the country for BTS-related reasons). Economically speaking, BTS is stated to be single-handedly bringing in an estimated $5 billion a year to the national economy–that’s around half a percent of the country’s entire economy and an unprecedented feat. The cash inflows generated from the standalone single “Dynamite” estimatedly contributed towards creating around 8000 jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, the meeting held on Thursday was in regards to debating the scope of the ‘BTS Law’ bill. If passed, it would allow K-pop stars (including BTS) to continue working in their field for 34 months under an alternative program instead of going through active-duty service for the usual 18 to 22 months in the military.

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After reportedly reaching a standstill in the consensus on whether the exemption would be extended to include K-pop stars as well, the subcommittee will now be taking into consideration “social aspects and public opinion” to review the matter further and pass a well-informed judgment.

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