Fans were stunned when BTS announced an “extended hiatus” earlier in the summer. Thankfully, our time without the beloved K-pop megastars was short lived, as their break appeared to end earlier this week when they regrouped for an unspecified engagement. Unfortunately, there is still something of a ticking clock on the group, as it’s been revealed they will not be exempt from South Korea’s compulsory military service.
South Korea has been conscripting male citizens between the ages of 18 and 28 into their military since 1957. (Women don’t face mandatory service, but can voluntarily enlist.) If they don’t enlist by the time they’re 28, they face a number of possible punishments — including a ban on overseas travel, which obviously would put a damper on BTS’ international career. All of the boyband’s members are in their 20s, with the eldest, Jin, turning 27 in December. A number of BTS fan groups lobbied the government to exempt their beloved idols, but The Hollywood Reporter has official word that no such exception will be made.
There is legislation that allows certain individuals to avoid service. In the past, exemptions have been issued for Olympic medalists and other such accomplished international athletes and artists. Since 2009, 178 athletes and 280 artists have been allowed to opt out of serving (via Billboard). However, in the music sphere, only classical artists such as pianists and violinists have historically been eligible for such exclusions.
(Read: 10 K-pop Idol Groups That Will Make You Swoon)
This limitation could be changing, but as a South Korean Ministry of Defense official told THR, there’s currently no timeline. “The Ministry of Defense is currently debating with related authorities on improving the current alternate service [program] in place of conscription, but nothing has been decided as to when a change may take effect,” they said.
As for the BTS boys themselves, they’ve consistently expressed a willingness to serve their country. “As a Korean, it’s natural, and someday, when duty calls we’ll be ready to respond and do our best,” said Jin during an April appearance on CBS Sunday Morning.
If the members must indeed serve in the military, which could last between 18 (Army and Marine Corps) and 22 months (Air Force), fans are hoping they can at least do it together. The somewhat ironically named BTS ARMY is petitioning the government to conscript the group as a unit so as to limit the amount of time their careers will have to be put on hold.
BTS have four shows lined up for next month, including one in Saudi Arabia and three at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium. Get tickets here.