BTS member Jin beings to perform military service

South Korea Yeoncheon –

Jin, the oldest member of K-pop supergroup BTS, began his 18-month compulsory military service at South Korea’s front-line boot camp on Tuesday, as fans gathered near the base to say goodbye to their star.

The other six young BTS members will join the military over the next few years, meaning the world’s biggest boy band will have to go on hiatus, possibly for years to come. Their enlistment has sparked a heated debate at home over whether to amend the country’s conscription system to expand the exemption to include high-profile entertainers like BTS, or to deny such benefits to anyone.

Their governing body said in October that all BTS members would carry out their mandatory military duties as lawmakers squabbled in parliament and surveys showed public opinion was widely divided on granting immunity to BTS members. Big Hit Music said the company and members of BTS “both look forward to reuniting as a group again around 2025 in accordance with their commitment to service.”

Kim, who turned 30 earlier this month, entered a boot camp in the city of Yeoncheon, near the tense border with North Korea, for five weeks of basic military training, along with other recruits, the defense ministry said. After training that includes rifle shooting, grenade throwing and marching practice, he and other conscripts will be assigned to units across the country.

About 20 to 30 fans — some holding pictures of Kim — and dozens of reporters gathered near the camp. But Jin didn’t meet them, because a car carrying him drove into boot camp and didn’t get him out.

“I want to (wait for) Jin and see him join the army and wish him all the best,” Mandy Lee from Hong Kong said before Jin entered the camp.

“It’s complicated actually. I want to be sad. I want to be happy for him,” said Angelina, who is from Indonesia. “There are mixed feelings. He has to serve his country.” Like many Indonesians, Angelina uses only one name.

Considering Jin’s huge popularity, dozens of fans can be seen as a small turnout. But Kim and his agency had earlier asked fans not to visit the site, informing them that there would not be any special events involving the singer to prevent any problems due to crowding.

Authorities still mobilized 300 police, soldiers, first responders and others to maintain order and prevent any accidents, according to the military. Tight security measures are expected as South Korea is still reeling from the devastating Halloween crowds that killed 158 people in Seoul in October.

Hours before entering the camp, Jin — whose real name is Kim Seok-jin — wrote on the online fan platform Weverse: “Curtain call time.” On Sunday, he posted a photo of himself with a military hairstyle , and left a message saying, “Hahaha. This is cuter than I thought.”

By law, all able-bodied South Korean men are required to serve between 18 and 21 months under the conscription system established in response to the North Korean threat. However, the law grants special exemptions to athletes, classical and traditional musicians, ballerinas and other dancers who win top prizes in certain competitions and enhance national prestige. K-pop stars and other entertainers don’t get such benefits even if they are famous around the world and win international awards.

“Although BTS members chose to join the military, they still have some regrets,” said pop culture commentator Jung Duk-hyun. “People in pop culture experience a bit of a disadvantage and unfairness compared to the purely artistic world or athletes. This is likely to continue to be a moot point, so I wonder if it has to be discussed.”

Exemption or avoidance of duty is a highly sensitive issue in South Korea, where conscription laws force young people to suspend their studies or careers. Defense Minister Lee Jong-sub and South Korea’s military conscription office chief Lee Ki-sik have previously said it was “desirable” for BTS members to perform military duties to ensure fairness in the country’s military service.

Retired Lieutenant General Chun In-beom, who commanded South Korea’s special forces, said the government must act to abolish any exemptions because declining military recruitment was “a very serious” problem amid the country’s falling birth rate. He called the debate on BTS’ military service “unnecessary” because BTS members did not raise the issue and they showed a willingness to fulfill their duties.

Founded in 2013, BTS has a large global following of what it calls its “army”. Other members include RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and the youngest, 25-year-old Jungkook. The group expanded their popularity in the West with 2020 hit “Dynamite,” the group’s first full-English song, and BTS was the first K-pop act to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The band has sold out venues around the world and has even been invited to speak at United Nations conferences.

Big Hit’s parent company, Hybe Corp., said in October that each member of the band will now focus on individual activities organized around their military service plans. In October, Jin released the single “The Astronaut,” co-written with Coldplay.

Commentator Jung said the items for sale could give BTS members much-needed time to develop themselves after years of working together as a team. But K-pop commentator Cha Woo-jin said it was unclear whether BTS would enjoy the same popularity as a group when they reunited years later after completing military missions.

In August, Defense Minister Lee said active BTS members may be allowed to continue practicing and join other non-active BTS members on overseas group tours.

Cha said that K-pop’s global influence will not be affected too much by the enlistment of BTS members, because they “seem to represent K-pop, but not all of K-pop”. Chung agreed, saying that other K-pop groups such as BLACKPINK, Stray Kids and aespa are likely to rise further.


Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea.

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