In September, a close friend of mine, who is in the U.S. Army, was deployed oversees over 6,000 miles away. His wife, one of my best friends knew for almost two years he was going to deploy. However, when he finally got the final orders it was still a huge blow. Well, this is how Big Hit’s announcement on October 17th felt, that the inevitable was finally going to happen. For the last year ARMY has been holding their collective breaths in anticipation of a last minute “Hail Mary” that the South Korean government would amend the conscription law. Even though the last word from the South Korean Department of Manpower would make a final decision by December, BTS gave the middle finger to the government by not waiting any longer and announced their official group hiatus until 2025 to complete their obligation and duty to their country. Many stories have been written about the controversy that is still South Korea’s mandatory conscription. If interesting in learning more please click on the following links. Time- Inside South Korea’s Harsh Alternative to Military Service The Washington Post –BTS’s Jin enlists: What to know about S. Korea’s mandatory military service
Conscription in South Korea
As a foreigner I can not speak on another countries system of protecting their country and citizens. Yet. also as a foreign fan of South Korean Entertainment, enlistment does affect me and millions around the globe. Some have a hard time understanding the practice of mandatory military service, so I wanted to give some clarity for those that may be interested.
According to an article written by 90 Day Korean, military service in South Korea is he compulsory participation of able-bodied citizens in active duty enlistment. Woman are able to join, however it is not mandatory. The length of service is for a minimum of 18 months, yet it depends on the branch of service. For instance, other ways to perform the duty are social work, research, full-time reserve enlistment and conscription, and industrial technical personnel. All Korean men between the ages of 18 and 35 are required to perform compulsory military service, and can delay enlistment up until the age of 28. With special permission, the enlistment can be delayed until 30 also known as the “BTS Law“, since only members of BTS currently qualify. On December 1st 2021 the South Korean National Assembly passed a revision to the Military Service Act allowing “K-pop entertainers who have received government medals for helping spread or elevate the country’s cultural influence around the world can apply for deferment of their military service. All seven members of BTS meet that requirement. They were awarded the medal in 2018” (The New York Times, December 1 2021). On October 24th 2018 all seven members of BTS received the fifth-class Hwagwan Order of Cultural Merit medal at Olympic Hall, being the youngest recipients in history (Forbes, October 27 2018)
Exemptions are allowed as set by South Koreas Military Manpower Administration, for the following reasons. Men who are not in good physical or mental such as but not limited to debilitating diseases, such as diabetes or other conditions. Professionals with exceptional skills such as some violinists, pianists, and ballet performers can get exemptions from duty. And lastly athletes who have won medals in the Olympics, or specifically a gold medal in the Asian Games. Unfortunately global accomplishments as pop artist are not currently recognized.
Knowing Your Worth
I’m glad this whole discussion around enlistment and idols occurred. It exposed several things. How far the government will go to serve their own interests. It was evident during the preparation Busan’s bid for the 2030 World Expo. With BTS announced to be the official ambassadors and perform for Busan’s campaign, it had local councilmen and politicians acting a fool. Clamoring for photo ops with the members at a press conferences as the world looked on to what South Korea had to offer the world in 2030. As per the Bureau International des Expositions, Busan’s theme submission is “Transforming Our World, Navigating Toward a Better Future” – reflects the understanding that in times of change and crisis, humanity must pursue transformation to move toward a better future. I found it ironic that with the note of “times of change”, the views on the importance and relevance of K-Pop as a global measure of prominence and success is still up for debate.
Now more than ever should be a wake up call to what is considered “art” and “good image”. For so long pop was not even a consideration as an art form of significance in Korea. Now. the export of K-Pop and other forms of entertainment has the world turned upside down. The American Music Awards just added K-pop as a category. BTS have spoken 3 times at the United Nations, once as official presidential envoy diplomats. Since 2017 they have spear headed the Love Myself global campaign for UNICEF which is a “global campaign aimed at ensuring children and teens in the world lead safe and healthy lives without the fear of violence, protect and support child and teen victims of domestic and school violence as well as sexual assault around the world. Also, this will be used to provide an education to local communities for violence prevention”. As of October 2021 BTS and UNICEF through the Love Myself campaign has raised $3.6 Million. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/bts-unicef-love-myself-help-children/
On top of album sales in the billions, charting the music charts in 86 countries, winning awards not only in their home country but also abroad, they are also global humanitarians. Yet, this still does not warrant an exemption from military service. In the years to come, while the boys are proudly serving their country in the military, I hope the government will realize “times of change” and think seriously how, not only BTS, but other K-Pop idols have served their country in a far greater capacity than those required during 18 months of conscription.
Passing the Baton
Will this be the end of the Hallyu Wave as we know it? I really hope not. As a multi-group stan I know that too many idol groups put in an enormous amount of time and dedication for the hiatus of one group to cause the decline of K-pops global popularity. Male Idol groups such as NCT 127, Enhypen, TXT, Stray Kids and Monsta X have had enormous global success selling out theaters and arenas on every tour. Also with appearances on popular Western talk shows such as Good Morning America, Jimmy Kimmel and James Corden it is an opportunity to gain more fans and notoriety. At some point these groups will also face the same dilemma of mandatory conscription at a time when the group is at the height of their career. So the push for the South Korean government to take a serious look at including global accomplishments and adding to the Hallyu wave as a reason for exemptions is still strong.
Some labels and groups have taken matters into their on hands and opted to have their entire group enlist at the same time. This was the case with ONF when they announced that at the end of 2021 all five of the Korean members (one member being Japanese) would enlist within the same week. As posted in Seoul Beats, this was “a decision leaders Hyojin and J-us said in handwritten letters was made to reduce potential hiatuses and promote as a complete group as soon as possible, for a long time”. ONF is the first K-pop to make the decision to enlist all together instead of staggering enlistments to allow the group to continue partially as has been done with such groups as EXO, Super Junior and Monsta X. Time will tell if this was a wise decision, as BTS has also opted for all members to enlist within months of each other to complete military service by 2025.
What to Expect Until 2025
What I’m hoping this hiatus will bring is two fold. First, a new sense of direction for the industry and its artist. For the first time since I got into K-pop in 2017 there have been as many as10 groups or solo acts in the US at the same time in 2022. One week there was 4 concerts in the Tri-state NYC area, with Stray Kids and Dreamcatcher on the same day. Absolutely insane!!! I hope this momentum keeps growing because these artist and company staff, work their asses off to meet and match a standard that has been set by BTS.
Second, that Nam Joon, Seok Jin, Yoon Gi, Ho Seok, Ji Min, Tae Hyung, Jeong Guk find themselves outside of who they are on stage and to ARMY these next two years. For the most part, there is a conscience among most ARMY that those 18-24 months spent in the military does a body good, LOL. Okay all jokes aside, the majority of idols appear to not only look well rested and healthy, but mentally balanced with living a “normal ” life for a few months. However enlistment is not always a positive experience for all idols. Most notably this has been the case with T.O.P of Big Bang and Taemin of SHINee, who both suffered from emotional and mental difficulties while serving. So this sacrifice and interruption to their lives should not be taken lightly. It’s because of this that it makes me so mad that not only after 24 hours of Bight’s enlistment announcement the government put out a statement saying that they would allow BTS the opportunity to still participate in events for national purpose. Since idols in the military are not allowed to perform as idols, participate in labels activities or continue to profit during their enlistment I find this statement to be quite ironic. Clearly the impact will be felt by BTS hiatus, yet not enough for this same government to make changes to the conscription law.
How will ARMY Cope…. UGH!!!!
In the meantime we are being blessed with an abundance of new songs and album releases before they go. We had J-Hope’s critically acclaimed Jack in the Box this past summer. The globally successful single The Astronaut from Jin released October 28th and a live performance with Coldplay at their concert in Argentina. RM released the amazing and honest Indigo which has been receiving critical acclaim with collaborations and features from artist Tablo of Epic High, Colde, Anderson Pak, and the OG neo-soul artist Erykah Badu. Jimin recently came back from the United States working on his solo project. Suga, ever so cunning and sly, has been hinting at a new album in the works. We know that both Taehyung and Jeongguk have been working on individual albums for quite some time, I’m sure to be released soon. Let’s not forget the BTS inspired drama that Big Hit/Hybe has been working on, I’m sure to be released within the time the boys are in the military. Ultimately who knows what else is up Hybe’s sleeves for the next 2-3 years while we wait for all seven of our Bangtan Boys to return as one.
In the meantime, if you are Baby ARMY or like me ARMY for a few years but still haven’t seen EVERYTHING BTS has done in the past 10 years, then now is the time to catch up. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of BTS Content Index group on Twitter, @index_bts has put together an organized index of free BTS content starting from Pre-Debut. As of October 17th, this index has 654 entries with links, including content that is subbed. Please check them out and give them a follow on Twitter.
What Have I Learned
What I’ve learned is it’s not easy to be a K-Pop fan, LOL. Seriously it is hard work and a lot of dedication. Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining. These last five years since I went down the K-Pop rabbit hole have been an amazing experience. It has opened up my world and gave me a new love of music. I have engrossed myself in Korean Culture in a way I would have never done if not for K-Pop. Yet, not all fans go in this deep, so for some enlistment for the male idols of their favorite group has little to no relevance in their life. However, for many fans, this interruption of the music they love and idols they care about deeply will be a tough pill to swallow. Some content creators have decided to hold livestreams and online meet-ups for those ARMY’s that may not be cooping well with Jin’s enlistment. For some this may seem extreme and unnecessary, but there are some ARMY who literally owe their lives to the seven Bangtan Boys that speak about loving yourself, that talk openly about the struggles of being an adolescent and young adult and of loss.
At the time of posting this article on December 12th, 8:30 pm EST 7,000 miles away, Kim Seok Jin, our Worldwide Handsome, will be taking his first steps as a solder for the ROK on December 13th KST. ARMY will support each other and cheer him on, preparing ourselves to have to do this six more times. Jin….. FIGHTING!!!!!!
Until next time……