South Korea seeks to change military service laws, all because of a music group

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South Korea has certainly come out of its creative shell over the past two decades and is now making inroads in all levels of international creative endeavor, including television, music and film.

But for the young, mostly male, who are involved in these careers, they have a major hurdle – South Korea’s mandatory conscription which requires all men to serve in the country’s military. Women are exempt but can voluntarily join the armed forces if they wish.

But, imagine you have a booming career in music, where you’re the biggest band in the world, at the peak of your career, winning the American Music Awards, being nominated for the Grammies, selling tens of millions of albums . Is it fair that your career is cut short when you do so much for your country, in terms of export earnings or promoting South Korea’s soft power internationally?

This is the predicament for BTS, the “it” group of recent years in the world, breaking music records and selling out concerts in stadiums in minutes, and making huge inroads in the music market. western. For those living under a rock, BTS is a seven-member group that has been together for almost nine years and is clearly at the peak of their pop career.

Learn more about BTS HERE.

Now, a South Korean government minister is calling for BTS to be exempted from compulsory military service, but South Koreans remain divided over the preferential treatment of megastars. And not just K-Pop stars, but other areas of excellence, including sports or academics, for example.

South Korean Culture Minister Hwang Hee said this week that it would be a “national loss” if BTS were forced to part ways to perform compulsory military service.

“It would also be a cultural loss to mankind if the singers were to suspend their activities due to fulfilling their military service obligations when their achievements in promoting national prestige and skill are at their peak.”

Last year, BTS became the first Asian group since 1963 to top Billboard’s All Genre Hot 100 chart with their English-language single “Dynamite.” It was followed by another Billboard #1 “Life Goes On” (in Korean) and then “Butter” – 3 number ones in a single 12 month period, a feat rarely achieved by even the most popular musicians.

But now the oldest member of the group, Kim Seok-jin, or simply “Jin”, must enlist in the army before the end of this year, unless a related law is revised to allow a exemption.

While South Koreans are proud of BTS’s international success, exemptions from military service are controversial in a country where issues of inequality and privilege dominate the debate.

All male citizens between the ages of 18 and 28 must serve in the South Korean military for approximately two years. Technically, North Korea and South Korea are still at war, and North Korea continues to maintain one of the largest standing armies in the world. No peace treaty has ever been signed with South Korea.

There are laws in effect allowing waivers for certain elite athletes and classical musicians, but do not include popular entertainers, like K-Pop stars, regardless of the international fame they have garnered.

Jin is now 29 and has so far avoided drafting due to a new 2020 law that allowed artists who have made “significant contributions” to popular culture to delay mandatory military service.

From now on, the Minister of Culture, who leaves office on May 9 to make way for the new minister and government, urges Parliament to quickly review existing laws to provide legal grounds for the seven members of BTS to be exempt from conscription.

For their part, BTS members have always said that they will answer the call of their government and do their best to serve the country. They are also aware of the possible fallout from their exemption and have remained silent on the politics of the conscription issue. They fear that a new law, based on their individual cases, will end in local backlash.

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