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What the Hell Happened: BTS to Enlist In Military to Fulfill Mandatory Service Obligation

Members of BTS pictured at a May 2022 White House briefing.
Members of BTS pictured at a May 2022 White House briefing. By Courtesy of the White House, Wikimedia Commons
By Jen A. Hughes, Crimson Staff Writer

After years of public and private debate, K-pop group BTS announced early Monday morning that all seven members of the K-pop juggernaut will enter the South Korean military over the next several years. The announcement comes just two days after the band’s last scheduled concert and provides fans and onlookers alike resolution to a years-long debate over how the South Korean government would handle the band's mandatory enlistment.

All South Korean men are required to enlist by the age of 28 and must serve for a minimum of 18 months. BTS’s oldest member, Jin, was initially set to enlist by December of 2020; however, the South Korean government created a new exception just three days before the artist’s 28th birthday. The so-called “BTS Law'' allows K-pop stars who have been awarded South Korea’s Hwagwan Orders of Cultural Merit to apply to postpone their military service until the age of 30.

The announcements come just four months after the group spurred confusion after walking back an announced “hiatus” and transition to “Chapter 2” of the band, which involves members focusing on solo projects amid ongoing group promotions.

In a message posted by the group’s management company on the artist-to-fan communication website “Weverse,” the company writes “as each individual embarks on solo endeavors, it’s the perfect time and the members of BTS are honored to serve.”

The post revealed that Jin plans to enlist following promotions for the release of his upcoming solo single at the end of October. The other six members — RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook — are expected to enlist over the next several years with the company promising a “reconvening” of the group around 2025.

While seasoned K-pop fans are no strangers to the enlistment of their favorite male idols, groups have historically taken different approaches to enlistment. Some have taken lengthy hiatuses where members establish solo careers, while others have remained active, promoting as groups or subunits while missing some members. Notable idols currently serving include Baekhyun of EXO and SHINee’s Taemin.

Yet, many wondered if BTS might again be the exception. The group is an economic powerhouse: BTS reportedly contributes over $3.6 billion dollars annually to the South Korean economy and is responsible for an estimated 1 in every 13 tourists in the country. Analysts have projected that BTS will have contributed $29.1 trillion dollars to the South Korean economy between 2014 and 2023 when considering both direct and indirect contributions.

Beyond their economic impact they’ve also been friendly with the South Korean government, participating in government sponsored performances and events. All members of the group were sworn in as presidential envoys and awarded diplomatic passports before speaking at the UN for the second time in 2021. But after years of indecision and back and forth from government officials, many fans are speculating that the group is choosing to enlist on their own terms rather than await a final decision.

Reactions from BTS’s loyal fanbase, ARMY, have been mixed. On the most extreme end, fans went as far as proposing a boycott of all things related to South Korea until the group’s return in 2025. But in the true spirit of BTS, the majority of fans online were quick to make light of the situation, flooding twitter with memes. Creative fans wasted no time in pointing out the irony of the fanbase's name, repurposing the famous Spider-Man pointing meme to show that both BTS and their fans were ARMY now. Other fans opted to opine on the attractiveness of the inevitable haircuts the members will receive upon entrance into the Military.

Still, many fans took to Twitter to express their sadness about the prospect of three years without new content from Bangtan. Some even expressed concern over the safety of the members during their service. While K-pop idols almost exclusively serve in non-combat roles and are unlikely to face physical danger, there is a long history of idols struggling to assimilate into the military given their fame. Most notably SHINee’s Taemin was forced to change roles amid deteriorating mental health last year. Given BTS’s unprecedented level of fame, some fans worry about their privacy and safety while serving.

While many fans were shocked by the surprise announcement, there's no doubt that BTS’s loyal ARMY will be eagerly awaiting the group's return in 2025. The announcement concluded with a promise to fans citing the band's most recent single, “Yet To Come (The Most Beautiful Moment),” which promises “much more yet to come in the years ahead from BTS.”

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