BTS Enlisted for the Military
By Jaden Lam
On Monday, October 17, at 4 in the morning, my alarm clock went off and forced me awake. Like always, I checked my notifications on my phone before getting out of bed. A Weverse (BTS’ official app for announcements) notice popped up on my screen, announcing, “BigHit Music Confirms BTS to Fulfill Mandatory Military Service.” My mind was blank. I didn’t even have a reaction. It was 4 in the morning on a Monday before school, I was running on 3 hours of sleep due to having to catch up on make-up work, and I was still recovering from the symptoms of COVID-19. The news wasn’t able to properly sink in until 5 minutes later, after I had brushed my teeth and returned to my phone, to read over the notification again. I was utterly shocked, but at the same time I saw it coming. However, I was still in denial.
Back in June of this year, BTS had announced themselves that they were taking their first ever group “hiatus” to pursue solo projects and they were uncertain when they’d return. They gave us no definitive time of return, except for a promise that they would be back and stronger than ever once they’ve recharged. Even though they didn’t give us any dates or relative time, A.R.M.Y., the BTS fandom, knew it wouldn’t be a short break, considering how burnt out they are from pumping out albums every 6 months since 2013, on top of their endless promotions and tours. After their June hiatus announcement, a bunch of us had promised to trust them, but also take a break from following their content until they return as a full group again, to focus more on ourselves. I was one of them.
Ever since June, I have been exploring the world of K-Pop a lot more and checking out a variety of groups. Those include: Stray Kids, ASTRO, SEVENTEEN, ENHYPEN, and &Team. I would return to BTS every so often to catch up a little on what’s going on in the fandom, but because I wanted to branch out more in my music tastes, I became less emotionally dependent on the group. As a result, the news wasn’t able to hit me as hard as it would have prior to the hiatus announcement. I am still extremely sad hearing the news of the enlistment and will miss them very much in the time that they are gone, but because I am in my Junior year of high school with an extremely busy schedule, where I can barely even fit free time in, and I am now also a fan of a lot of other K-pop groups, there won’t be as big of a hole in my heart.
BTS is set to return in 2025. The only member whose official enlistment date is announced is the oldest member, Jin, who turns 30 years old on December 4th. He will be leaving for military service on December 13th, which is only in a few weeks! The other members claimed they will enlist in the military after they each release their own solo albums. BTS members Jungkook, Jimin, V, and SUGA are set to release their solo albums in 2023.
In case you aren’t familiar with South Korean culture, all able-bodied men from ages 18-28 must enlist in the military for a minimum of 18 months to defend their country, in case North Korea rebels. There are few exceptions to this law, for famous South Korean classical musicians and professional athletes who increase the national culture of South Korea get full exemption from military service.
However, pop culture artists have never been part of this discussion until now because K-pop has been a recent global phenomenon. There have been heavy debates throughout South Korea since 2018 on whether BTS should be exempted from military service because of how much recognition they’ve given to South Korea due to their music, but legislators didn’t find it convincing enough to completely exempt the septet from enlisting.
However, in 2020 upon Jin turning 28, South Korea amended the law, specifically allowing only BTS to push off their military service to age 30, considering that the young men were at the height of their careers. On November 20, 2020, at a global press conference for their album BE, eldest member, Jin responded to the debates by saying: “As a male citizen of the Republic of Korea, mandatory enlistment is a given, and when the country calls, we will gladly respond. I am planning to serve diligently when the time comes. The members and I have discussed this topic often, and we all agreed that we want to serve our mandatory military service duties."
Now that we are approaching Jin at age 30, the majority of the world expected their break would actually be their soft cushion to prepare their fans for the news of their enlistment. More hints were thrown toward us when Jungkook screamed out to the crowd before leaving the stage at the 2022 Fact Music Awards on October 8: “This is probably going to be the last award show we’ll be accepting awards on as a full group for a while. We won’t be on award shows next year. So thank you!!!”
While I’m extremely dejected by this news, let’s look toward the future of BTS. Chapter 2 that they promised us. It’s a normal part of K-pop culture for artists to leave the idol scene after seven years, and either return with their group, start a solo career, or quit music altogether. We’re already lucky enough we got to keep them for an extra two years. So, I’m going to trust in their promise and wait patiently for 2025 to arrive, hoping they return safely and in good health. Until then, I wonder what would happen to the male K-pop scene. No group will ever be able to make such an impact on the global music scene like BTS did. However, there are great candidates that could, not be the next BTS, but be the next big thing in K-pop. I’m putting my bets on the newer 4th generation idols, most likely Stray Kids, TXT, or Enhypen. The 3rd generation idol group, SEVENTEEN, is also making waves on the international scene. Since they are already so well-established in Korea, I feel like they could also grow a huge fan base worldwide soon.