K-pop supergroup BTS shocked the world on June 14 when they announced a hiatus. The group members stated their exhaustion as the reason behind their break and sought out fans' faith in them while negotiating their path forward.
HYBE later clarified that BTS is not taking a hiatus, but the members will give more time to their solo engagements while they continue to work as a group.
While speaking to media outlets in the country, South Korean lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun said that the uncertainty around the impending military enlistment threatens the mental peace of group members.
Jin, the eldest member, is expected to enter military enlistment by the end of 2022. That's why other members have decided to focus on individual activities. However, BTS' agency HYBE has not confirmed the lawmaker's statements.
Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, South Korea said public opinion will dictate BTS' military exemption
Park Bo-gyun, the South Korean Minister for Culture, Sports and Tourism, addressed the issue of a special immunity for the K-pop group from the country's mandatory military enlistment.
In a press conference held at a government complex in Sejong on July 4, the minister stated that the public's opinion would be the most important factor in deciding BTS' exemption from compulsory enlistment.
South Korean law requires that all males aged 18-28 must complete two years of mandatory enlistment in the military as part of efforts to defend against a hostile North Korea.
The minister said,
"I believe that military service is a sacred duty".
He also praised the K-pop group and added that,
"BTS has promoted K-culture worldwide and has advanced the prestige of the nation."
Exemptions from the law have been made for certain categories of men in terms of being allowed to put off service for a certain time or serve for a shorter period. These have been given to primarily Olympic medal winners or Asian game champions as well as classical musicians and dancers to bring pride and recognition to the country.
The mandatory enlistment law was amended in 2020 to allow K-pop idols to defer enlistment till 30
In 2020, while BTS was in the prime of its career, the South Korean parliament amended the law to allow K-pop stars to put off their service till the age of 30.
The eldest BTS member Jin, 29, who will turn 30 this December, now faces the imminent prospect of serving in the military for two years away from the public eye.
While BTS members and their agency have repeatedly spoken about their readiness to oblige with the government's orders, there have been calls for a complete exemption for the group, including one by the former Minister of Culture, for BTS' contribution to heightening South Korea's international reputation.
This 'soft power' that has helped South Korea raise its profile worldwide should be considered when asking BTS members to enlist.
The former Minister of Culture said,
"BTS has done a job that would take more than 1,000 diplomats to do."
BTS has had a huge impact on South Korea's economy and international reputation
BTS was the first K-pop group to perform sold-out shows in the United States and Europe. They donated money towards the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement. Their fans have also contributed heavily to social causes, propelling the group into the political limelight for their influence.
They were the first K-pop group to address the United Nations General Assembly by endorsing UNICEF's Generation Unlimited campaign to find cutting-edge solutions to get every young person in school, training or age-appropriate employment by 2030 and spreading awareness about the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
In 2020, the K-pop group released their first English single, Dynamite, which debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
A study by South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with a government tourism institute projected that the English track alone could generate 1.7 trillion won ($1.43 billion) worth of economic activity and nearly 8000 new jobs.
Apart from direct sales of more than 400 billion won, it would lead to nearly 600 billion won in cosmetic sales and almost 180 billion won in food and drinks, the study found.
All seven group members received the South Korean Hwagwan Order of Cultural Merit in 2018, which is the country's highest honor for cultural excellence.
A poll conducted in South Korea showed almost 60% of citizens were in favor of granting an exemption to BTS for their outstanding contributions to South Korea
A poll by Gallup Korea (an American research organization based in South Korea) showed that 59% of the citizens favored granting exemption to famous artists like BTS from the mandatory military service, given their contribution to the National Prestige. Only 33% of people were against such an exemption.
South Korean parliament debates on amendments to the mandatory enlistment law to reduce the training period for globally acclaimed K-pop idols from two years to three weeks
In light of public sentiment in the country, Yoon Sang-hyun of the ruling People Power Party has proposed an amendment to shorten the period of two years of enlistment to three weeks of military training for K-pop stars of such global fame.
However, the debate rages on whether popular culture should be given the same importance as Olympic games, etc. Olympics are an international event where the entire South Korean population cheers for the same team, but not everyone in the country is a K-pop fan. Many South Koreans have expressed a lack of interest in K-pop and K-drama culture.
There are fears of amendments allowing abuse of the exemptions to be granted and will enable citizens not to perform their fundamental duties to the nation.
Also, K-pop is not the only sector hoping for a change in the rules. Exemptions have been requested by engineers and researchers in the computer chip and other tech fields.
The Ministry of Defense also reiterated the importance of the service and called for careful consideration of the issue of exemptions in terms of fairness.
BTS members are currently focusing on their solo projects
While the group's fate hangs in the balance, the members have already started focusing on their careers, starting with Jung kook, who features in Charlie Puth's new single Left and Right. The song debuted at number 3 on Spotify's Global Songs chart.
BTS' j-hope to drop first solo album, Jack in the Box
BTS rapper j-hope has also scheduled a release of his first solo album Jack in the Box, on July 15. His first pre-release single, MORE, came out on July 1 and has reached the number 1 spot on Spotify's global songs chart.
K-pop and K-dramas have been one of South Korea's most successful exports and are key components of the Hallyu wave that has swept through the world in the last few decades.