S Korea passes law allowing BTS stars to defer military service

Amendment to military service law provides exceptions for K-pop megastars who improve country’s cultural status and boost the economy.

Members of the group BTS have said that they would fulfil their military service duties as required by law [File: Bobby Yip/Reuters]

South Korea’s parliament has passed a bill allowing chart-topping and Grammy-nominated K-pop artistes such as BTS to postpone their mandatory military service until the age of 30.

All able-bodied South Korean men aged between 18 and 28 must serve in the military for about two years as part of the country’s efforts to guard against North Korea.

The amendment to the Military Service Act passed on Tuesday was designed to provide exceptions for K-pop megastars who improve the country’s cultural status and boost the economy.

South Korea allows eligible students to defer enlistment up to age 28 and has granted exemptions for high-profile classical musicians as well as sportsmen and athletes who have won medals at the Olympics or other significant games. Tottenham Hotspur football player Son Heung-min is among those who have already been given an exemption.

Until now, no K-pop stars had received exemptions but the new bill will ensure entertainers recommended by the culture minister can defer their service to the age of 30.

The oldest member of BTS, 27-year-old Jin, is nearing the deadline for enlistment at a time when the seven-member boy band is rewriting K-pop history.

Breaking records

Since launching in 2013, BTS has driven the global K-pop craze with catchy, upbeat music alongside lyrics and social campaigns aimed at empowering young people.

It recently notched a first-ever No 1 hit single on the US Billboard charts with the song Dynamite and bagged an unprecedented Grammy nomination as a K-pop band. Its new song Life Goes On, also became the first ever Korean song to land at No 1 on the Billboard’s main singles chart.


“Pop artists tend to make their highest achievements in their 20s but many of them had to pursue a graduate degree to delay their service,” said Jeon Yong-gi, who co-authored the bill.

BTS’s management, Big Hit Entertainment, did not respond to a request for comment on the legislative change, but Jin and other band members have previously said they would fulfil their duties as required.

“As a Korean, it’s natural. And some day when duty calls, we’ll be ready to respond and do our best,” Jin was quoted saying in 2019.

Military service is a contentious issue in South Korea.

A poll released last month by local news outlet E-Today showed some 53 percent of respondents supported special treatment for BTS, while 47 percent opposed it.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters