BTS Denied Military Service Exemption in South Korea, Fans Push for Group Conscription

As the globally beloved K-pop supergroup reaches the age of compulsory military service in their home country, fan groups, aka the "BTS ARMY," are begging officials to let the boy band serve side by side.

Despite topping the Billboard charts and generating international fan fervor comparable to that of The Beatles, K-pop supergroup BTS will not be exempted from compulsory military service at home in South Korea. 
 
Since 1957, South Korean male citizens between the ages of 18 and 28 have been required to complete approximately two years of compulsory military service. Women are not required to serve, but they may voluntarily enlist.

BTS formed in 2013, and its oldest member, Jin, will be turning 27 in December. The other six members of the group will reach the age of conscription within the next few years. Not completing their compulsory military service could result in various punishments, including a prohibition on overseas travel, which would surely hinder the globally popular group's lucrative international tour regimen.

Various BTS fan groups have been lobbying the South Korean government to exempt the boy band from serving, but Korean Ministry of Defense officials told The Hollywood Reporter this week that an exemption will not be possible.

There are several categories of public figure who are currently able to score exemptions from service, but none apply to pop stars like BTS.

Around the time of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, South Korean law introduced legislation that allowed winners of certain international arts or sports competitions, such as Olympic medalists, to opt out of the military. Over the past 10 years, 280 artists and 178 athletes have been exempted from military service. 

In September 2018, 27-year-old South Korean soccer player, Son Heung-min, who plays for the English Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspurs, secured an exemption from military service when the Korean National Team defeated Japan to win the gold medal at the Asian Games.

Within the cultural sphere, only award-winning classical musicians are acknowledged as eligible for exemptions.

“The Ministry of Defense is currently debating with related authorities on improving the current alternate service [program] in place of conscription, but nothing has been decided as to when a change may take effect,” a Ministry of Defense official told THR

There have been just a few cases where South Korean celebrities were able to duck out of military service, citing health issues or financial hardship. 

South Korean actor Jang Dong-gun, best known for his roles in Friend (2001) and Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War (2004), skipped service after he was diagnosed with pneumothorax, a rare condition in which sufferers’ lungs collapse. 

Fellow actor Jo Jung-Suk, who has appeared in local tentpoles like Exit and The Drug King, was granted a military exemption due to some extreme personal financial hardships he was facing and the need to support his widowed mother.

Despite the passionate laments of their fan base, which is ironically known as "the Army," BTS' members have always been adamant about completing their military service. 

In April, during an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, senior member Jin said, "As a Korean, it's natural, and someday, when duty calls, we'll be ready to respond and do our best."

The BTS ARMY (short for "Adorable Representative MC for Youth") appear to be accepting that their heroes will probably need to take a hiatus to serve. In recent weeks, online fan campaigns have shifted their emphasis, demanding that the boy band members be able to serve together as a group, rather than be split up to serve in different divisions of the armed services.

“If all of the members can be enlisted together and return in two years,  it will save them time and help their careers," says one Change.org petition, which has over 20,000 signatures.