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BTS, the K-Pop Superstars, Must Serve in South Korea’s Military

The seven members of the K-pop group BTS, the first South Korean musicians to top the Billboard charts, must fulfill their mandatory military service, the country’s defense ministry confirmed this week.

By law, able-bodied South Korean men must register to spend about two years in the armed forces, as part of a conscription system seen as crucial to the country’s defense against North Korea. Women are exempt, but can enlist.

K-pop stars are no exception, Lee Nam-woo, an official with the ministry of defense, said at a news conference on Thursday.

The public has shown significant interest in the government’s consideration of exemptions for popular artists who have contributed to the country’s reputation, he said, but the exemptions have been denied.

“Exempting pop culture artists from military service even though they have made a contribution to the country’s reputation is not in line with the government’s stance to uphold justice and fairness,” the ministry said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

All seven members of BTS are in their 20s.

“As a Korean, it’s natural,” Jin, whose birth name is Kim Seok-jin, said in a CBS News interview in April. “And someday, when duty calls, we’ll be ready to respond and do our best.”

Big Hit Entertainment, a South Korean entertainment company that manages BTS, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Athletes and classical musicians have occasionally been granted exemptions if they won gold medals at the Asian Games or any medal at the Olympics or received international awards. Last year, Son Heung-min and other South Korean soccer players received exemptions after beating Japan at the Asian Games.

Draft exemptions are highly sought after in South Korea, where more than 230,000 young men each year, usually between the ages of 18 and 28, must interrupt their studies or careers to join the military. However, the defense ministry said fewer than 45 people are exempt every year, according to Reuters.

Park Yang-woo, the minister of culture, sports and tourism, told Korean reporters on Tuesday that he had hoped that BTS would get an exemption from the Military Manpower Administration and the Ministry of National Defense, according to the Yonhap News Agency. Indeed, some of the fans who call themselves “the BTS Army” pleaded for the exemptions.

“Unlike classical arts or sports, it is difficult to fix the criteria of the selection in the popular culture and arts fields,” the minister said.

Tamar Herman, a Billboard journalist who has covered K-pop and the East Asian entertainment business, said the group and their fans are generally aligned and in support of the military rule.

Their K-pop peers have served, so starting a precedent now by exempting BTS would be disruptive, Ms. Herman said. It’s also a matter of national pride. Celebrities’ careers have been ruined for trying to evade service, she added.

BTS has not previously said whether its members will stagger their time in the military or all register at once, Ms. Herman said.

“There’s this idea that this might put a halt to their popularity, but their fandom is so big, I personally don’t think it will,” Ms. Herman said. “Only time will tell.”

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