Why would K-pop titans BTS decide to step back from their supergroup and focus on solo careers when they’re at the height of their success? South Korea’s compulsory military service, analysts say.
Many of the group’s fans – known as ARMY – have been moved by the ‘exhausted’ pop stars’ emotional plea for more time apart, but analysts say there could be a more strategic reason behind the impending break.
All able-bodied young South Korean men under the age of 30 must complete around two years of military service, mainly due to the country remaining technically at war with nuclear-armed North Korea.
The specter of conscription has long loomed over BTS, with its seven male stars ranging in age from 24-year-old Jungkook to 29-year-old Jin who must enroll by next year or risk a jail.
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“The issue of military service was clearly involved in the announcement,” Lee Moon-won, a K-pop culture commentator, told AFP, adding that it seemed clear the group did not want to continue making music unless all members are available.
Allowing the band members to focus on their solo careers was a “logical decision,” Lee said, as successive stints of military service are expected to disrupt the septet’s globetrotting schedule for the next few years.
Other K-pop groups, such as Super Junior, have tried to keep performing and recording while some of their stars are taking enforced career breaks while on active duty.
– Exemption questions –
South Korea grants exemptions from military service to some elite athletes, such as Olympic medalists and classical musicians, but pop stars are not eligible.
The lack of exemptions for BTS, which is credited with generating billions of dollars for the South Korean economy, has sparked debate and even sparked a possible revision of the law.
But the bill went nowhere in parliament, and with compulsory service looming, the band made a “sense decision to stop their band activity”, Lee said.
From K-pop stars like G-Dragon to Hallyu idols like Song Joong-ki, many South Korean male artists have completed their military service and continued their careers afterwards.
Who undertakes – and does not undertake – military service is a very charged question in South Korea and suspicions of escaping from active duty can spell the end of careers.
A 1990s pop star, Steve Yoo, renounced his South Korean citizenship to avoid service, but inadvertently torpedoed his career as his popularity plunged after he was seen as shirking his duty.
Refusing to serve is a crime and can lead to imprisonment and social stigma, but even so some South Koreans take extreme measures – trying to gain weight or undergoing unnecessary surgery, for example – to escape the service, AFP reported.
But BTS showed no signs of trying to escape the draft.
“As a young South Korean man, I think military service is a natural course. And as I’ve always said, I’ll answer the country’s call whenever it comes,” Jin said in a statement. 2020.
The band had previously benefited from a 2020 revision to South Korea’s conscription law, which moved the age limit for some artists to sign up from 28 to 30.
A majority of South Koreans – 59% – support expanding exemptions from military service, but there is fierce opposition from young men who have already done so, according to local reports.
– Go solo –
For BTS, who have been making music non-stop for nine years, creative exhaustion is likely a factor in their decision to take time apart, Billboard K-pop columnist Jeff Benjamin told AFP. .
Although the group has announced breaks before, this time seems more “meaningful” as all members will be working independently on new projects, he said.
All BTS members remain under their label until 2026, which “is critical to keeping them together,” Benjamin said.
“If they have the freedom to try new things creatively, it can help them work together in a better place,” he said.
“I’ve always said BTS’s key to connecting more broadly was their honesty and openness, and it continues…even though this news seems more ominous.”
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Post expires at 2:41pm on Saturday June 25th, 2022