Korean Legislation Sparks Debate over Military Exemption for BTS


As Korean culture began to spread globally among nations in just a span of several years, K-Pop stars have started to pay enormous amounts of media attention and shine a bright spotlight onto the country. Specifically, male K-Pop group BTS (Beyond the Scene or Bangtan Sonyeondan) has been receiving massive attention both domestically and internationally. BTS is the first K-Pop group to perform and sell out a stadium in the United States, win two consecutive Billboard Music Awards for “Top Social Artist”, as well as reaching #1 two consecutive times on the billboard music charts with their full length album, “Love Yourself: Tear” and the repackaging “Love Yourself: Answer.” With all these achievements and accolades, many Koreans have begun a debate on whether these highly recognized male musicians should be exempt from their required military service.

In South Korea, it is required of all male Korean citizens to serve a two-year term in the military. If they refuse to serve, their Korean citizenship can be revoked, and they will even have to serve time in jail. In addition, it is often looked down upon within Korean culture if men attempt to avoid serving their time in the military. However, professional athletes and music prodigies are exempted if they receive significant awards for their talents. Thus, this exception has sparked a question for many: shouldn’t K-Pop stars also be exempt from their services when they receive highly acclaimed awards? This debate was recently revisited intensely when politician Ha Tae Kyung brought the issue up in a National Assembly Defense meeting, in which he argued to change the policy specifically in regards to BTS. He mentioned the international acclaim that they have been receiving, such as their album “Love Yourself: Tear” going #1 on the billboard charts, and compared the achievement to receiving #1 in “violin, piano, and classical music competitions.”

“Considering how much BTS alone has brought into the Korean economy and how well they have represented Korea on the global scale, I believe that it is understandable that they be exempt from their mandatory military service,” says Ian Donghwee Choi (12). “Looking at their success in the international music industry and how much hard work they have put into their craft, I guess you can say that they have already completed their terms in serving their country.”

However, there is still much opposition to giving a “pass” from BTS’s required military service, despite their careers’ circumstances and accolades. A large portion of opinions that are on the opposite side of the argument are against giving any passes to people from the mandatory service, believing that every man should be given equal treatment and regard.

“I think [BTS] should serve their military terms, but because there is already a policy established in which athletes or music prodigies can be exempt from their service due to their accomplishments, it would be completely reasonable for [BTS] to be exempt as well,” says Ashley Whang (12). “However, I do not believe that is fair for anyone to be exempt from their services, as everyone in the country work very hard, regardless if they are getting global attention for their efforts.”

All in all, this discussion of whether or not K-Pop stars should be exempt from the Korean military service brings up many opportunities to reform the system in ways that correlate with the current society. Although this debate has been a perennial issue within the country, it may or may not take a phenomenon like BTS for South Korea to become open to change its entrenched governmental policies.