Because the band’s eldest member, Jin, is expected to serve in the military in December when he turns 30, the topic of the band’s seven members’ active military service has been a contentious one in South Korea.
Lee Jong-sup, the defense minister, told MPs that he had directed staff to conduct a survey as soon as possible. He stated that in addition to these aspects, his ministry would also consider the economic impact of BTS, the value of military service, and the broader national interest.
After his comments created a stir, his ministry clarified in a statement that Lee ordered officials to examine whether such a survey is needed, rather than launch it immediately.
It said officials were asked to study details including which agency would be responsible for a survey, how long would it take and who exactly would be surveyed. The statement said if the survey is carried out, it will be done by a third organization, not by the ministry or related authorities, to ensure fairness.
The ministry said the results would be only one of the many factors determining BTS members’ military status.
By law, all able-bodied men in South Korea must serve 18-21 months in the military under a conscription system established to deal with threats from rival North Korea. But the country gives exemption to athletes, classical and traditional musicians, and ballet and other dancers who win top places in certain competitions because they are considered to have enhanced national prestige.
Those exempted are released from the military after taking three weeks of basic training. But they are required to perform 544 hours of volunteer work and serve in their respective professional fields for 34 months.
Some politicians and others have called for expanding the scope of exemptions to include K-pop stars such as BTS because they have elevated South Korea’s international image significantly as well.
A private survey earlier this year showed about 60% of respondents supported military exemption for BTS members. But another private survey in 2020 showed 46% backed exemptions while 48% opposed them.