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South Korean K-pop group BTS. Picture: MTV/GETTY IMAGES
South Korean K-pop group BTS. Picture: MTV/GETTY IMAGES

A South Korean government minister has called for exempting K-pop group BTS from mandatory military service, as the nation remains divided over preferential treatment for the megastars. 

“It would be a national loss,” culture minister Hwang Hee said in a statement on Wednesday on making the boy band serve time in the military. It would also be a “cultural loss for mankind” if the singers have to “suspend their activities due to the fulfilment of their military service obligations when their achievements in promoting national prestige and their skills are at their peak”.

BTS in 2020 became the first Asian group since 1963 to top Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 chart with their English-language single Dynamite. The band’s oldest member, Jin, needs to enlist in the military before the end of the year unless a related law is revised to allow for an exemption.

While South Koreans have cheered BTS’s success, military service exemptions are controversial in a country where issues of inequality and privilege dominate the debate. All male citizens aged 18-28 are required to serve in the military for about two years to guard against North Korea, which maintains one of the world’s largest standing armies and has never signed a peace treaty with South Korea.

Current laws allow waivers for some elite athletes and classical musicians, but don’t include popular performers. Jin, whose given name is Kim Seok-jin, is 29 and has avoided being conscripted so far because of a 2020 law that allows entertainers who have made “great contributions” in popular culture to delay their mandatory military duty.

Hwang, who will leave the office on May 9 to make way for a new government, urged parliament to swiftly review the laws to provide legal grounds for BTS members to be exempted from military duty.

Some in South Korea argue the exemptions are unfair to young men who sacrifice two years of their careers and may not have wealth to fall back on.

Bloomberg News

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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