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K-Pop’s Military Service Dilemma: BTS Enlists, Raising Questions for Future Idol Groups.

The recent enlistment of all members of BTS, a globally renowned K-pop group, has reignited discussions about South Korea’s military service laws, particularly regarding special treatment for artists and athletes. This law, established in 1973, is criticized for being outdated and biased towards certain fields.

Despite efforts to include pop culture figures in this special military service category, progress stalled in 2021. A bill proposed in October 2021 to incorporate pop culture artists, like K-pop idols, into this special category has been pending in the National Assembly for over two years.

The debate gained momentum last year due to BTS’s military service. Arguments were made that BTS, having significantly boosted national prestige, should qualify for special military service benefits. This sparked a broader discussion about the fairness of the existing system and the exclusion of pop culture artists.

With BTS’s enlistment, the issue of equity in military service has become more pronounced. This concern is not just about BTS but extends to other popular male idol groups like Seventeen and NCT 127. Under the current law, these groups are expected to enlist starting in 2024, affecting members like S.Coups, Jeonghan, and Taeyong. The delay in amending the law has caused anxiety among fans and the music industry.

The crux of the debate lies in the Military Service Act, which restricts eligibility for special military service to those excelling in 42 specific cultural and artistic fields, excluding K-pop artists. This exclusion has led to calls for modernizing the law to reflect the global influence and cultural significance of K-pop.

As K-pop continues to make waves internationally, including dominating charts like the US Billboard ‘Hot 100’, the issue underscores the need for a more inclusive and contemporary approach to military service that aligns with the evolving cultural landscape. The delay in revising the law not only affects upcoming idol groups but also challenges the government’s commitment to equity and fairness.

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