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Music & Entertainment

BTS may have to serve in South Korean army

So far, South Korean lawmakers fail to agree on the exemption of pop stars from active duty

By Nov 26, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

BTS accepts the Favorite Pop Song award for Butter at the American Music Awards held at Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles on Nov. 21
BTS accepts the Favorite Pop Song award for Butter at the American Music Awards held at Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles on Nov. 21

It appears the world’s top boy band BTS will have to serve in the South Korean military as lawmakers in the country have so far failed to agree on amendments to the current law, which would have exempted them from the duty.

The defense ministry also opposed the amendment.

A subcommittee of the parliament's national defense committee on Nov. 25 suspended a decision on three revised bills, which would have allowed popular male artists including singers and actors deemed to be making high contributions to the national interest to fulfill their duty as public cultural personnel instead of soldiers. Members of the defense committee locked horns over the amendments.

Lawmakers are unlikely to vote on the amendments this year due to the suspension. But they left the door open for approval within their term until 2024 since the revised bills were not abolished but pending in the subcommittee. The defense committee is known to be planning to collect opinions from the public on the matter as early as next month.

The current laws grant such allowances only to medalists at major sports events such as the Olympics, and winners of classical music and dance competitions. It is mandatory for all able-bodied South Korean men at a certain age are to serve in the military for up to 21 months.

'THEY DESERVE IT'

BTS deserves the waiver, given the group’s achievements in the global music industry, said Sung Il-jong, a lawmaker of the main opposition People Power Party, who proposed one of the revised bills.

“Who promoted the national prestige more, the winner of a classical music contest in Seoul or BTS, the winner of the top honor at the American Music Awards (AMAs)?” Sung said. Earlier this week, BTS became the first Asian act to take the prize for artist of the year at the AMAs, one of the three top US music awards, along with those given at the Billboard Music Awards and the Grammies, to adorn the throne at the top of the global pop industry.

BTS' national economic contribution is estimated at 56 trillion won ($46.9 billion) over a ten-year period, while an Olympic medal’s economic value is evaluated at up to 269 billion won, Sung said, citing a report by Hyundai Research Institute.

Kim Jin-pyo of the ruling Democratic Party proposed a measure that grants the allowances only to those who received orders based on cultural or sports merit. In 2018, BTS was awarded the Order of Cultural Merit from South Korea’s government in recognition of its contribution to promoting Korean culture and language across the globe.
BTS gives an impromptu concert in the streets of downtown Los Angeles
BTS gives an impromptu concert in the streets of downtown Los Angeles

'NOT FAIR'

On the other hand, the Democratic Party’s Kim Byung-ki argued the proposed amendment to exempt the pop stars from military service should be rejected based on fairness.

“The military service should be applied fairly to everyone,” Kim said. “We must minimize the scope for the waiver while establishing objective standards accepted by everyone.”

The Ministry of National Defense remained opposed to the amendment.

“It is hard to expand the number of eligible artists and athletes for the waiver. We need to be prudent,” the ministry’s spokesperson Boo Seung-chan said on Nov. 25.

In September, Defense Minister Suh Wook said the matter needs national consensus in response to the parliamentary inquires.

Presidential candidates are speculated to join in on the debate over the issue. Ahn Cheol-soo, the nominee of a smaller opposition People’s Party, has supported the amendment, saying it is discriminatory to exclude pop music from the cultural exemption, which is granted to the fine arts and sports.

Write to Young Chan Song at 0full@hankyung.com

Jongwoo Cheon edited this article.

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