South Korea’s parliament has passed a law to allow its globally renowned pop stars to postpone their mandatory military service and avoid disrupting their careers at the height of their fame.
The bill, passed by the National Assembly yesterday, offers an exceptional temporary reprieve to celebrity boy bands such as BTS.
The seven-member group, which sell out stadiums worldwide to perform for millions of fans on tour, has been widely praised for promoting South Korea’s reputation and soft power.
The revision to the Military Service Act was proposed in September after BTS became the first South Korean pop artists to top the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with their song Dynamite.
The boys have bagged an unprecedented Grammy nomination as a K-pop band and this week their song Life Goes On came in at No 1 on both the Billboard Global 200 and Billboard Global Exclusive US charts.
BTS have boosted Korean exports and they spoke at the 75th United Nations General Assembly in September to offer people a message of hope to help them through the pandemic.
The group has a dedicated league of some 40 million online fans, known as the “Army”, who have organised themselves to rally behind charitable fundraising and political causes including Black Lives Matter and Thai pro-democracy protests.
The legislation means fans no longer face the imminent upset of losing BTS’s eldest member Jin, who turns 28 this week and would have been enlisted by the end of the year under the previous rules.
The Military Service Act requires every man aged 18 to 28 to perform national service of almost two years.
Under earlier regulation military service exemptions or deferrals were given only to international award-winning athletes and classical musicians.
Past exemptions have been awarded to athletes who won Olympic medals or a gold at the Asian Games and include Tottenham footballer Son Heung-min.
When the latest change is signed off by a presidential decree, acclaimed pop stars may put off military service until the age of 30, if the culture minister rules that they are making a significant contribution to South Korea’s global standing.