Staff Writer: Maya Arruda
BTS is indisputably the most prominent K-pop group in western media for this current decade. It would not be an over-exaggeration to say that they have millions of fans worldwide.
BTS merchandise and albums are mainstream, being sold in big chain shops regularly – something that most K-pop groups cannot claim. That is not even mentioning the billions of views individual songs get on online streaming platforms like YouTube or Spotify.
BTS consists of eight male members between 25-28 years old. This is where the problem lies.
South Korea has a mandatory military draft in effect. This draft dictates that all male citizens need to serve roughly two years in the military before they turn 30 years old.
Exceptions to this draft have been made for professional gold medal Olympic Athletes or for artists who have won government-organized/sponsored competitions.
Unfortunately, K-pop idols do not qualify for the arts/sports exception.
Jin, the oldest member of BTS, has not yet served his mandatory two years and will be turning 29 this year in December.
On October 17th of this year, Bit Hit (BTS’s record label) publicly announced that Jin withdrew his enlistment deferral request, essentially confirming the start of his military service.
The second eldest member, Suga, turned 28 this past March. He will have to report for his military service soon after Jin.
The other members, being similar in age, will follow suit in short progression.
The youngest at 25, Jung-Kook, will be starting his military service presumably after Jin would have finished his military service.
Because of the members’ upcoming military service, it is assumed that BTS may go on a multiple-year hiatus as more and more members have to leave to serve their time in the military.
Since all the members have similar ages, the band would have multiple members missing simultaneously, which would last until Jung-Kook finished his military service. Assuming Jung-Kook will start his military service when he’s 28-29, that would be around five years until the band would have all eight members again.
Bit Hit may have BTS remain active even as Jin completes his military service, considering the great economic and cultural impact of BTS on an international level. With multiple members inactive due to military service, the company would be hard-pressed to continue the group’s activities by adding new members.
However, this tactic may not be the best move for the company.
The BTS fanbase, and the K-pop fandom in general, are notoriously zealous and protective of their idols. It can be anticipated that if Big Hit uses substitute members as replacements for the BTS members during their military service, there would be significant fan backlash.
It is far more likely that BTS would go on hiatus as the members serve their mandated military service.
The K-pop industry is not a stranger to the concept of hiatus, with most if not all male K-pop bands having to experience some difficulties due to the draft.
While not economically favorable, a long hiatus for BTS would reduce fan backlash.
BTS is not the only K-pop band to experience this dilemma due to the draft.
The K-pop band, SHINee, recently sent its youngest member to complete his mandatory military service. SHINee is an older band that peaked in popularity a few years earlier than BTS. Like BTS, SHINee had obtained significant attention from domestic and overseas fans, though not as drastically as BTS.
Currently, SHINee has four members. The youngest of the group, Taemin, started his military service on May 31st, 2021, and is expected to finish his service on March 3rd, 2023. His original discharge date was November 27th, 2022; however, this was changed because his method of service changed to a social worker as opposed to active military service due to his worsening mental health.
It is possible that a similar service extension may occur for the members of BTS.
It is well-known that mental health in the K-pop industry is overlooked due to the highly competitive and stressful environment. Older and more experienced K-pop fans are more familiar with the working environment and taxing lifestyle compared to the newer K-pop fans.
Regardless of which strategy Big Hit takes when the BTS members eventually leave for their military service, fans should not expect to see BTS content with all of the original eight members for a long period of time.