K-pop superstars BTS could be given exemption from compulsory military service in South Korea.
“It’s time to create a system for incorporating popular culture-art figures as art personnel,” said Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Hwang Hee at a press briefing on Wednesday, according to reports by the Yonhap news agency. Hwang said he aims to push a new law through parliament that would allow pop stars to serve their country outside the military.
Under the present Military Service Act, all able-bodied Korean men must enlist for roughly two years of military service before age 30. There are possible exemptions and reduced terms of service for top classical musicians, folk music acts and Olympic medal winners.
An amendment to the Act in late 2020, possibly made with BTS in mind, lifted the age limit from 28 to 30, but didn’t grant an exemption for pop stars.
“The [exemption] system has been operated meaningfully to give those who have enhanced the national status based on their excellent skills more chances to contribute to the country, and there is no reason the popular art-culture field should be excluded from this,” Hwang said on Wednesday. “Somebody should be a responsible voice at a time when there are conflicting pros and cons ahead of the enlistment of some of the BTS members.”
The move would be deeply controversial in Korea. It is opposed by many men who have already been obliged to do compulsory military service and would likely be opposed by the defense ministry. South Korea’s population is aging and the country’s military services face a shortage of able-bodied men perceived as necessary to potentially face down a threat from unpredictable and nuclear-armed North Korea.
Hwang must try to persuade parliamentarians and the military that Korea’s cultural soft power, as epitomized by pop music, TV dramas, films such as “Parasite,” food and cosmetics, have an equal weight.
Hwang said forcing globally recognized pop culture artists to halt their careers at their peak in order to serve in the military would cause a great loss not only to the country, but the entire world.
BTS’ oldest member, Jin, will turn 30 in December.
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