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BTS’ fate on military duty may be decided this week

Nov. 23, 2021 - 15:21 By Jie Ye-eun
K-pop boy group BTS poses with the awards for favorite pop duo or group, favorite pop song for “Butter,” and artist of the year at the American Music Awards on Sunday (US time) at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (AP-Yonhap)
Whether or not the members of K-pop sensation BTS will soon be off to the military could be decided this week.

Fresh off of their triple win at the American Music Awards on Monday, when the singers took home the artist of the year award, the future of the boy band depends on Thursday’s National Assembly defense committee subcommittee meeting. Changes to the Military Service Act are to be discussed there, and the lawmakers could decide to grant service exemptions to pop artists who have helped elevate the country’s global standing.

Under the current law, all able-bodied South Korean men are obliged to serve in the military for 18 to 22 months. Upon recommendation by the culture minister, however, international award-winning athletes and classical musicians are allowed to complete basic military training and 544 hours of community service over 34 months while remaining active professionally.

Earlier this year, a number of lawmakers proposed bills calling for those exemptions to apply to a wider range of artists. If the law is revised, BTS may be exempt from military service in recognition of its contributions to boosting the country’s image. Meanwhile, the defense committee is slated to hold a plenary session Friday.

Ahead of the National Assembly meetings, the Korea Music Content Association released a statement that read, “This month is the last opportunity for BTS to be exempted from military service.” It urged the defense committee subcommittee to make a “significant decision.”

While BTS has made many unprecedented gains in the music industry, the group is treated unfairly compared with classical artists when it comes to issues involving mandatory military service, the KMCA statement said. The government should end this long-standing discrimination and prejudice against popular artists, it added.

BTS’ global fandom community, Army, and other K-pop fans are keeping a close watch on the upcoming parliamentary meetings. BTS’ eldest member, Jin, can only postpone his military enlistment until the end of next year, when he turns 30, under the most recent revision to the act, which came into effect last year.

The band won at the AMAs in the favorite pop duo or group category and the favorite pop song category with its megahit “Butter.” It also wrote a new chapter in K-pop history by winning artist of the year, becoming the first Asian act to do so.

President Moon Jae-in congratulated BTS on winning the top honor at the awards in a tweet Tuesday. “Korean pop culture has conquered the world and added power to national dignity and diplomacy. ... BTS’ top prize win at the AMAs has reconfirmed the facts,” Moon wrote.

Meanwhile, the nominees for the 64th Grammy Awards will be announced Tuesday (US time) with BTS widely expected to receive a number of nods.

The awards ceremony is set for Jan. 31 in Los Angeles.