S. Korean lawmaker proposes bill to allow BTS to serve alternative to military duty

·3 min read

On Sept. 19, lawmaker Kim Young-bae of the Democratic Party of Korea proposed a revision bill which would extend exceptions to military service for pop artists like BTS.

At present, the Military Service Act requires all able-bodied Korean men to enlist for two years of military service before age 30. An amendment dubbed the “BTS law” was made in late 2020 to raise the age limit from the previous 28. The law allowed K-pop entertainers to apply for deferment if they have received government medals for cultural impacts and contributions. All seven members of BTS received the Order of Cultural Merit award in 2018.

Currently, the Culture Ministry only grants exemptions for international award-winning athletes such as Olympians or notable classical musicians. Those who qualify can opt to perform alternative services in their role by promoting the country abroad. The proposed bill would expand those exemptions.

"Korean pop celebrities active in the international field make unimaginable economic and social contributions," Rep. Kim Young-bae said per The Korea Times. “I believe pop celebrities will make important contributions to the national interest, including promoting a bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan, through doing alternative military service."

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Kim is referencing BTS’ current appointment as ambassadors to the city of Busan. They will be performing at a free concert in Busan on Oct. 15, which has been met with backlash due to safety concerns and questions of funding. The mayor of Busan also floated the idea of allowing BTS a military duty alternative by becoming PR ambassadors for Busan.

If the revision bill is passed, BTS could replace their mandatory military duties with other activities that bolster South Korean national interest and reputation. Member Jin would be the first to serve his military duties as he turns 30 in December.

A poll earlier this month indicated that a majority of South Koreans thought BTS should serve. Conversely, back in April, a private survey of 1,004 South Koreans conducted by Gallup Korea found that 59 percent thought that BTS and other top K-pop artists should be exempt from mandatory military service.

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Numerous government officials have expressed their thoughts on the matter over the past several months. In April, South Korean Ambassador to Britain Gunn Kim claimed that it is “very much expected” that BTS will enlist.

One month later, South Korea’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Hwang Hee said BTS should be allowed an alternative as “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 also to the entire world.”

In early August, South Korean Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup suggested that even if BTS served in the military, they could still perform overseas.

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