BTS member Jin begins his military service at frontline boot camp

Fans – some carrying the star’s photos – gathered near the base to say goodbye as he began his mandatory military service.

SEOUL, South Korea — Jin, the oldest member of K-pop supergroup BTS, began his 18-month mandatory military service Tuesday at a South Korean frontline boot camp as fans gathered near the base to say hello to their star say goodbye.

Six other younger BTS members are slated to join the military one after the other in the coming years, meaning the world’s biggest boy band will likely need to take a break for a few years. Her recruitment has sparked a heated debate over whether it’s time to overhaul the country’s conscription system to extend the exemptions to prominent entertainers like BTS, or not grant such benefits to anyone.

With MPs argue in Parliament and polls showing sharply divided public opinion about offering exemptions to BTS members, its executive body said in October that all BTS members would perform their mandatory military duties. Big Hit Music said that both the company and the members of BTS “look forward to reuniting as a group following their promise of service around 2025.”

Jin, who turned 30 earlier this month, entered the training camp in Yeoncheon, a city near the tense border with North Korea, to complete five weeks of basic military training alongside other new conscripts, the Defense Ministry said. After training, which included rifle shooting, grenade throwing, and marching drills, he and other conscripts were assigned to army units across the country.

About 20 to 30 fans – some with Jin’s photos – and dozens of journalists gathered near the camp. But Jin didn’t hit her as a vehicle carrying him drove into the boot camp without picking him out.

“I want to wait (for) Jin and see him join the military and wish him well,” Hong Kong’s Mandy Lee said before Jin entered the camp.

“Actually, it’s complicated. i want to be sad I want to be happy for him,” said Angelina from Indonesia. “Mixed feelings. He must serve (for) his country.” Angelina, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.

A few dozen fans could be considered a small number of participants given Jin’s huge popularity. But Jin and his management agency had previously asked fans not to visit the site, telling them there would be no special event with the singer to avoid crowding problems.

According to the army, authorities continued to mobilize 300 police officers, soldiers, rescue workers and others to maintain order and prevent accidents. Tight security measures were expected as South Korea is still reeling from October’s devastating Halloween crush in Seoul that killed 158 people.

Hours before entering the camp, Jin – real name Kim Seok-jin – wrote on online fan platform Weverse, “It’s time for a curtain call.” He posted a photo of himself with a military buzzcut and a message on Sunday the caption, “Ha ha ha. It’s cuter than I expected.”

By law, all able-bodied South Korean men must serve 18 to 21 months under a conscription system put in place to deal with threats from North Korea. However, the law grants special exemptions to athletes, classical and traditional musicians, ballet and other dancers when they have won top prizes in certain competitions and enhance national standing. K-Pop stars and other entertainers don’t receive such benefits even if they achieve global fame and win major international awards.

“Even though BTS members have decided to join the military, there is still a sense of regret,” said Jung Duk-hyun, a pop culture commentator. “Those in the field of pop culture experience a bit of disadvantage and injustice compared to those in the pure arts sector or athletes. This is likely to continue to be a controversial topic, so I wonder if it needs to be discussed on an ongoing basis.”

Tax exemptions or avoidance are a highly sensitive issue in South Korea, where the draft will force young men to put their studies or careers on hold. Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and Lee Ki Sik, head of South Korea’s recruiting office, previously said it was “desirable” for BTS members to fulfill their military duties to ensure fairness in the country’s military service.

Chun In-bum, a retired lieutenant general who commanded South Korea’s special forces, said the government must strive to lift all exemptions because the military’s shrinking recruit pool is a “very serious” problem amid the country’s falling fertility rate. He called a debate about BTS’s military service “unnecessary” as it had not been raised by BTS members who had shown a willingness to carry out their duties.

Founded in 2013, BTS has a legion of global supporters who call themselves “Army”. The other members are RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook, who is the youngest at 25. The group expanded their popularity in the West with their 2020 megahit “Dynamite,” the band’s first English-only song. BTS is the first K-pop act to top Billboard’s Hot 100. The band have performed to sold-out arenas around the world and have even been invited to speak at United Nations meetings.

Hybe Corp., Big Hit’s parent company, said in October that each member of the band will initially focus on individual activities planned around their military service schedules. In October, Jin released “The Astronaut,” a single co-written by Coldplay.

Jung, the commenter, said sold projects could give BTS members some much-needed time to develop after working together as a group for many years. But Cha Woo-jin, a K-pop commentator, said it’s unclear whether BTS would enjoy the same level of popularity as a group if they reunited in a few years’ time after completing their military duties.

In August, Secretary of Defense Lee said BTS members who serve are likely to continue practicing and would be allowed to join other non-serving BTS members on overseas group tours.

Cha said K-pop’s global influence wouldn’t be affected much by recruiting BTS members because they “appear to represent K-pop but aren’t all K-pop.” Chung agreed, saying other K-pop groups like BLACKPINK, Stray Kids and aespa could continue to rise. BTS member Jin begins his military service at frontline boot camp

Laura Coffey

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