Members of K-pop band BTS must do military service, the Defence Ministry has ruled, despite the fact that the band’s multi-million fan base launched a petition calling on the government to grant them exemptions. Earlier this week South Korea's Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism said he wanted to grant exemptions to the Grammy-nominated group, but on 22 November the Defence Ministry said it had reviewed the request to change the rules that would have allowed BTS, also known as Bangtan Boys, to evade military service and decided that in the end members of the band must serve in the army.
The ministry stressed that changing the rules for the stars “could have a huge impact on the promotion of people's morale and enhancement of national character".
The band’s manager said that all the singers would serve in the military without complaint. "The company believes military service is a duty", Bang Si-hyuk, the founder of Big Hit Entertainment, told the Hollywood Reporter last month.
Every able-bodied Korean man is obliged to do military service before turning 28, serving between 18 and 22 months depending on the military branch. Given the fact that the youngest member of BTS is 22 and the eldest is 26, it would take years before the band will be able to unite.
"Exempting pop-culture artists from military service even though they have made a contribution to the country’s reputation is not in line with the government’s stance to uphold justice and fairness", the South Korean Defence Ministry said in a statement.
The statement by the Ministry of Defence refers to a law that exempts athletes and classical musicians from military service, but only if they win an international competition. Tottenham forward Son Heung-min and other South Korean football players would have had to serve in the army, if they hadn’t won gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games.
BTS has won a myriad of music awards, and tickets to its North American leg were sold within minutes, but the South Korean Defence Ministry apparently thinks that this is still not enough to be exempt from military service.
Incidentally, the government found itself in hot water after it promised to grant conscription waivers to the national baseball team in 2006 if it reached the semifinals in the World Baseball Classic. Public outrage prompted government officials to walk back its promise.