South Korea considers military exemptions for K-pop boybands
They may be the pride of South Korea after topping America’s Billboard 200 chart this week for the second time with their new album ‘Love Yourself’ but K-pop boyband BTS could still be cut off in their prime because of mandatory military service.
All able-bodied South Korean men must serve for at least 21 months in the army as the country is still technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice and not a peace treaty.
However, the phenomenal global success of BTS, who have pulled off the rare feat of reaching No.1 in the US album chart twice in one year, has reignited a debate about who should be exempt from conscription.
Currently elite medal-winning athletes and a select list of classical musicians and ballet dancers can escape the compulsory duty as they are deemed to be raising the national image on a global stage.
The South Korean men’s football team, including Son Heung-min, the Tottenham Hotspur forward, were granted a reprieve last weekend after winning gold at the Asian Games.
But music fans and politicians argue that the rules are out-of-touch with modern South Korean society and should be updated to benefit celebrities of contemporary pop culture.
"The general public, including young people, wonder what makes winning on the Billboard chart different from winning in other international competitions? Winning the former is likely to create bigger added value," politician Ha Tae-kyung told the National Defence Committee in July, reported Yonhap.
"For example, Psy broke the world record with YouTube video hits, which is extremely difficult to achieve. It is the world’s No. 1 and has huge influence over people around the world," he continued, referring to the musician who created the addictive dance ‘Gangnam Style’ in 2012.
In response to public disquiet on the issue, Lee Nak-yon, the Prime Minister, instructed the Cabinet on Tuesday to look at reforming the system.
However, any changes will come too late for K-pop sensation Big Bang, which lost several members, including leader singer G-Dragon, to military service earlier this year.
G-Dragon had to issue a plea to distraught fans to stop sending so many messages to his barracks as the office printer ran out of ink.
The timing of conscription can be career-breaking. Historically, several entertainers have been accused of moving abroad, faking health conditions or even submitting tainted urine samples to medical examinations in order to avoid serving in the army.
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