When members of the band BTS made the decision to complete their two years of required military duty in October 2022, they did so through group spokesmen, putting an end to the long-running will they/won’t they debate. This announcement not only ends a protracted discussion, but it also may provide a significant precedent for the South Korea of 2022.

South Korean law requires that all “able-bodied” men between the ages of 18 and 35 do their country’s mandatory military duty because the country is at war with its neighbour. The list of exemptions has expanded throughout the years, first in an effort to foster athletic performance. In recognition of their contributions to boosting the stature of the country, classical and traditional musicians and dancers who have placed first in one or more of five domestic and 37 international competitions have joined medal-winning athletes in receiving a full or partial exemption from military conscription. Additionally, persons with incapacitating illnesses are also eligible for exemptions.

With the oldest band member Jin reaching 30 in December, the debate over whether the draught should apply to BTS and whether the group’s contribution to South Korea’s economy and soft power justified an exemption was no longer only a matter of public debate but rather a crucial legal determination.

In fact, BTS had already been given a lifeline in 2020 when a reform in Korean legislation raised the age limit for people who might delay their duty from 28 to 30. However, more importantly, BTS is not the first band to have this problem. Previous bands in a similar situation have either taken a break or recruited new members to take their place. None, though, has achieved the level of worldwide economic, diplomatic, and cultural achievement BTS.

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