SEOUL, South Korea — Singers RM and V of the K-pop band BTS began their mandatory military duties under South Korean law, their management agency announced Monday. This came a day before two of their bandmates, Jimin and Jung Kook, were also expected to report for duty.
Three other BTS members — Jin, J-Hope and Suga — are already months into their conscription. The seven singers of the popular K-pop band plan to reunite as a group sometime in 2025 after they finish their service.
According to HYBE, the band’s management company, RM and V arrived at an army boot camp in the central city of Nonsan to start their 18-month compulsory service.
The company said Jimin and Jung Kook would report to the army together. It didn’t immediately confirm South Korean media reports that they would be at the boot camp on Tuesday.
“I’ve been so happy to have been a part of BTS for the past 10 years … Eighteen months can feel both long and short at the same time and I’m sure this period will be a strange and new time of inspiration and learning for all of us,” RM said in a statement posted on his Instagram account. “See you in the future. I love you a lot.”
RM and V will receive five weeks of combat training before being assigned to specific units and duties. The Military Manpower Administration has stressed that the singers would go through the same process as other South Korean males conscripted for service.
Under South Korean law, most able-bodied men must perform 18-21 months of military service. Special exemptions are granted for athletes and classical artists who excel in certain kinds of international competitions tied to national prestige. But such privileges haven’t been extended to K-pop singers.
Last year, a fierce public debate flared over whether BTS members should proceed with their military services, with some politicians arguing that their artistic achievements were worthy of exemption.
The discourse ended in October 2022 when their management company announced that all seven of the band’s singers plan to fully serve their military duties. In December, Jin became the first BTS member to enter the army he withdrew his request to delay conscription.
While South Korea’s military in the past has been accused of providing preferential treatment for famous conscripted men, some people who served in recent years said they felt entertainers were going through the same grind as them.
Lee Yu Sung, a 31-year-old who received boot camp training with K-pop star Lee Seok-Hoon in 2013 said the singer of the boyband SG WANNABE went through the same routine as the rest of the conscripts, getting up at 6:30 a.m., receiving lectures on threats posed by North Korea and getting trained for combat. The conscripts marched 10 to 40 kilometers (about 6.2 to 24.8 miles) in full gear three times during their weekslong training.
Lee Seok-Hoon, at 29, was several years older than most of the other conscripts, after delaying his service for years to accommodate his career. The law doesn't allow most South Korean men to delay their military services after they turn 30.
“We had about five hours of free time before we went to bed at 10 at night. And, as someone who had more life experience, Lee Seok-Hoon would often tell us what his life was like as a singer and also interesting stories about other celebrities, as he was trying to stay friendly with other soldiers who were younger,” said former conscript Lee Yu Sung.
A military instructor at the camp, who described himself as an SG WANNABE fan, sometimes had Lee Seok-Hoon sing battle songs in front of other conscripts, Lee Yu Sung added. He said the singer, a devout Christian, also sang hymns during Sunday service.
K-pop and its stars have grown into a global phenomenon, particularly after BTS was formed in 2013. The band has a legion of global supporters who happen to call themselves the “Army.”
After garnering a huge following in Asia, BTS expanded its popularity in the West with its 2020 megahit “Dynamite,” the band’s first all-English song that topped Billboard’s Hot 100. The band has performed in sold-out arenas globally and was even invited to speak at United Nations meetings.
Young men who get drafted into the army are forced to suspend their studies or professional careers, making mandatory military service a highly sensitive issue in South Korea that has sparked heated debates and even gender tensions in a hyper-competitive job market.