K-pop stars BTS extend career by two years after military service law change

Ben Beaumont-Thomas
·2 min read

A change in South Korean law has effectively extended the lifespan of the boyband BTS, currently the world’s most successful pop group.

South Korean men must perform compulsory military service once they turn 28, if they haven’t done so already. Two of the members of the group, Jin and Suga, will soon turn 28 – Jin’s birthday is on 4 December – meaning their time with the group was under threat.

The law change, though, has extended the maximum age to 30 for those allowed to defer their service. BTS’s seven members have all been eligible for deferral since 2018, when they were rewarded for their global cultural impact. Unlike some classical musicians and athletes – including Tottenham footballer Son Heung-min – they are not exempted altogether from service.

The change in the law was proposed in September, with Democratic party member Jeon Yong-gi arguing: “For the sake of the fairness, we are not talking about exempting them from their duty, but pop musicians and artists like BTS – their careers can blossom in their 20s. We cannot let military duty block their way at the height of their careers.”

The decision allows another two years of success for the group who have just scored the first ever Korean-language No 1 single in the US, with Life Goes On. Their new album Be is also No 1 in the US, and No 2 in the UK. They have just been nominated for their first Grammy award, going up against Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and more in the best pop/duo group performance category. It is the first time any K-pop group has been nominated at the Grammys.

Other major pop K-pop groups have temporarily disbanded or changed lineups as members undertake military service, such as Big Bang, who had 18 No 1 singles in South Korea but went on hiatus in 2018.

BTS’s Jin has acknowledged the importance of military service, saying in 2019: “As a Korean, it’s natural. And some day, when duty calls, we’ll be ready to respond and do our best.”