Fans – some carrying photos of the star – gathered near the base to say goodbye as he began his compulsory military service.

SEOUL, South Korea — The oldest member of K-pop supergroup BTS began his 18-month mandatory military service at a front-line South Korean boot camp on Tuesday as fans gathered around twenty to bid farewell to their star. Gathered.

Six other young BTS members are slated to join the military one after the other in the coming years, meaning the world’s biggest boy band must take a break for a few years. Their enlistment has sparked a fierce domestic debate over whether it’s time to revise the country’s recruitment system to expand the exemption to include high-profile entertainers like BTS, or just anyone. Such benefits should not be provided.

with Legislators clash in Parliament And with polls sharply dividing public opinion on whether to offer exemptions to BTS members, their management agency said in October that all BTS members would perform their mandatory military duties. Big Hit Music said both the company and the members of BTS “look forward to rejoining as a group once again around 2025 after their service commitments.”

Jin, who turned 30 earlier this month, entered a boot camp in Yuncheon, a town near the tense border with North Korea, for five weeks of basic military training, the defense ministry said. . After training involving rifle shooting, grenade throwing and marching drills, he and other recruits would be assigned to army units across the country.

About 20-30 fans — some holding photos — and dozens of journalists gathered near the camp. But Jin did not meet them as a vehicle carrying him drove into the boot camp without taking him out.

“I want to wait for Jin and see him go into the army and wish him well,” said Mindy Lee from Hong Kong before Jin entered the camp.

“Actually it’s complicated. I want to be sad. I want to be happy for him,” said Angelina, from Indonesia. Mixed emotions. She has to serve her country. Angelina, like many Indonesians Like, uses only one name.

Given its immense popularity, a small turnout of a few dozen fans could be seen. But Jin and his management agency had earlier asked fans not to visit the site and informed them that there would be no special event with the singer, to prevent any problems due to overcrowding.

Authorities have still mobilized 300 police officers, soldiers, emergency workers and others to maintain order and prevent any mishaps, according to the military. The tight security measures were expected as South Korea is still reeling from October’s devastating Halloween crash in Seoul that killed 158 people.

Hours before entering the camp, Jin – whose real name is Kim Seok-jin – wrote on online fan platform Viverse that “it’s curtain call time.” She posted a photo of herself on Sunday in a military buzz cut and a message that read, “Ha ha ha. This is cuter than I expected.”

By law, all able-bodied South Korean men must serve in the military for 18-21 months under a conscription system set up to counter North Korean threats. But the law gives special exemptions to athletes, classical and traditional musicians, and ballet and other dancers if they have won high prizes in certain competitions and have increased national prestige. K-pop stars and other entertainers are not afforded such benefits even if they achieve worldwide fame and win major international awards.

“Even though BTS members have chosen to go into the military, there are still some regrets,” said Jung Duk-hyun, a pop culture commentator. “People in the pop culture sector face much less harm and injustice than the pure art sector or athletes. This will likely continue to be an issue of contention so I wonder if it will continue to be discussed. should be discussed.

Exemption is a highly sensitive issue in South Korea, where the draft forces young people to suspend their studies or professional careers. Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and South Korea’s enlistment office chief Lee Ki-suk previously said it would be “required” for BTS members to fulfill their military duties to ensure fairness in the country’s military service. .

Chun In-bum, a retired lieutenant general who commanded South Korea’s special forces, said the government should move to cancel any waivers because the military’s shrinking recruitment pool is a “very serious” problem. Amidst the country’s declining fertility rate. He called the discussion on BTS’s military service “unnecessary” because it was not raised by BTS members, who have expressed their willingness to perform their duties.

BTS was formed in 2013 and has a legion of global fans who call themselves “Army”. Its other members are RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook, the youngest at 25 years old. The group expanded their popularity in the West with their 2020 megahit “Dynamite”, the band’s first all-English song. BTS is the first K-pop act to top Billboard’s Hot 100. The band has performed to sold-out arenas around the world and has even been invited to speak at United Nations meetings.

Big Hit’s parent company Hybe Corp. said in October that for now each band member would focus on individual activities scheduled around their military service plans. In October, Jin released “The Astronaut”, a collaboration with Coldplay.

Observer Jung said that the sold-out projects could give the BTS members much-needed time to develop themselves after working as a group for many years. But K-pop commentator, Cha Woo Jin, said it’s unclear whether BTS will enjoy the same popularity as a group when they reunite after completing their military duties in a few years.

In August, Defense Minister Lee said serving BTS members would likely be allowed to continue practicing and join non-serving BTS members on overseas group tours. .

Cha said that K-pop’s global influence won’t suffer too much from the addition of BTS members to the list because they “seem to represent K-pop but are not everything K-pop is.” ” Chung agreed, saying that other K-pop groups such as BLACKPINK, Stray Kids and aespa could grow further.

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