All 7 Members of BTS Are Now in Military Service in South Korea

Fans of the K-pop band BTS have known for years that a day would come when its seven members would all be doing mandatory service in the South Korean military.

That day arrived on Tuesday. For many BTS fans, who happen to call themselves Army, seeing their favorite musicians enter the armed forces was as painful as they expected it to be. Any potential reunion concert, once the members have all fulfilled their military duty, is at least a year and six months away.

For those of you starting timers: That’s about 547 days, 13,128 hours or 47 million seconds.

The BTS enlistments began last December, when Jin, the oldest member of the group, entered a military training center near the North Korean border shortly after his 30th birthday. The members J-Hope and Suga enlisted a few months later, followed by RM, the group’s leader, and V on Monday. (Suga is performing an alternative form of military service as a social service agent.) The last two members, Jimin and Jungkook, began their military service on Tuesday.

A typical enlistment in South Korea is 18 months. The band’s management said last year that BTS would reconvene “around 2025,” but before then, the group’s members could potentially perform informally for their fellow troops, as other K-pop stars have done during their enlistments.

The band’s collective conscription caps a yearslong discussion in South Korea about whether BTS members should have been exempt from mandatory service.

While able-bodied men over the age of 18 are required to serve in South Korea’s military, some exemptions are made, including for Olympic champions and some classical musicians who win international competitions. Pop stars, however, are not eligible, a fact that sparked debate over whether BTS had earned one because of its contributions to South Korea’s economy and cultural exports.

In 2020, South Korea’s Parliament revised a law to allow cultural and artistic icons to defer their enlistment to the age of 30, up two years from 28. (Jin, who was born in 1992, would have been required to enlist in 2020 if not for the revision.) But lawmakers stopped short of creating a new class of exemptions for entertainers.

The government faces pressure not to expand such exemptions. For years, many young South Koreans have questioned the fairness of the draft system, wondering why the privilege applies to elite athletes but not ordinary people. As the nation struggles with a declining birthrate, the Defense Ministry has signaled its wish to phase out exemptions altogether.

This week, several BTS members took to social media to say goodbye to civilian life.

RM, whose real name is Kim Namjun, wrote on the social media platform Weverse on Sunday that “the day has finally come.”

“See you in the future,” he added.

On Monday, V, whose real name is Kim Taehyung, uploaded pictures of his new buzz cut, a requirement for recruits starting their five-week basic training program.

“To be honest, I’m alright other than the fact that I won’t be able to make happy memories with ARMY for the time being,” he wrote, referring to the band’s passionate fan base. The acronym stands for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth.

BTS fans have of course posted many tributes to the band members on social media this week, and the mood has ranged from sad to optimistic.

Last week, the group’s music label, Big Hit Music, urged fans in a statement to refrain from showing up at the enlistment sites to “prevent safety accidents.” Ceremonies for new recruits are reserved for family members. No special events were scheduled for the members, according to the label.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry has not issued any public statements this week about the BTS members’ enlistment.

Still, there were signs that these were not ordinary enlistments. On Monday, for example, a coach bus turned up at the main gate of a military facility in the South Korean city of Nonsan with its exterior displaying a photo of V next to a microphone.

“V Day,” it said.