Passions and Obsessions

Stop holding your breath—BTS is enlisting

ARMYs' reactions run the gamut of emotions—and are as colorfully human as BTS members are

Photo from @uarmyhope IG

Now you can exhale—if you’ve been holding your breath about the mandatory military enlistment of the global boy band BTS.

BigHit Music, the management company behind BTS, has announced today that the members of BTS “are currently moving forward with plans to fulfill their military service. After the phenomenal concert to support Busan’s bid for the World Expo 2030, and as each individual embars on solo endeavors, it’s the perfect time and the members of BTS are honored to serve.”

South Korean able-bodied men, above 18 years old, are required to enlist in the military by age 28. Kim Seokjin, the oldest of the seven members, turns 30 (international age) on December 4. Jin, as he is called by the tens-of-million-strong fandom ARMY, has often said that he’s ready to serve in the military.

“Group member Jin will initiate the process as soon as his schedule for his solo release is concluded at the end of October,” the BigHit statement said. “He will then follow the enlistment procedure of the Korean government. Other members of the group plan to carry out their military service based on their own individual plans.”

Then the statement said, “Both the company and the members of BTS are looking forward to reconvening as a group again around 2025 following their service commitment.”

This means that the other members will enlist on a staggered basis. Next in age to Jin is the group’s producer and lead rapper Suga. The others are RM, j-hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook, the youngest.

The collective reaction of the global fandom ARMY is, as expected, raw, visceral, serious, profound, reflective, humorous, slapstick—the whole gamut of emotions, in short, just as colorfully human as BTS are.

In recent years, speculation about the group’s military enlistment has been like the elephant in the room among ARMYs, music industry watchers and media. And the ARMYs and BTS must have arguably the biggest and most dynamic platform in today’s digital ecosystem. So when the announcement came finally, this universe, including its many satellites, really just started to go on an overdrive.

Former Tourism Secretary Berna Puyat speaks for many: “I expected it since Jin is already 30 years old but I was still in shock when it was announced. But the more I admire them—they’re the most popular band in the world and yet they are so humble and do not expect people to treat them differently.”

Indeed what even non-ARMYs don’t miss is the fact that BTS—the most popular band, and brand (anything they touch sells) in the world—didn’t seek exemption from duty or preferential terms, even if the United Nations itself has tapped these celebrity icons to deliver its message to the young and the world at large. In recent years, BTS have used their voice not only for their community and country but also for the world at large. Yet—these boys don’t show the sense of self-entitlement so characteristic of their generation.

In her site, LaineyGossip writes: “And this announcement today…. is another example of how you cannot apply western pop culture expectations and standards to this group. This is a resistance of privilege….BTS’ global impact is unprecedented. They are lightning in a bottle. Of course there could have been justification, ample justification, for an exemption. And yet they have chosen to not lean into their privilege and push for a pass on military service. Would western artists do the same? Would they want to be treated like everyone else and give up almost two years of their careers to serve?….”

ARMYs and the world at large will not want for BTS content, however. The trove is more than enough for a 24/7 diet, from their early videos (e.g. Rookie King, Bon Voyage) to docus on their world tours, and their content of the past two years which not even the pandemic was able to stall.

Yet, however, Fortune reports the estimates of analysts that between 2014 and 2023 BTS would have generated $29.1 trillion for South Korea economy.  It reports that BigHit Music’s announcement on military enlistment “sent shares of HYBE 2.5% lower.” HYBE is the South Korean multinational entertainment publicly listed company. It adds that in 2018,  according to Hyundai Research Institute, BTS was contributing “more than $3.6 billion to the South Korean economy every year—equivalent to the contribution of 26 midsize companies.”

BTS just had a wildly successful in-person and livestream concert, Yet to Come in Busan, over the weekend that saw more than 40M watching online, 50,000 on site with a few thousands more outside the stadium, and so an impressive number for Busan hashtags—a feat that ARMYs and even non-ARMYs consider a patriotic move for the seven boys who, in their early years, never imagined they would be icons of the digital age. Young as they are, they are showing how to pay back their society, to pay it forward.

As an ARMY friend said, “Finally, para maka move on na ko (so I can move on).”

About author


After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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