All able-bodied men in Korea are required to enlist for service before age 30 unless they are given an exemption. The oldest BTS member Jin would normally be expected to enlist later this year.
Korea has previously offered exemptions to athletes and artists in other fields who have created national prestige. Pop acts have not been given exemptions.
But on Monday, speaking at a parliamentary session, defense minister Lee Jong-sup said he is considering a range of options for alternative military service for BTS.
“[The BTS members] should come to the military, and I believe there will be a way for us to give them the opportunity to practice as well as allow them to leave the country and perform anytime if they have overseas concerts scheduled,” he said.
The Korea Times newspaper also quoted Military Manpower Administration Commissioner Lee Ki-sik as saying: “We are reviewing (the matter) within the overall framework of alternative service.”
BTS is the epitome of soft power. It is by far Korea’s biggest music act of current years, has sold millions of dollars worth of music, and has brought unprecedented attention to the country’s cultural industries. Because of its international recognition and success, the band has also been widely embraced by different arms of government. In recent weeks, BTS was used as a vehicle to enhance Busan’s bid to hold the 2030 World Expo.