Under the previous rule, all able-bodied South Korean men were required to serve in the military for about 20 months after turning 28, if not sooner. The law’s passage notably comes just days before Kim Seok-jin, the oldest member of BTS, turns 28 on December 4th.
The new conscription exemptions for K-pop stars are somewhat similar to those that have been in place for South Korean athletes for decades: Under those rules, athletes that win medals at the Olympics or Asian Games are spared from serving, as their achievements are seen as bringing national prestige. Additionally, some classical and folk musicians who win certain awards are given exemptions as well.
The so-called “BTS law” will allow K-pop entertainers who have received government medals for their domestic and global cultural contributions — like the Order of Cultural Merit, which BTS received in 2018 — to apply for deferment.
South Korean lawmakers introduced the BTS bill in September following the huge international success of their single, “Dynamite.” The song peaked at Number Two on the Rolling Stone Top 100 Songs chart, and reached Number One on the Billboard Hot 100, making BTS the first South Korean act to achieve such a feat.
“It’s a sacred duty to defend our country, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to carry a weapon,” Noh Woong-rae, a top lawmaker in South Korea’s Democratic Party, said in an October statement supporting the law.