Military exemption for BTS?

BTS hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart with Love Yourself: Answer.
BTS hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart with Love Yourself: Answer.PHOTO: BTS/INSTAGRAM

SEOUL • Tottenham Hotspur player Son Heung-min met his goal at the Asian Games, winning exemption from mandatory military service after South Korea bagged the football gold medal last week.

A lawmaker has now sought the same privilege for the seven members of K-pop boyband BTS after they scored yet another monumental feat.

For the second time in six months, BTS struck, netting the No. 1 album in the United States, with Love Yourself: Answer matching the May chart-topping success of Love Yourself: Tear.

Answer, the third part of a trilogy, features more than a dozen songs from the previous two chapters plus 10 new tracks, including Idol, a collaboration with American rapper Nicki Minaj.

Billboard reported that among artists with albums this year that are classified as pop, only Justin Timberlake and Ariana Grande had bigger opening weeks than Answer.

That triumph, plus news of their possible military duty exemption, gave a booster shot to South Korean companies linked to BTS.

LB Semicon, whose affiliate holds about an 11 per cent stake in the band's management agency Big Hit Entertainment, gained as much as 12.6 per cent in share price.

Netmarble, the second-largest shareholder of the agency, and subsidiary YJM Games, jumped 1.7 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively.

The mandatory military service is considered the biggest challenge for K-pop boybands seeking global domination.

But enlistment in the army is also a highly contentious issue in South Korea, where all able-bodied men must complete about 21 months of service as part of efforts to maintain a deterrent against North Korea.

Exemptions are currently offered to athletes who win gold medals at the Asian Games or medals of any colour at the Olympics.

Mr Ki Chan-soo, commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration, said on Monday that the exemption rule could be amended.

Yonhap news agency cited him as saying: "We're already running short of military personnel resources, so we'll start by looking into whether the exemption programme is fair."

Some have called for it to be abolished, questioning its fairness in an era when South Koreans have been clamouring for an end to lopsided advantages in all walks of life.

So even as Mr Ha Tae-keung, an opposition lawmaker, has urged for exemption to cover other areas such as K-pop, the Answer for any request from BTS bandmates may well be "no" for now, despite their global-conquering ways.

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline 'Military exemption for BTS?'. Print Edition | Subscribe