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Members of the K-pop band BTS announce Korean military service

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The members of the world's biggest K-pop band, BTS, say they will perform their required service in South Korea's military. Their decision lays to rest debate there over whether they should get service deferrals or exemption. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEFT AND RIGHT")

JUNG KOOK: (Singing) Ever since the day you went away (someone tell me how)...

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: The band announced in June that they were going on a hiatus to top up their creative juices and do solo projects like this recent collaboration between BTS's Jung Kook and Charlie Puth. But all able-bodied Korean men over 18 have to serve in the military, and all seven members of BTS have always insisted they would when the time comes. CedarBough Saeji, a Korean studies professor at Pusan National University, explains.

CEDARBOUGH SAEJI: Because going to the military is considered such an important rite of passage in Korea, because it's a duty for all Korean men, just like getting an education or paying taxes or voting.

KUHN: But the law was changed two years ago to allow pop stars to defer enlistment until age 30. BTS's oldest member, Jin, got a deferral, but he turns 30 in December, and he said yesterday he's ready to serve. The rest of the band members said they'd follow suit. CedarBough Saeji says South Korea's government has learned from the debate.

SAEJI: The government has been using BTS as a way to feel out public sentiment towards military service.

KUHN: The takeaway seems to be that fairly distributing civic duties is more important than topping the Billboard charts. But BTS members may not like acting as a sounding board.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT DO YOU THINK?")

SUGA: (Rapping in Korean).

KUHN: In a 2020 song BTS rapper Suga insisted that BTS's members would do their military service when they had to, and those who are trying to cash in on BTS should shut up about the issue. BTS's management says the band plans to reunite in 2025 after completing their military duty.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT DO YOU THINK?")

SUGA: (Rapping in Korean). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.