Between South Korea's soft power goals and national security, K-pop band BTS is caught.


Between South Korea's soft power goals and national security, K-pop band BTS is caught.


BTS, the K-pop sensations, are tearing hearts everywhere with their decision to take a vacation. But unlike the Beatles or One Direction, their choice is influenced by the politics of the Korean peninsula and the difficulty of striking a balance between the country's security needs and its aspirations for soft power.

The seven BTS members announced the announcement on June 15 during their annual dinner, which was broadcast live to fans all around the world. They cited exhaustion and a desire to work on solo projects as their reasons. After that, there was some misunderstanding when the band's entertainment organization, Hybe, said that BTS would continue to work both together and independently in an effort to stabilize their plummeting stock price.

Thoughtful fans speculate that several members of BTS will soon be completing their military service obligations and believe the choice to be more deliberate than initially revealed. The breakup occurs just a few weeks after a heated political discussion in South Korea about whether the group's members should be spared from serving in the country's mandatory military.

No exemptions

Exemptions are typically only permitted for medical reasons, though abuse of the exemption system has occurred over time. Winners of significant international competitions may substitute community service, like Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur did in 2022. This required a few weeks of basic military instruction as well as free football coaching for London area schoolchildren.

Although BTS is among the top-selling acts worldwide, there had been some speculation that winning a Grammy in 2022 might grant them an exemption. However, they went empty-handed.

The discussion around military duty has not only involved K-pop celebrities. In recent years, it has also been the focus of more extensive public discussion. Disgruntled young men who feel increasingly irritated at having to put off studying and working to bolster South Korea's defenses, particularly against North Korea, have mostly been the driving force behind these arguments.

Military Culture

At the 1948 formation of the South Korean state, military service was enacted. After the Korean War (1950–1953), it became clear that South Korea needed to be able to defend itself against another assault from North Korea.

Then, during Korea's quick industrialization under a series of military dictatorships, from the 1960s to democratization in the late 1980s, the military stayed at the center of nation-building efforts.

Despite the fact that Korea has had a succession of non-military, civilian presidents since 1993, military service continues to be a crucial component of men's requirements for employment and other aspects of life, tying them to the nation-enduring state's militarism.

As an illustration, doing national service is still regarded as evidence that a man is a loyal South Korean citizen. It is a requirement for many corporate and civil service positions, and a man's possibilities will continue to be influenced by military alumni networks throughout his life.

Even though Korea has had non-military, civilian presidents since 1993, men still need to serve in the military in order to be eligible for employment and other opportunities, which ties them to the militarism of the long-lasting state.

An example of how performing national duty is still accepted as proof of a man's loyalty as a South Korean citizen. Many corporate and government roles need it, and a man's opportunities will be influenced by military alumni networks all through his life.

Various National Interests

Yoon Suk-Yeol, the recently elected president of South Korea, may not have made the best choice in this divisive context by permitting seven individuals to forgo military service who appeared to be healthy, young men. Young male voters, who are the biggest critics of "Hell Joseon," are Yoon's target demographic. Yoon is aware of the need to continue having a respectable defense capability against the threat North Korea poses.

The need to maintain promoting and capitalizing on the achievements of its popular culture industries puts additional pressure on the South Korean government.

The "Korean Wave," which refers to the global appeal of Korean pop culture in general and Korean music, film, television, and other media in particular, is a significant source of export revenue as well as significant soft power benefits for Korea. In addition to Korea's international success in cinema (Parasite, 2020) and television dramas, BTS has been at the forefront of the trend for years (Squid Game, 2021). Thanks to English lyrics, catchy songs, digital fan networking, and high-profile international collaborations, BTS was the first Korean pop group to "break America" and the world.

Beyond the music, BTS's influence over hordes of Korean and foreign followers earned them a spot on the platform at the start of the 76th UN General Assembly session in 2021 alongside the then-president Moon Jae-In. They made an appearance at a White House summit on anti-Asian prejudice more recently. They represent UNICEF and have traveled the globe to convey their message of love. Their achievement has resulted in significant improvements in South Korea's standing abroad.

Thus, there is a conflict between South Korea's need to preserve conscription and its soft power imperatives. Since the 1990s, K-pop artists have sacrificed financial success for the sake of their nation's security.

In order to finish their military service, members of the K-pop groups SHINee, VIXX, and 2 AM have all announced hiatuses.

However, given their widespread reputation, BTS might be an exception. It's possible that after completing their national service, the members will reunite with K-Wave, either individually, in pairs, in trios, or as a group. If the chance to get back together arises, they would be welcomed on any stage, anywhere, based on the current outpouring of affection for them online.

Previous Post Next Post