First Member of South Korean Boy Band BTS Completes Military Service

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

Fans of the superstar boy band BTS celebrated on Wednesday, as the group’s oldest member, Jin, was honorably discharged from the South Korean military, having completed his 18 months of mandatory service.

Jin, whose full name is Kim Seok-jin, is the first of the band’s seven members to complete his military service, which South Korea requires for all able-bodied men. Most have until age 28 to enlist in the military. BTS members availed themselves of an extension to push that deadline to age 30, but Jin formally applied to begin his service in late 2022, right before his thirtieth birthday. Currently, with the exception of Jin, all BTS members are serving in the South Korean military, and the band is on hiatus.

Before its temporary split, BTS became the most successful pop act in the history of the country, collecting record-breaking firsts, such as Grammy Award nominations for Korean-language songs and multiple Billboard number-one hits. BTS has sold 40 million physical albums throughout its career, the most of any South Korean artist in history.

BTS has become a political as well as a cultural phenomenon, prompting outrage from communist states, such as China and North Korea. The South Korean military played the BTS songs “Butter” and “Dynamite” on a loudspeaker on Sunday, broadcasting to the communist North as part of a longer broadcast intended as retaliation for North Korea dumping hundreds of balloons carrying trash and feces over residential parts of the South.

Jin served in the 5th Army Infantry Division in Yeoncheon, in the north of the country, and worked as an assistant drill instructor for most of his 18 months in service. He left his division’s quarters early on Wednesday, greeted at the door by five of the other six members of the group, who reportedly requested leave to celebrate Jin’s discharge with him. The band greeted him with flowers, and one member – RM, who is serving in an army band — played the band’s hit song “Dynamite” on a saxophone in celebration.

BTS’s record label, Big Hit, actively discouraged fans from visiting the military base to avoid a chaotic situation upon Jin’s discharge — a request that fans apparently took seriously, as his departure occurred without any reported incidents.

Jin later appeared in a live broadcast to fans on the band’s WeVerse platform, explaining the emotional nature of his discharge. He appeared alongside all the other members of the band, who will continue their ongoing service to the nation after their brief leave. The next band member expected to complete his service is J-Hope, who will reportedly return to civilian life in October.

“I didn’t want to cry, but I was so overwhelmed with happiness that tears came out twice,” Jin said, according to a translation by the South Korean news service Yonhap. “The friends I’ve lived with for 18 months were sobbing as they sent me off.”

Jin reportedly described developing close relationships with fellow soldiers despite his national fame.

The successful and uncontroversial completion of military service for a member of the country’s high-stress Korean pop (K-pop) industry is a significant cultural victory for the country. Prior pop stars forced into the military have faced significant disciplinary problems while serving, including poor behavior involving drug use, and triggered angry backlashes from outraged fans who complained that exemptions exist for exemplary citizens, including athletes and classical musicians, but not pop artists.

“They 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,” then-Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said in 2022. “Many people do think highly of military service itself, and I think (BTS members enlisting) can actually help them with their popularity.”

While many fans lamented that BTS would be absent from the stage for an estimated two years due to military requirements, many in the fanbase — known, ironically, as the BTS “Army” – used the occasion to send supportive messages to the band. Big Hit Music also kept providing content to fans through the rollout of solo projects while some in the band were in the military.

Jin will begin participating in solo band events on Thursday, when his record label will be organizing an annual event BTS fans know as “Festa,” which marks the anniversary of the band’s debut. Festa 2024 will be hosted at a local stadium and feature free hugs from Jin for 1,000 fans.

“Festa” was notably the event where the band told its fans that it would soon enter a hiatus to complete military service. The band members expressed frustrations on that occasion with the music industry and exhaustion over years of intensive touring, recording, and the notoriously rigorous training Korean pop stars endure before releasing their debut albums.

“Doing group activities for so long — just like you guys mentioned earlier, I started to feel like I’ve become a machine. I have my own hobbies and things I want to do on my own,” Jin said on the 2022 Festa broadcast.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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