SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — K-pop sensation BTS member J-Hope entered a South Korean boot camp on Tuesday to begin his 18-month mandatory military service, becoming the second member of the group to join the country’s army.
There was heated public debate in 2022 over whether to offer special exemptions from mandatory military service for BTS members, until the group’s management agency announced in October that all seven members would fulfill their functions..
In December, Jin, 30 and the oldest member of BTS, became the group’s first member to enlist in the military. after revoking his request to delay his conscription.
Footage from South Korean television on Tuesday afternoon showed what they called a black van likely carrying J-Hope moving into the Wonju training camp, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) east. east of Seoul. Hybe Corp., the parent company of BTS management agency Big Hit Music, later confirmed that the 29-year-old singer had entered the camp.
Dozens of fans showed up near the base after arriving via rented buses wrapped in large photos of J-Hope and words hoping for his safe service. Authorities mobilized soldiers and police to maintain order, and there were no immediate reports of security-related incidents. Big Hit Music had pleaded with fans, who call themselves “the Army”, not to come to the site for security reasons.
“I love you, Army. I’ll see you again,” J-Hope, real name Jung Ho-seok, said Monday in a post on online fan platform Weverse, along with photos of himself with a cut. military.
Five other younger members of BTS – RM, Suga, Jimin, V and Jungkook – are to join the South Korean military one by one in the coming years. This means that the biggest boy band in the world should reunite as a group again a few years later.
In South Korea, all able-bodied men are required by law to perform 18 to 21 months of military service under a conscription system designed to deter aggression from rival North Korea.
The law grants special exemptions to athletes, classical and traditional musicians, ballet dancers and other dancers if they have achieved top prizes in certain competitions and are deemed to have increased national prestige. K-pop stars and other artists are not subject to such privileges.
This sparked an intense national debate over whether it was time to change the law to extend exemptions to artists like BTS members. Jin, who turned 30 in December, had faced impending conscription because the law prohibits most South Korean men from further delaying their services after turning 30.
Lawmakers have argued over the issue in the National Assembly, while a series of public surveys have shown sharply divided opinions on possible service exemptions for BTS members. Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup said at the time that it would be “desirable” for BTS members to implement their duties to promote fairness in the country’s military service.
Exemptions or avoidance of military duties is a very sensitive issue in South Korea, as conscription forces young men to suspend their studies or professional careers.
Formed in 2013, BTS expanded their popularity in the West with their 2020 megahit “Dynamite,” the group’s first all-English song that made BTS the first K-pop group to top Billboard’s Hot 100.
Hybe Corp. said in October that each band member would focus on planned individual activities around their military service plans for the time being.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.