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A TV screen shows an image of BTS's member Jin with buzz cut, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday. AP/PA Images
South Korea

BTS member Jin begins military duty at frontline boot camp

Six other younger BTS members are to join the military in coming years one after another.

JIN, THE OLDEST member of K-pop supergroup BTS, began his 18 months of mandatory military service at a frontline South Korean boot camp yesterday, as fans gathered near the base to say goodbye.

Six other younger BTS members are to join the military in coming years one after another, meaning that the world’s biggest boy band must take a hiatus, probably for a few years.

Their enlistments have prompted a fierce domestic debate over whether it is time to revise the country’s conscription system to expand exemptions to include prominent entertainers like BTS, or not to provide such benefits to anyone.

With MPs squabbling in parliament and surveys showing sharply split public opinions over offering exemptions to BTS members, their management agency said in October that all BTS members would perform their compulsory military duties.

Big Hit Music said that both the company and the members of BTS “are looking forward to reconvening as a group again around 2025 following their service commitment”.

Jin, who turned 30 earlier this month, entered the boot camp at Yeoncheon, a town near the tense border with North Korea, for five weeks of basic military training with other new conscript soldiers, the defence ministry said.

After the training involving rifle-shooting, grenade-throwing and marching practices, he and other conscripts would be assigned to army units across the country.

About 20-30 fans, some holding photos of Jin, and dozens of journalists gathered near the camp.

But Jin did not meet them as a vehicle carrying him moved into the boot camp without getting him out.

“I want to wait (for) Jin and see him go into the military and wish him all the best,” Mandy Lee from Hong Kong said before Jin’s entrance to the camp.

“Actually it’s complicated. I want to be sad. I want to be happy for him,” said Angelina from Indonesia. “Mixed feelings. He has to serve (for) his country.” Angelina, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.

A couple of dozen fans could be seen as a small turnout given Jin’s huge popularity.

But Jin and his management agency had earlier asked fans not to visit the site and said there would not be any special event involving the singer, in order to prevent any issue caused by crowding.

south-korea-bts-military-service A vehicle believed to be carrying K-pop band BTS's member Jin arrives at an army training center in Yeoncheon, South Korea, yesterday. Ahn Young-joon Ahn Young-joon

Authorities still mobilised 300 police officers, soldiers, emergency workers and others to maintain order and guard against any accidents, according to the army.

Hours before entering the camp, Jin, whose real name is Kim Seok-jin, wrote on the on the online fan platform Weverse that “It’s time for a curtain call.”

He posted a photo of himself on Sunday with a military buzzcut and a message saying, “Ha ha ha. It’s cuter than I had expected.”

By law, all able-bodied South Korean men must serve in the military for 18-21 months under a conscription system established to deal with threats from North Korea.

The law gives special exemptions to athletes, classical and traditional musicians, and ballet and other dancers if they have won top prizes in certain competitions and enhance national prestige.

K-pop stars and other entertainers are not given such benefits even if they gain worldwide fame and win big international awards.

BTS were created in 2013 and have a legion of global supporters who call themselves the “Army”.

Its other members are RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook, who is the youngest at 25.

The group expanded its popularity in the West with its 2020 megahit Dynamite, the band’s first all-English song.

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