By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, Sept. 4 (Yonhap) -- As BTS conquered the Billboard Hot 100 chart this week with "Dynamite," the achievement has also rekindled a debate on whether global K-pop stars should be offered preferential treatment in terms of military duties so as to avoid a hiatus during the height of their careers.
On Tuesday, BTS surprised the nation by debuting at No. 1 on Billboard's main singles chart with its latest single, becoming the first South Korean singer or group to achieve the feat. President Moon Jae-in congratulated the seven-member boy band on social media and thanked them for further elevating "pride in K-pop."
Politicians also reacted swiftly, with Rep. Jeon Yonggi of the ruling Democratic Party submitting a motion to revise the military service law to allow pop artists who have elevated national prestige to defer their military service.
All able-bodied South Korean young men between the ages of 18 and 28 are ordered to serve in the military for about two years for the national defense against North Korea, with which the South is technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire.
However, Olympic medalists and international award-winning classical musicians are exempted from serving under current laws, in recognition of their roles in elevating the country's reputation overseas.
For example, South Korean footballer Son Heung-min, who plays for the English Premier League's Tottenham Hotspur, secured an exemption in September 2018 when the Korean national team defeated Japan to win the gold medal at the Asian Games.
Some 280 artists and 170 athletes were exempted from military service between 2009 and July 2018.
The topic of military duty in general is a highly sensitive subject in South Korea, with singer PSY having been infamously redrafted into active duty in 2007 after he was found to have neglected his duties while carrying out an alternative civil service. Korean American singer Yoo Seung-joon also has been legally barred from entering South Korea since 2002 when allegations emerged that he dropped his Korean citizenship in order to avoid serving in the military.
Jeon's motion doesn't go as far as to extend waivers to pop stars.
"Deferrals and exemptions are two separate matters. We have to provide choices to postpone service to those in other fields that can only flourish in the 20s," the lawmaker said.
The lawmaker added that he has been in close consultation with the culture ministry on the motion. Allowing service postponements for professional e-sports players is also under deliberation.
Independent lawmaker Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, meanwhile, argued that the military waiver program shouldn't be limited to winners of a certain number of limited athletic or music competitions, suggesting that BTS members are more than qualified enough to be allowed exemptions.
"There was a football player who was offered an exemption by playing for just four minutes at the 2014 London Olympics. Some estimate that the economic effect of BTS amounts to 5.6 trillion won (US$47 billion) and even larger than a single Olympic Games event," Yoon wrote on social media. He suggested introducing an independent review committee to oversee the waiver program.
Culture Minister Park Yang-woo also told top K-pop agency executives in June that the government will provide aid in administrative issues including those related to the mandatory military service of K-pop artists.
To be clear, BTS members stated in February that they consider military duty as something that should be obviously carried out and that they will answer the call of duty whenever the nation demands.
Born in 1992, BTS member Jin, the eldest of the seven singers, is subject to enlistment by the end of the year. But Big Hit Entertainment said that the singer could potentially postpone his draft until the end of 2021, citing his enrollment in an online graduate course at Hanyang Cyber University.
When Jin and other members will enlist is a closely watched topic not just among BTS fans but also within the financial industry, as Big Hit Entertainment said it plans to raise up to 962.6 billion won in its planned initial public offering, expected to happen next month.
Big Hit plans to offer about 7.1 million newly issued shares at an indicative price range of 105,000-135,000 won per share, according to the company's regulatory filing.