SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — J-Hope, a member of K-pop sensation BTS, entered a South Korean boot camp Tuesday to start his 18-month compulsory military service, becoming the group’s second member to join the country’s army.
There was heated public debate in 2022 over whether to offer special exemptions of mandatory military service for BTS members, until the group’s management agency announced in October that all seven members would fulfill their duties.
In December, Jin, 30 and the oldest member of BTS, became the band’s first member to enter the army after revoking his request to delay his conscription.
South Korean TV footage Tuesday afternoon showed what they called a black minivan likely carrying J-Hope moving into the boot camp in Wonju, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) east of Seoul. Hybe Corp., the parent company of BTS’ management agency Big Hit Music, later confirmed the 29-year-old singer entered the camp.
Dozens of fans showed up near the base after arriving via rented buses wrapped with large photos of J-Hope and words hoping for his safe service. Authorities mobilized soldiers and police officers to maintain order, and there were no immediate reports of safety-related accidents. Big Hit Music had pleaded with fans, who call themselves the “Army,” not to come to the site due to safety reasons.
“I love you, Army. I’ll see you again,” J-Hope, whose real name is Jung Ho-seok, said Monday in a message posted on the online fan platform Weverse, with photos of himself with a military buzz cut.
Five other younger BTS members — RM, Suga, Jimin, V and Jungkook — are to join the South Korean military one by one in the coming years. That means the world’s biggest boy band is expected to reconvene as a group again a few years later.
In South Korea, all able-bodied men are required by law to perform 18-21 months of military service under a conscription system meant to deter aggression from rival North Korea.
The law gives special exemptions to athletes, classical and traditional musicians, and ballet and other dancers if they have obtained top prizes in certain competitions and are assessed to have enhanced national prestige. K-pop stars and other entertainers aren’t subject to such privileges.
That has caused an intense domestic debate over whether it was time to amend the law to expand exemptions to entertainers like BTS members. Jin, who turned 30 in December, had faced an impending conscription because the law disallows most South Korean men from further delaying their services after they turn 30.
Lawmakers bickered over the issue at the National Assembly, while a series of public surveys showed sharply split opinions over 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 dodging of military duties are a highly sensitive issue in South Korea, because the draft forces young men to suspend their studies or professional careers.
Formed in 2013, BTS expanded its popularity in the West with its 2020 megahit “Dynamite,” the band’s first all-English song that made BTS the first K-pop act to top Billboard’s Hot 100.
Hybe Corp. said in October that each member of the band for the time being would focus on individual activities scheduled around their military service plans.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.