All able-bodied South Korean men aged 18-30 are required to spend at least a year and a half in the military – a measure designed to maintain the country’s readiness for a potential conflict with the nuclear-armed North.
Jin will spend five weeks at an army boot camp in Yeoncheon, located near the heavily armed border with North Korea, before being sent to a unit to complete his 18-month assignment.
The 30-year-old, now sporting a buzzcut, will be followed into the military by younger members of the band in the coming years, after their impending enlistment sparked a debate among South Koreans over whether the band, and other successful entertainers, should be granted exemptions.
After the band shocked fans by announcing they would take a break from performing, the band’s seven members announced in October that they would carry out their military duties.
BTS are widely considered South Korea’s biggest cultural phenomenon – selling out stadiums around the world and dominating the charts, while raking in millions and building a global legion of fans known as the Army.
Their celebrity and huge earning power – they have generated billions of dollars for the South Korean economy – sparked a debate over whether stars in the entertainment industry should be permitted to skip military service or carry out alternative duties.
The law grants 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. The exemption does not apply to K-Pop stars and other entertainers, even those – like BTS – who have enjoyed global success.
Jin – whose full name is Kim Seok-jin – said he was ready in a post on the online fan platform Weverse. “It’s time for a curtain call,” he said on Tuesday.
On Sunday he posted a photo of himself sporting his new haircut along with a message that said: “Ha ha ha. It’s cuter than I had expected.”
The band’s label, Big Hit Music, had urged fans to stay away from the base, where new conscripts are seen off by their families. But some did turn up. About 20-30 fans were waiting outside the camp, located about 45km from the demilitarised zone that separates the two Koreas – a relatively small number that suggests many had heeded calls to stay away.
Police officers closed off streets to prevent accidents, and officials deployed an ambulance at the site. The strict safety measures come weeks after a Halloween crush in Seoul in which 158 people died.