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BTS will have to break up, whether they like it or not, and fans are not happy

Tanutam Thawan

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Even though they’ve been making music since their debut back in 2013, it’s the last two years BTS, aka Bangtan Boys (or Bangtan Sonyeondan for Korean pronunciation), have gone from zero to hero in the pop music world. Now they’re riding their success on the crest of a wave that has defied conventional pop marketing and ‘western’ white-washed music standards.

Despite mostly singing in Korean, the BTS fanbase ‘Army’ is heavily weighted in western countries where Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5 and Selena Gomez et al reign.

Breaking records in all sorts of unexpected places, the seven member band are making heads turn as they’ve re-invented the modern band genre (they won Best Music Group at this year’s Billboard Music Awards). Many pop groups just burn out, their sales drop or one member leaves for a ‘solo’ project leading to an inevitable disbandment.

In BTS’s case none of those situations exist. They’re still on their way up in popularity, their sales for music and social media reach blossoms, and the members all do solo projects within the broader band framework.

But all this is going to end soon and there’s nothing RM, Suga, J-hope, Jin, Jimin, V and Jungkook can do about. Well, almost nothing.

“Not Today” – Just one of many BTS music clips to have breached the 300 million viewer mark

In South Korea, still technically at war with its northern counterpart, all young men have to enlist for 18 – 24 months with the South Korean Army.

You’d think that being part of the biggest band on the planet would mean BTS could pull a few strings to avoid taking part in military service in South Korea, but you’d be wrong. Despite being awarded the country’s Order of Cultural Merit and hundreds of other music awards, matching The Beatles’ record by having three albums reach #1 on the Billboard Album Chart in one year, and being shown to have had a measurable impact on their country’s economy, they will have to serve.

And that means the most world’s most successful pop group will have to break up, for around 2 years at least. Will they decide to serve together, or stagger their military hiatus according to their age?

Whilst elite athletes and some non-K-pop musicians have scored exemptions in recent years, BTS have neither sought nor been offered any such exemption from their national service.

None of the band, which consists of Jungkook, Jimin, V, J-Hope, RM, Jin and Suga, have yet to serve, but Jin is likely to be called up soon as he will turn 27 in December

“Blood Sweat & Tears” – When pop music starts to become high art. Many of BTS songs are based on serious western literature giving the band and their music a gravitas beyond their years.

The BTS Army – the fandom, not the real one – have been pleading with the South Korean government to let the boys off having to serve so they can fulfil their band commitments instead. BTS have the largest Twitter fanbase of any music group in the world and have nine of their highly-produced music clips reaching more than 300 million views on YouTube.

Jin previously told CBS that BTS were fully prepared to be called up.

“As a Korean, it’s natural, and someday, when duty calls we’ll be ready to respond and do our best.”

The youngest, Jungkook, responded.

“I don’t want to think about it at this point. We have something really good going.”

And they do, smashing music records and re-writing the world music “how to” handbook.

 

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