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BTS star Jin begins military service in South Korea

The K-pop megastar reported to a boot camp Tuesday near the country’s border with its nuclear-armed neighbor, North Korea.

SEOUL, South Korea — K-pop star Jin began his 18 months of mandatory military service in South Korea on Tuesday, launching supergroup BTS and its army of fans into an uncertain new era.

Jin reported to a boot camp near the country’s border with its nuclear-armed neighbor, making him the first BTS star to serve in the military. He is the group’s oldest member, and he will be followed in enlisting in the coming years by his six bandmates — meaning BTS will take a hiatus for a few years.

Jin, whose real name is Kim Seok-jin, reported to a training center in Yeoncheon where front-line troops are deployed on guard against North Korea early Tuesday. 

He will undergo five weeks of basic training, which will involve rifle-shooting, grenade-throwing and marching practices, before he is assigned to a military unit.

Five hundred other young men are serving the mandatory military service with Jin, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.

Jin posted a photo on Weverse, an online fan platform, on Sunday showing himself with a military buzz cut.

He also left a message for his fans hours before he entered the camp, saying, “It’s time for a curtain call.” 

Jin, the oldest member of K-pop supergroup BTS, was set to enter a frontline South Korean boot camp Tuesday to start his 18 months of mandatory military service, as fans gathered near the base to say goodbye to their star.
"I look cuter than thought," said Jin in the Weverse post showing off his new haircut.Weverse via AP

He was driven into the base past a small group holding photos and posters bearing his image. 

Jin asked his fans to stay away from the training center to avoid dangerous crowding in another Weverse post.

Around 300 officers from the military, the local government and related organizations were deployed at the camp Tuesday to ensure the safety of the location as Jin arrived, a spokesperson for the Defense Ministry said.

The caution comes after 153 people died in a crowd crush in Seoul during Halloween festivities. 

Jin turned 30 this month, fueling a heated national debate about whether he should enlist.

In South Korea, all able-bodied men 18 to 28 years old must serve in the army for at least 18 months. As a recognized K-pop star, Jin was able to defer his compulsory military service until age 30. 

BTS star Jin starts his mandatory South Korean military duty on December 13, 2022, the first band member to enlist since their hiatus announcement this year left fans heartbroken and wondering if this was the end for the K-pop juggernaut.
Vehicles believed to be with BTS singer Jin arrive at the main gate of a military training unit in Yeoncheon, South Korea, on Tuesday. Jung Yeon-Je / AFP - Getty Images

Millions of BTS fans around the world, who call themselves the “army,” are grieving the band’s hiatus.

“It was sudden but not unexpected,” said Gurpeet Dhillon, 25, of Hong Kong, who describes herself as a full-time BTS fan. “I respect their decision by putting their country first and stop delaying the mandatory military service.”

“2025 is gonna be a long wait, but I know we all, the ‘army,’ will be waiting for them to come back together again as BTS,” she added.

South Korean law does allow for special exemptions from compulsory military service for some, including athletes, traditional musicians and others who enhance the country’s prestige. Before it was announced in October that the band would enlist, there was discussion about whether K-pop stars should also be afforded such benefits given their international popularity.

“Those in the pop culture sector experience little bit of disadvantages and unfairness, compared with those in the pure art sector or athletes,” Jung Duk-hyun, a pop culture commentator, told The Associated Press. “This will likely continue to be an issue of controversy, so I wonder if it must be discussed continuously.”

Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said in August that BTS members who are serving would most likely be allowed to continue practicing and to join other non-serving BTS members in overseas group tours. 

Jin released his first solo single, “The Astronaut,” in October. While he is away, the six younger BTS members will also pursue individual projects, and BTS will reconvene as a group around 2025 when all seven members have completed their military service, according to their label, Bighit Music. 

“There’s much more yet to come in the years ahead from BTS,” the label said.

Stella Kim reported from Seoul, and Marie Brockling reported from Hong Kong.