BTS star Jin enters South Korea’s military service as a new era begins for the K-pop supergroup

Yeoncheon, South Korea

K-pop supergroup BTS entered a new era on Tuesday when Jin, its oldest member, began his mandatory military service under tight security at an army training center in South Korea.

Jin30, will spend 18 months in uniform after crossing into the Yeoncheon army base in northern Gyeonggi province, where security personnel and media outnumbered a few hundred fans gathered to catch a glimpse of the star – ignoring his previous pleas to them to go away.

A motorcade of six black vans, believed to be carrying Jin and his security personnel, entered the base shortly before 12:00 p.m.

Numerous banners along the roadway welcomed Jin and the other recruits to the base, which is less than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the demilitarized zone that separates South Korea from North Korea.

Among the conscripts who joined the 5th Infantry Division on Tuesday was Kim Seok-jin, 20, from Daejon – who shares the same full name as the superstar recruit.

While waiting outside a restaurant across from the base with his parents, Kim showed off his new buzz cut – the same style Jin had gotten a few days earlier – and said he was nervous as he waited to go inside .

“But I’m also excited to go in with Jin,” he said, adding that he hoped they could become friends.

Among BTS fans outside the base on Tuesday was Lee Hey-Kyoung, a 40-year-old from Seoul, who combined subway, bus and taxi rides to make the trip to the base on Tuesday morning.

“It’s a very cold winter and I’m thinking he’s going to suffer in the military. That’s why I came here,” Lee said.

Nearby was Mandy Lee, who flew in from Hong Kong to see Jin off.

“We wish him all the best and stay safe and sound and we will wait for him for the 18 months,” she said.

Military service is compulsory in South Korea, where almost all able-bodied men must serve in the army for 18 months at the age of 28.

In 2020, South Korea’s parliament passed a bill that allows pop stars – namely those who “excel in popular culture and art” – to defer their service until they reach the age of 30.

In October, BTS’ record company said that all seven members of the group planned to undertake military service. BTS are expected to reunite as a group around 2025, according to BIGHIT Music.

Jin’s service will begin with a five-week basic training course before being assigned to a unit based on standard practice.

Kim Seok-jin, 20, from Daejon, the exact same name as the musical superstar, poses for photos in Yeoncheon, South Korea, on Dec. 13, 2022.

Park Si-woo, 23, who underwent training at the base in 2021, told CNN that Jin will likely find himself in barracks with about 40 other recruits sharing bunk beds.

Park said recruits will wake up around 6:30 a.m. to begin their daily routine, which involves physical training, plus combat and weapons training.

The recruits must give up their cell phones, so Jin’s first contact will be through letters that fans can submit online, which will then be printed out and given to him. Military officials said Jin would have limited access to his cell phone over the weekend.

One thing Jin and the other recruits might appreciate is the food, Park said, adding, “We got a lot of snacks during training — beef, butter waffle snacks and drinks.”

Once integrated into South Korea’s forces, Jin will be one of about 560,000 army troops, according to the South Korean army’s website.

The military base in Yeoncheon, South Korea, on December 13, 2022.

BTS have become worldwide superstars since debuting in 2013, earning No. 1 singles in more than 100 countries, more than 46 million followers on Twitter, and awarded Time Magazine’s Entertainer of the Year in 2020.

They have also become an important part of the South Korean economy – a 2019 study found that BTS was responsible for 0.3% of the country’s gross domestic product, with $4.9 billion in revenue.

Critics say that BTS is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon.

“BTS’s place in the scene is unique,” said music critic Yoonha Kim. “I think no more needs to be said. In fact, there existed not only in the K-pop scene, but also in the entire history of Korean music, and it will be difficult for another to appear in the future.”

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