World reacts to BTS enlisting: “Imagine the Beatles broke up at height of their fame”

Posted on : 2023-12-14 17:28 KST Modified on : 2023-12-14 17:28 KST
With all seven members now fulfilling their obligations to their country, fans await their anticipated return in 2025
BTS (from Hybe’s official website)
BTS (from Hybe’s official website)

“Imagine if the Beatles broke up at the height of their fame to join the army. That’s what the members of BTS, the world’s biggest pop band, are doing right now.”

These are the opening lines of a BBC article titled “BTS go off into the army,” which was published on Tuesday (local time) after BTS members Jimin and Jungkook enlisted for military service.

The hypothetical reference to the Beatles was made to illustrate the fact that all members of BTS have begun fulfilling their military service, with RM and V enlisting a day before Jimin and Jungkook.

In the article, the BBC sheds light on the situation around members of the K-pop juggernaut’s enlistment, reactions from fans, and South Korea’s military service system.

The article first takes a look at Jungkook’s trajectory. The BBC reported that the singer was at the peak of his solo career in New York just four weeks ago, only to drop everything to return to South Korea.

Noting that his solo album “Golden” and hit single “Standing Next to You” had recently topped various charts and that he had only recently made headlines with a surprise performance in New York’s Times Square that drew parallels to Michael Jackson, BBC’s coverage of Jungkook’s enlistment shows how his return to South Korea to join the military at the height of his popularity has caught people’s attention.

Fellow members of BTS visit RM and V of BTS as they enlist on Dec. 11. (from @BTS_twt on X)
Fellow members of BTS visit RM and V of BTS as they enlist on Dec. 11. (from @BTS_twt on X)

BBC shared the reaction of fans who were intrigued by the different hairstyles that the members now sported. Gone were their “fluffy perms of K-pop stardom,” and replaced with “eggheads” — that is, the buzzcuts of soldiers.

BBC also pointed to the controversy over military service privileges that arose ahead of BTS members’ enlistment. Because South Korea is still technically at war with North Korea, most men are required to serve in the military for 18 months, BBC reported, but added that there has long been a debate over whether BTS — which they say is “ is arguably South Korea's most famous cultural export” — should also be required to serve.

“For Western audiences, it does seem quite cruel that people at the height of their success have to stop and take a forced hiatus whether they like it or not,” Grace Kao, a professor at Yale University, told the BBC.

The article went on to share some of the reactions from fans around the world to the K-pop idols’ enlistment. BBC said the comment threads of fans on social media were “proliferated with crying emojis” on Monday and Tuesday, after the members were shown heading off to the military.

Jimmyn Parc, a K-pop academic in Malaysia, told the BBC that he believes that many fans may be experiencing a short “depression.”

As Jimin and Jungkook of BTS enlisted in service on Dec. 12, the group has gone into hiatus as members fulfill their obligatory military service. (from @BTS_twt on X)
As Jimin and Jungkook of BTS enlisted in service on Dec. 12, the group has gone into hiatus as members fulfill their obligatory military service. (from @BTS_twt on X)

On Monday and Tuesday, one of BTS’ lesser-known songs released six years ago, “Spring Day,” suddenly shot to the top of the iTunes charts in the US. “Spring Day” beat out Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” which had already begun its tenure at No. 1 on the charts with the beginning of the Christmas season.

BBC described the attitudes and reactions of fans to the member’s enlistment as reminiscent of women who had to send their spouses or loves off to war during World War II.

The lyrics of “Spring Day” go like this: “I miss you / Saying this makes me miss you all even more / I miss you / Even though I’m looking at your photo / Time’s so cruel.”

Other international news outlets also took an interest in the enlistment of BTS members. Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported that Jimin and Jungkook enlisted jointly. There is a system in the military that allows people to enlist jointly with friends, siblings, or relatives so that they can train together, be assigned to units in the same living area, and serve together until their service is over.

Fans, reporters and crowd control can be seen around the Army training facility in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, on Dec. 11, when BTS members RM and V enlisted. (Yonhap)
Fans, reporters and crowd control can be seen around the Army training facility in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, on Dec. 11, when BTS members RM and V enlisted. (Yonhap)

Japanese fans of BTS gathered at a cafe in Tokyo, Japan, vowing to wait for their return, Reuters reported. “I feel sad, but I think they’ll mature more going into the army and come back looking cool so I’m looking forward and want to wait for them,” Ayami Ito, a 22-year-old nursing care worker, told Reuters.

NBC in the US also went in depth to describe a letter the group wrote to fans on the fandom platform Weverse. The New York Times reported that it would be at least a year and six months before the members of BTS could hold a reunion concert after completing their military service. For those fans who have started a timer in anticipation of their return, it added that one year and six months is approximately 547 days, 13,128 hours, or 4.7 million seconds.

By Joh Yun-yeong, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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