Last week’s surprise announcement that BTS will be taking a break so their members can focus on solo projects shocked their fans around the world, rocking their record label’s share price and raising many questions about the future. of the K-pop supergroup.
HYBE, the company behind the boy septet, denied that the group was taking a hiatus, a word used in a translation of their emotional video announcement. In the days that followed, the members of the band have remained active on social networks, continuing the flow of publications, photos, and guarantees that they were not separating.
THE DANGER OF MILITARY SERVICE
Despite the immediate shock (HYBE’s stock initially fell over 25% and has yet to fully recover), several factors may affect BTS’s future. One is military enlistment for its older members, as well as how committed the group and its devoted fans, known as ARMYs, will remain to social causes.
In 2020, at the height of BTS’s success, the South Korean government revised the country’s military law requiring able-bodied South Korean men to perform approximately two years of military service. The revised law allows top K-pop stars (including BTS’s oldest member Jin) to defer their military service until they are 30 years old if they have received medals from the government for enhancing the country’s cultural reputation and applying for military service. postponement. All members of BTS met the criteria to receive government medals in 2018.
“ Obviously, there is an imminent military enlistment, so they might have thought it would be good to individually do something before it’s too late and that’s why I think the military enlistment was the biggest factor,’” said Lee Dong Yeun, Professor at the Korea National University of Arts.
There have been calls, including from South Korea’s former Minister of Culture, for an exemption for BTS due to their contributions to the country’s international reputation. But critics say such an exemption would bend recruiting rules to favor the privileged.
Jin, 29, is expected to enlist this year unless he receives a waiver.
Military enlistment has always been a headache for HYBE. BTS once accounted for 90% of the label’s profits. Currently, the group represents between 50% and 60% of its profits, according to a report by eBest Investment & Securities.
The best report notes that the rapid share price decline may have resulted from an “anticipation that the activities of the entire group may be uncertain after they are discharged from the military.”
HYBE has been trying to diversify its portfolio by introducing new K-pop bands, creating online games, and releasing Korean-language tutorials.
AN “IRONIC” BAND
As the most successful K-pop band to date, with songs like “Dynamite” and “Butter ”, BTS has garnered massive attention on social media and with each new music release for years. Recently, he held several sold-out concerts in the United States, was the first K-pop artist or group to earn a Grammy Award nomination, released an anthology album, “ Proof ”, and channeled his global influence with a speech on United Nations and a visit to the White House to campaign against hate crimes targeting Asians.
“ Once you achieve success as BTS did, it means that there is a constant expectation to continue doing something that is connected to what you have already done. In BTS’s most recent releases, we can also see how they continually reflect on where they’ve been,’ ‘ said CedarBough Saeji, a professor of Korean and East Asian Studies at Pusan National University.
The docent said Tuesday’s announcement signaled the band members’ intention to discover ” where they are going on their own without the interference of other people ” and ” be able to choose their path as artists .”
Last week’s announcement also calls into question the group’s social justice efforts, which have included its support for the Black Lives Matter movement and campaigns against violence. BTS’s legions of fans have embraced these causes, matching a $1 million donation to Black Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd.
But the group has faced increasing questions about why it doesn’t speak out as much about discrimination in its own country.
One of the main newspapers in South Korea recently published a column in which the author reflected on why South Korea, despite having BTS, ” the ambassador of the fight against discrimination and human rights “, has fought to enact an anti-discrimination law for 15 years. ” It’s an irony,” said the author.
The lack of anti-discrimination law in the country has led to unfair treatment of women and foreigners, among others.
Jumin Lee, author of a book whose title could be translated into Spanish as “Why the law against discrimination? ”, told The Associated Press that there is a great need for anti-discrimination law in the country.
“ South Korea is in essentially the same legal situation as Jim Crow (racial segregation laws) in the southern United States. Equal protection exists as a constitutional concept, but there is no implementing legislation that allows the government to compel private companies to comply,” Lee said. “What that means in practice is that if I own a business, tomorrow I could put a sign on my door saying `no gays,’ `no blacks,’ or `no seniors,’ and absent extraordinary intervention from the Constitutional Court, there is very little the law can do to stop me .”
Lee recently expressed his disappointment with the band for not talking about this issue in his country.
“ BTS and their business people know that speaking up in America is profitable, but doing the same thing at home would be more trouble than it’s worth. So they don’t, ” Lee tweeted after the band visited Washington.
Despite that, Lee said the band’s silence is understandable stating that if BTS were to speak out, politicians would respond with ” indifference at best and hostility at worst “.
Some South Korean celebrities, such as singers Harisu and Ha: felt, have spoken out on sensitive issues such as anti-discrimination law and feminism, despite negative reactions.
After speaking out about the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking, which left 304 dead in one of the country’s worst disasters, Cannes-award-winning actor Song Kang-ho and director Park Chan-wook were blacklisted by the government of the ousted President Park Geun-Hye, noted Areum Jeong, a scholar of Korean pop culture.
“ So even though a lot of idols may be politically conscious, they may choose not to talk about social issues,” Jeong said.
Several BTS members said during last week’s announcement that they were having trouble with the group’s success and difficulties writing new songs.
“ For me, it was like the group BTS was within my grasp until `On’ and `Dynamite’, but after `Butter’ and `Permission to Dance’ I didn’t know what kind of group we were anymore, ” said member RM. ” Whenever I write songs, it’s really important what kind of story and message I want to give, but now it’s like that’s gone .”
While that clouds what BTS’s next steps might be, Saeji said his continued candor was necessary given how much the group has impacted their fans.
“ They meet the fans with that same honesty and saying, `You had my help when you needed it, and now I need my help,’” he said. “ I need to be alone, to think for myself, to know what I want to write a song about, to understand my mind, to be inspired on my own .”