The period of enlistment usually coincides with a male artist’ peak popularity or strength to perform.
Military service is often considered a predicament to a male Korean artists as it takes two years to complete, a period long enough for fans to forget them. The period to fully reunite a group is also a big question. For example, Super Junior needed 10 years to gather all 9 members after they finished their military duty.
In the past, Korean male artists tried to delay or even evade their enlistment deadlines but often did not end well. BTS is no exception despite their scope of influence. Jin (BTS) joining the military this December puts an end to the BTS military debate and affirms that there can hardly be any idols who can walk around this ‘boulder’ in their path. For this reason, male idols and artists are more accepting of this inevitable milestone in their career.
Korean Critic Kim Do-heon said that the Korean entertainment industry better adapted themselves to the artists’ enlistment from 2010. The military also allows the artists to perform more frequently at militar-organized events so that the artists have more chances to advance their talents.
Fans are also getting used to a long absence of their favorite idols, according to popular cultural critic Park Hee-a. Moreover, enlistment is no longer a loss but a new chapter in an artist’s career. The management companies are planning out new strategies to cope with this change such as pre-recorded videos, media campaigns or online platforms to maintain their artists’ presence. Take 2PM as an example, their recorded version of “My House” quickly took the Internet by storm and brushed up their image before the reunion in 2021.
ONF even benefits from the enlistment. This is the first Korean male group to join the military at the same time, a careful calculation for a simultaneous reunion. In a military event, ONF’s dance cover of NewJeans’ “Hybe Boy” quickly attracted millions of viewers after a few days, followed by the widespread popularity of “Your Song” with 20 millions after 4 days. The group became more famous before their military times.
The extended period of activities also have a huge impact on male Korean groups. In the 1990s, male groups could not last for more than 5 years and big groups such as Seo Taiji and Boys, H.O.T or Fin.K.L. were no exception. From 2010 onwards, the period added two more years. Recently, many more groups are overcoming the ‘7-year curse’, referring to the frequent disbandment of music groups at the end of their contract.
More groups are making new successes after their enlistment, such as Highlight with “Not The End” in May 2021 or BtoB’s “Be Together” in February 2022. SHINee returned last year with “Don’t Call Me” and swept through digital music charts and recorded the highest sales
During the alternate enlistment period, members can have their chance to debut solo, which used to be reserved for the most promising member. Taemin released his solo album and did performances when his fellow members were in the military and vice versa.
Nonetheless, the critics believed such a prospect is reserved only for the best group. The broadening scope of the entertainment industry entails the competitive nature of the scene. Many groups go off the grid even before getting their spotlights, let alone disappearing for an extended period for military service.
“Interrupted activities due to military enlistment is still a threat to male groups. The industry demands artists to release new works frequently to maintain their reputation all while many groups and songs are introduced,” said critic Park Hee-a.
Critic Kim Do-heon believed the debates on exemption or alternative solutions that flowed from the BTS enlistment case should continue, “This isn’t simply exemption but also the appropriate treatment for artists who have contributed significantly to the country while advancing their artistic prowess. If [they still] have to join, the military should make better use of their reputation and abilities.”