Music group files complaint vs BTS law on postponing military service to 30 years old

BTS members with their Order of Cultural Merit medals on Oct. 24, 2018 (Twitter) 

The Korea Music Content Association (KMCA) and other entertainment agencies have formally filed a complaint against the so-called BTS law, which will allow outstanding pop culture artists who contributed to improving the country's national image to postpone their military service until age 30, due to its stringent criteria. 

It was submitted on April 1 to Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, which asked organizations or individuals to submit their opinions by April 5 about the enforcement or presidential decree covering the amendment in the Military Service Act.

Among those listed as signatories in the complaint are KMCA, Big Hit Entertainment, Starship Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, FNC Entertainment, Warner Music Korea, Jellyfish Entertainment, Pledis Entertainment, KakaoM, Universal Music and Sony Music Entertainment Korea.

Last Dec. 22, the Korean government promulgated the so-called “BTS Military Service Act” to give outstanding pop culture artists the chance to delay their military enlistment if they are recipients of cultural medals and government awards, and if they are recommended by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST).

Currently, all able-bodied Korean men are required to enlist by 28 years old. 

The law amended Article 60 of Korea’s Military Service Act and added  popular culture artists to the list of people that can be granted postponement of military service. Before the revision, this is granted to “a student who attends a high school or higher;” “a person who is taking a prescribed course at a training institute;” and “an outstanding athlete to enhance the national prestige.” 

The law was a product of a bill filed in September 2020 that aimed to revise the Military Service Act after BTS topped the Billboard Hot 100 with “Dynamite.” 

It will take effect after six months or on June 23, 2021 and along with the law, an enforcement or presidential decree was issued that specifies the criteria to be used for outstanding pop culture artists to qualify for the military service postponement until age 30. 

“Presidential Decrees issued by the President, the head of the Executive, consist of delegated orders and execution orders,” according to the Korea Legislation Research Institute. 

Due to the very stringent criteria, according to KMCA, no other pop culture artists besides BTS can qualify for the military service postponement. 

They are questioning the standard that in order to qualify for military service postponement, a pop culture artist must be a recipient of an Order of Cultural Merit. 

They argued that the basic requirement to just be eligible for the cultural merit is that one must have been active in the entertainment industry for at least 15 years. They calculated that K-pop artists who debut in their late teens would be in their 30s before they can meet the 15-year experience requisite for the award. 

"So if a male musician would want to meet the criteria before he turns 28, he has to begin his K-pop career when he's 13 years old at the latest. And that doesn't even mean that they can defer their services. That's only the requirement to apply for the merit. There's a separate set of standards to see whether they actually get the chance to defer their services," said KMCA, according to the Korea JoongAng Daily. 

In October 2018, BTS members were given the Hwagwan (Flower Crown) Order of Cultural Merit, the youngest recipients of the award with an age range of 21 to 26, in recognition for their contribution to spreading hallyu, or Korean Wave, around the world. They were an exception to the award as they debuted only in 2013. 

The KMCA said among the list of singers who were given the Order of Cultural Merit, the average age is 67.7 years old. 

Except for BTS, the youngest in the list was Psy, who received the award in 2012 when he was 35 for his megahit single “Gangnam Style,” and the oldest was Geum Sahyang, who got it also in 2012 at age 83. 

According to KMCA, to apply to postpone the military service to age 30, a singer who receives an Order of Cultural Merit must submit an application to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which in turn decides whether to recommend him for the postponement to the regional Military Manpower Administration (MMA), which supervises Korea’s conscription. The head of the regional MMA then decides to grant the postponement.  

The KMCA is asking the Ministry of National Defense to revise the enforcement decree of the Military Service Act to make the criteria realistic. 

"We are not blindly saying we want lower standards. The current bars are unrealistically high. How are musicians supposed to meet a criterion that's impossible to achieve? All we ask is that the ministry come up with standards that can be met and fulfilled by musicians, not extraordinary measures that cannot be made," according to KMCA. 

The KMCA is an association of companies such as record producers, distributors and entertainment agencies in Korea.