SEOUL — The day that many fans of BTS had hoped would never come has arrived. Jin, the eldest member of the K-pop supergroup, started his military service on Tuesday, fulfilling a pledge that ended a debate about South Korea’s mandatory conscription.
The enlistment of the singer, whose birth name is Kim Seok-jin, marks a pause for one of the biggest boy bands in the world, with other members expected to follow him into the armed forces. The band’s management has said that the group would reconvene “around 2025.”
Mr. Kim, who turned 30 on Dec. 4, posted a selfie on social media Sunday night featuring his freshly shorn hair. “Cuter than expected,” he captioned it.
On Tuesday, he entered a military training center in Yeoncheon County in Gyeonggi Province, near the border with North Korea. Fans and reporters gathered outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the idol in one of the dozens of cars entering the compound, despite requests from BTS’s label that they stay away. Guards patrolled the front gate while wardens directed traffic, local media videos showed.
Mr. Kim, the Defense Ministry said, is expected to finish his service in June 2024.
South Korea’s mandatory military service, which applies to all able-bodied men over the age of 18, is seen as crucial to the country’s defense against North Korea. But debate has raged for years in both the public and legislative spheres about whether BTS should be exempt from conscription given its contributions to South Korea’s economy and soft power abroad.
In a nod to the band’s global success, South Korea’s parliament revised the law in 2020 to allow cultural and artistic icons to defer their enlistment to the age of 30, giving Mr. Kim two additional years to perform. Otherwise, Korean men are required to enlist in the military by age 28, barring a few exceptions, including for Olympic champions.
Bills to exempt the band from service altogether have proved contentious, especially among the cohort of young men for whom conscription is compulsory.
The band put the debate to rest in October this year when its label, Big Hit Music, announced that the members would indeed fulfill their duties in the military.
A few months earlier, in June, BTS had said that it would take a hiatus from group activities, citing the pressure of their stardom and members’ desires to explore solo music careers.
Last week, BTS’s label said that there would be no special send-off events for Jin, and requested the media and “fans to please refrain from visiting the site” of enlistment. Fresh recruits typically kick off their enlistment with a ceremony attended by friends and family.
On Tuesday morning, Jin posted one last goodbye to his fans on the social media platform Weverse. “It’s curtain call time.”