(LEAD) (Yonhap Feature) Biting the bullet: How K-pop stars confront military duty
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By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, March 13 (Yonhap) -- K-pop stars are often forced to leave the limelight in their prime to serve in the military. In South Korea, all able-bodied men are legally obligated to complete a military service term of around two years, as the country is technically still at war with North Korea.
In the past, stars often feared that they might be forgotten in the fast-changing entertainment realm where fame can dissipate quickly. But idols nowadays are seemingly answering the call of duty head-on, with joint or phased enlistments considered amid publicity schedules and even comeback plans down the road.
With rapper T.O.P having taken the first leap in February last year, three fellow BIGBANG members have timed their enlistments to fall within a tight time frame. Leader G-Dragon joined the Army on Feb. 27 and lead singer Taeyang began his service Monday, with Daesung following suit Tuesday.
In this file photo, K-pop singer G-Dragon (second from R) arrives at an Army basic training camp in Cheorwon, 90 kilometers north of Seoul, on Feb. 27, 2018, to begin his mandatory military service. (Yonhap)
Seungri is the only BIGBANG who has yet to serve. Seungri plans to enlist after releasing a solo album sometime during the first half of the year.
Pop rock group FT Island is reportedly mulling joining the military in pairs. The group is known to be considering taking advantage of the Army's joint enlistment program, which allows pairs, such as family or friends, to be assigned to the same unit so they can serve together. The members are looking to start their duties no later than 2019.
Members of CNBLUE have also expressed their hopes in matching their service periods. Jung Yong-hwa, leader and main vocalist, started his military service last week, earlier than initially anticipated. The 29-year-old singer was accused of being admitted to a doctorate course at Kyung Hee University in 2017 even though he did not come to a mandatory interview for applicants.
Amid mounting public criticism, Jung abruptly announced his enlistment in February. Whether other CNBLUE stars will soon follow suit remains to be seen.
JYP Entertainment's 2PM has opted for phased enlistments. Taecyeon was the first to join the Army, in September of last year, with Jun. K expected to enter some time during the first half of 2018. Jun. K has stated that bandmates Wooyoung, Chansung and Junho are expected to commence their duties in successive order, with the possibility of a reunion no earlier than 2020.
This image, captured from the Instagram account of 2PM member Jun. K (R), shows bandmate Ok Taecyeon (L) rocking a military-style hair cut before entering the Army on Sept. 4, 2017. (Yonhap)
Two members of S.M. Entertainment duo TVXQ, which made a successful comeback last year, enlisted in 2015 with a four-month gap in between their starting dates.
TVXQ's return to the spotlight in 2017 had been in the works since long before the two members both finished their duties. A pan-Asian publicity blitz for the comeback started just three days after singer Max Changmin's discharge from the military.
Super Junior's members also served in successive order, with Ryeowook and Kyuhyun still in active duty. The band made a comeback last year with seven members having completed their military duties.
In the past, the music industry has seen several high-flying celebrities fall from grace over draft dodging allegations. Yoo Seung-jun faced a firestorm backlash in 2002 after acquiring U.S. citizenship and ending up avoiding service. Psy was infamously redrafted into active duty in 2007 after he was found to have neglected his duties in his earlier stint at an alternative civil service.
For some, new opportunities are found from their military detours. Shinhwa, which debuted in 1998, solidified its position as the longest-running K-pop group, after all the six members completed their military service in 2012.
Ex-H.O.T. singer Moon Hee-jun managed to shed his unfavorable public image during his hiatus, later successfully transforming into an all-round TV personality. After serving twice, Psy famously rose to global stardom with his 2012 smash hit, "Gangnam Style."
This file photo shows South Korean singer Psy speaking to reporters at a press conference in Seoul on June 30, 2015, to mark his appointment as an honorary ambassador for the International Military Sports Council Military World Games. (Yonhap)