Dear Gossips,  

Waking up on Saturday at 4am to livestream a BTS concert felt familiar. Can’t even count anymore how many times I’ve done this over the last two-plus years. As it turns out, this time was the last time for a long time. Because when I woke up today at 4am, it was just as they were making this announcement: 

All seven members of the biggest group on the planet, at the height of their success, will be fulfilling their mandatory military service, starting with Jin before the end of the year. 


Jin is the oldest, he turns 30 in December, and his enlistment has already been deferred by a couple of years. Jungkook just turned 25 in September; in theory he could wait as long as Jin before he performs his duty but if they’re saying in the statement that they are “looking forward to reconvening again as a group again around 2025 following their service commitment”, JK and the rest of the band will likely all enlist within a year of Jin and serve between 18 to 21 months so as to keep the band’s pause as short as possible. 

As I’ve always said, BTS is nothing if not highly organised – and what we see in the present is the result of months and months of meticulous planning in their past. Today is just the latest example of the work and the strategy that’s been in place since before June, when they announced during their anniversary, aka Festa, that they’d be focusing on individual projects. Shortly after that, j-hope released his debut solo album, Jack in the Box, and then headlined Lollapalooza

Jin is up next. His solo project is coming later this month, and once he finishes his promotional schedule, he’s off to the military. While he’s in the military, the five other members will likely all release their solos on a staggered schedule – probably one every few months or so – until the last member enlists, at which point it won’t be long before Jin gets out…


And my point is that there will still be content delivered on a steady drip until 2025-ish. In addition to the six upcoming solo releases, there are still multiple episodes of their variety show, Run BTS!, that have yet to be released. Earlier this year, BTS’s company, HYBE, and Disney+ confirmed a multiyear collaboration that would include five streaming projects. Only two of those projects have happened so far: 

BTS: Permission to Dance on Stage – LA, the concert film from one of their four Los Angeles shows last year, premiered last month on Disney+. 

In the Soop: Friendcation, a travel reality series featuring V and his four best friends on holiday, premiered a couple of months ago in Disney markets in Asia and will drop this Wednesday in western markets. 

BTS Monuments: Beyond the Star is an original docuseries that pulls from the BTS archive that started from their inception and has chronicled their unprecedented rise and is expected to showcase “the daily lives, thoughts, and plans of BTS members, as they prepare for their second chapter”. The docuseries is expected to premiere next year. 

That means there are two more projects as part of the Disney deal that have yet to be announced. In other words, more content to satisfy the existing fanbase, which is already huge, and introduce new fans to the BTS Universe. This is also why their last album, Proof, was an anthology


So they’re looking ahead, they’ve controlled what they can control, they’ve built a foundation, and there is clearly a strategy in place for the enlistment period, with the hope that in 2025, they can maintain their relevance and that in that time they will have been discovered by even more people. Which is why, during their free concert in Busan on Saturday, in support of the city’s World Expo 2030 bid, several of the members talked about the future, stating their intention to stay together and to come together again one day. 

The concert concluded with RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook performing “Yet To Come”, and sharing a photo later with all members holding up the sign: 

BTS hold up "Best moment is yet to come" signs
BTS hold up "Best moment is yet to come" signs

And for predominantly western audiences, not familiar with Korean artists, and definitely not familiar with BTS, I get that there might be cynicism. There is an assumption that with pop bands, the lifespan is short, and that the ultimate goal of individual members is to go solo, permanently. 

That is a perspective shaped by a western lens, though. And BTS has constantly defied being characterised through a western lens. In fact, the more famous they’ve become, the more resolutely Korean they have been. None of them have moved to LA, or have any intention of doing so. They (politely) asked the world to come to them, not the other way around. 

And this announcement today, confirming that all seven members will carry out their national duty and perform military service, is another example of how you cannot apply western pop culture expectations and standards to this group. This is a resistance of privilege. 

Because there was a case, and a strong case, to be made for an exemption. It is undeniable what they have already done for their country – this show in Busan alone is evidence of their influence, with BTS being the centrepiece of Korea’s bid to host the World Expo 2030. In 2018, when they were already super popular, but even before their first #1 hit (“Dynamite”) on the Billboard Hot 100, it was already estimated that the group was worth $3.6 billion to the South Korean economy. And that’s just the economic impact. BTS has partnered multiple times with the United Nations for youth engagement, joining the South Korean delegation at the UN last year as “special envoys for future generations and culture; they visited the White House to promote inclusion; and they’ve used their platform to combat discrimination around the world, with a $1 million donation in support of Black Lives Matter back in 2020. 


BTS’s global impact is unprecedented. They are lightning in a bottle. Of course there could have been justification, ample justification, for an exemption. And yet they have chosen to not lean into their privilege and push for a pass on military service. Would western artists do the same? Would they want to be treated like everyone else and give up almost two years of their careers to serve? 

This is what I mean when I say you can’t analyse BTS through the mainstream pop culture lens that has shaped our understanding of western celebrity. You can only understand BTS by understanding BTS – and I say this both as a culture critic myself and also a fan. I’ve been covering the celebrity ecosystem professionally for almost 20 years, and BTS has achieved their success with a playbook that’s entirely unique, so predictions by comparison are useless. As a fan, I’ve been following the group since 2016 – thousands upon thousands of hours watching their concerts, their reality shows, their livestreams, their interviews, and what I can tell you with certainty is this: Every member of BTS loves being Bangtan. If they’re saying right now that they are still Bangtan, and will still be Bangtan, there’s more than enough reason to believe them. 

BTS in concert
BTS salute the crowd at this weekend's concert

Yours in gossip,