Kpop Reality Check

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23. Idols and Military Service

South Korea has mandatory military service of 21 months. The duration of service varies from branch to branch of the military. In general, with very few exceptions, most South Korean males serve in the military. Exemptions are granted to Korean male citizens with physical disabilities or whose mental status is unstable or questionable. When a Korean man becomes of legal age, he is required to take a physical check-up to determine whether he is suitable for military service.

(SHINee freaking out on Hello Baby over conspiracies of going to the army after seeing soldiers)

There are some controversies portrayed in Korean media concerning special treatment given to celebrities. Some celebrities are given exemptions to their mandatory military service, even though they clearly have no physical disabilities. The government has begun implementing tougher sanctions to those who attempt to avoid their military duty. It is considered shameful, undutiful, and treasonous for a man to take measures to avoid his military service when he is healthy and capable of fulfilling his 22 month requirement. In 2002 Yoo Seung Jun, a Korean pop singer, became a naturalized American citizen to avoid his military duty in Korea. For this reason, Korea has banned Yoo from the country and actually deported him. Another recent example is MC Mong, a popular singer/rapper accused of avoiding his military service by having his molar teeth removed. On 11 April 2011, MC Mong was sentenced to a suspended jail term of 6 months, probation for one year, and 120 hours of community service. Source

If you would like to read more about Citizens questioning the compulsory nature of military service, there is a great article on the BBC which is here.

(Super Junior’s Heechul and Leeteuk emotional thanks and goodbye at their last stage before their military service)

Now that we all have some background information, all male (idols) citizens must complete a mandatory military service of 21 months which is less than 2 years (THIS IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE). There are only exemptions if you have physical disabilities or unstable mental status and with idols healthy bodies and mentality they would obviously not be an exemption. On the grape vine, the age range you must do your service is between 18-35 OR 20-30 (Too many sources stated different things.) 

(Classic Idol of H.O.T Tony An)

Now forget about the speculation that idols receive special treatment in the military for a second. Going to do military service is a daunting task whether it’s a young adult whose a student, a husband, a son, a brother or an idol. I can’t say for sure what they are required to do, but i can only assume constant training would be physically and mentally draining. This takes up almost 2 years of your life, whether it’d be taking off time from tertiary courses, taking off time from work, taking off time from your family and friends or in this case taking off time from your idol career. Taking anyone out of their comfort zone of working in an office, teaching children or singing on stage and placing them in a different environment is a hardship in itself. Now i can only assume that majority of citizens do their time while they’re quite young to get it over and done with. Whereas with idols having being trainees from a young age, leaving to do military service questions the possibilities of having your opportunity of an idol career taken away from you if you leave. It is already uncertain whether you would debut, throw 2 years mandatory military service into the mix and it only creates confusion and mixed emotions. There is only a small amount of idols who have done their military service prior to debut. For example 2AM’s Changmin. 2 years in the media is a very long time, especially with new rookie groups coming out, productions of film music and movies. (Think about how long it feels waiting for your favourite group to make a comeback or for that mv to be released.) It is also difficult to be certain of whether your comeback after 2 years would be welcomed and be awaited by fans. These scenarios and situations has led to reality variety shows such as ‘Idol Army’ which supposedly compensate as an on going series for idol groups for variety and entertainment.

(Idol Army: MBLAQ, 2PM and KARA, and yes a female group, interesting…)

The reality is that at the end of the day idols are human too and are no exemption to military service. Military is some sort of an equalizer, with the same appearance (uniform, hair), same purpose to train and same amount of time to do. As an idol it is always good to set an example to those who look up to you (in this case perhaps younger males).

There are cases where military service is not depicted with negative connotations. Military service is seen as patriotic, masculine and a symbol of strength. 


Secret Garden’s Hyun Bin soared to popularity after the drama was a hit, almost straight after he left to do his time.  “If one is a Korean male citizen and is a healthy man, then it is his duty to serve in the military.” Hyun Bin stated, “This is my first time saying this, but I want to be careful. I think it’s become overrated. Because this was something I was preparing on my own, I received physical examinations even during filming for the drama.”

“However, it all became such a big deal. On one hand, I am thankful that many are so supportive of my decision. Yet I wish people wouldn’t make a big deal about something that I feel is necessary.”


Comedian HaHa of Running Man remained cheerful and bubbly as his usual self as MBC filmed a doco on the joys and hardships of soldiers.

2PM’s Taecyeon gave up his American Permanent residence visa so that he could enlist and fulfil the mandatory service as a Korean male citizen. He plans to get eye corrective sugery so that he is healthy and is not exempted. After seeing such a severe national event, I began to reflect upon myself.”

Tv personality Boom recently was welcomed back with open arms after formally discharged from the army. Despite his time away, his comeback looks promising after producers of ‘Strong Heart’ hosted a welcome back session and had lots of coverage in the media. He had many inspirational and motivating things to say.

, “I trained my hardest, knowing that it’s my duty to my nation. Now I believe that my duty is to bring happiness and joy to our citizens, so I will be using what I learned in the army to passionately make everyone laugh on TV.”

“I’m grateful to my time in the army because it allowed me to see and understand myself for who I truly am. What I felt within my service was that the Korean army is stronger than what’s perceived externally. I hope that everyone puts their trust in us and lives happily.

Okay so we’ve discussed the idols but what about us fans? Fans are those who follow their activities, support their projects and partially fund their living. Fans are those who look up to the idols for support, inspiration, admiration and entertainment. It is not only the idols who are emotional but the fans aswell. To put it simply: fans are going to miss them. I could sit here and write every emotion but i’m not. Not only that, fans want the best for their idols eg “they’re have to rest they are working to hard..” “they’re not getting enough sleep..” “it’s too dangerous and the security…”. Most importantly fans want their idols to be healthy and safe. Dedicated fans insist on waiting for their comeback despite feeling emotional and sad they are also the ones who are strong. They know that the songs will never change, the variety shows they have watched a million times aren’t going to go away and the idol they loved will always be apart of them. These fans, they appear to hold their fandom together. 

Now with the latest media coverage of Super Junior’s Leeteuk and Heechul enlisting by next year, it has been a very emotional time for Elfs as not only there was an exciting come back of Mr Simple but the sad news aswell. After winning many awards for their successful comeback…

Leeteuk expressed, “Thank you to everyone who has given us love. Heechul is also leaving for the army soon, so thank you for giving us such a special gift.”

Heechul added, “This was my last stage before the army. It feels great to have been given such a special award before my leave. I’m always thankful to Jungsoo (Leeteuk) as well as the other members. For the fans who have loved us, I love you too. Thank you to all the staff of ‘Inkigayo’ who gave us so much of their time, and I’m especially thankful to all the managers who put up with my bad temper. I’m not very good at expressing myself, so I’ll just leave it here. I’ll come back safely, stay healthy!”

As a fan, I wish them the best of luck and thank them the laughs, music and positive energy they have influenced in my life. (Super Junior’s Happiness was the very first kpop song i got into, which was 5 years ago… oh god i’m old). I’m sure many other fans(elfs) are grateful and probarbly have alot more deep and meaningfuls to share aswell. 

At the end of the day, idols are human aswell and are required to do what any other normal korean citizen has to do aswell.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the images. What is written is either my opinion or has been sourced.

Opinions, Discussions are always welcome! What do you guys think? Are you an elf? if you’re how are you feeling? Do you think military service should be mandatory for everyone? When do you think idols should do their time? What is the one thing you’re going to miss?

Filed under kpop kpoprealitycheck army military service article heechul leeteuk boom tony an hyun bin army soldier idol fan idol army elf

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