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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    First BTS member finishes military service, pledges hugs for 1,000 fans

    K-pop band BTS's member Jin, left, is greeted by other members after being discharged from a mandatory military service outside of an army base in Yeoncheon, South Korea, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (Im Byung-shik/Yonhap via AP)

    Jin, the oldest member of the South Korean pop sensation BTS, completed his mandatory national service on Wednesday, leaving a military barracks in fatigues — free to resume his musical career.

    Jin, 31, whose legal name is Kim Seok-jin, is the first of the seven-person K-pop group to complete his military service in South Korea. He stepped out of a military base in Yeoncheon, in the country’s north, and gave a final salute to his cohort before being met by some of his fellow bandmates. RM, wearing a blue overshirt and navy hat, played their hit song “Dynamite” on a saxophone.

    “It’s been such a long time since I was last on camera,” Jin told fans in a live chat later Wednesday, adding that his eyes were swollen from crying during his military discharge ceremony.

    BTS announced a hiatus in group activities in June 2022 to focus on solo projects and later extended the break until “around 2025” so they could complete their military service. The remaining six members — Suga, RM, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook — are currently completing their national service.

    Earlier this week, the band’s record label, BigHit Music, advised fans not to show up at Jin’s military base on Wednesday to prevent “overcrowding.” Instead, it urged fans in a statement to “please convey your warm regards and encouragement in your hearts.”

    BigHit added that today Jin will attend a fan event and give out free hugs to 1,000 people there. He is also planning to release a solo album later this year, it said.

    “I am back after a year and six months, everyone,” Jin, still wearing his military uniform, told fans in a live chat on Wednesday after leaving the barracks.

    “I feel weird saying this myself, but I did really well in the military … I was the mood maker for our company. We got along so well that they all cried when I left,” he said.

    “My family is back,” tweeted one fan. “Congratulations Jin, proud of you Jin,” wrote another. One simply said: “I’m crying.”

    Even the U.S. Embassy in Seoul weighed in, saying: “Congratulations on completing your military service, Jin. We look forward to seeing [BTS] continue to make a positive impact in [South Korea] and around the world.”

    Under a conscription system established to counter threats from North Korea, South Korea requires all able-bodied men in the country to serve at least 18 months in the armed forces by age 28. Conscripts serve for 18 months in the army and the marines, 20 months in the navy and 21 months in the air force.

    Men with physical limitations or health concerns are allowed to perform alternative services, such as holding administrative roles in the community. Fellow BTS band member Suga is carrying out a social service role to complete his duties, reportedly due to a shoulder injury.

    The band said in 2022 that all eligible BTS members would fulfill their military obligations. At the time, the decision ignited a social debate in South Korea about whether pop stars should be excused from military service because of their artistic achievements. K-pop stars are not usually exempt, though South Korea does give exceptions to some athletes and award-winning artists - mostly classical and traditional, which do not include BTS.

    The band’s legion of superfans — somewhat aptly known as the “Army” — had called for exemptions for the group, arguing that the K-pop group had through its work heightened South Korea’s reputation as a cultural powerhouse and contributed to the country’s economy.

    Jin had deferred his conscription until age 30 and began his 18-month stint in December 2022, unveiling at the time a military buzz cut.

    BTS debuted in 2013 and has since been nominated for several Grammy awards and sold tens of millions of records with popular hits including “Stay,” “Fake Love” and “Butter.”

    It has also collaborated with Western musicians including Nicki Minaj, Coldplay and Halsey and has taken on soft power roles addressing the United Nations and meeting with President Joe Biden and other world leaders.

    Min Joo Kim and Bryan Pietsch contributed to this report.

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