The Problems of Hallyu Idol System Seen in BTS “Break” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The Problems of Hallyu Idol System Seen in BTS “Break”

What are the problems in the K-pop world behind the sudden suspension of the world's top idols?

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RM (BTS’ leader) said, “I have to spend time on my own and then mature and become my own person. But after 10 years of being active in BTS, I’m so busy trying to physically fulfill my schedule that I can’t grow as a person.”

On June 14, the popular K-pop group BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan) announced on their YouTube “BANGTANTV” that they were taking a hiatus, causing upset among their fans around the world.

The leader of the group, RM (27), reflected on the current situation in the video as shown at the beginning of the video, “I felt like the group was in my hands until ‘Dynamite’ (August 2020). But after ‘Butter’ (May 2021) and ‘Permission To Dance’ (July 2021), I lost sight of what kind of group we were,” he said. They have not yet decided on the exact date that they will resume their group activities.

He said, “The pause in group activities began around the time of the release of the single “ON” from “MAP OF THE SOUL: 7,” released in February 2020. After that, we were going to do a world tour, but that also disappeared due to Corona. j-hope (28) was working on an album. While preparing for the album, j-hope said, “Jin (29) told me he wanted to be an actor.”


However, that does not seem to be the only reason. There is the commercialism of the K-pop idol world.

It is a common practice in the Korean idol industry to go to Japan and the rest of the world in search of a big hit. When they enter a foreign market, they need to have perfection. Therefore, entertainment production companies spend a lot of money to thoroughly train idols from the visual aspect to the performance aspect. The most successful artists, including BTS and TWICE, are basically living in condominiums provided by their agencies and train hard with the company.

For entertainment companies, idols are investment targets, and debuting them is simply a return on investment. For this reason, once they are affiliated with a company, they are bound by contract to keep them from transferring to other companies, and they are required to work at a strict schedule. The leader of the group, RM, says in his video, “The K-pop idol system itself does not allow people to mature. (omission) Because I have to constantly be showing out something, I don’t have time to grow.” This is how common it is in the industry to think of idols as commodities. The members’ budding will not to end up just being consumed may have led them to decide to take a break.

Another structural problem exists: military service. Writer Kim Hyang-cheong, an expert on South Korean politics, says, 

In South Korea, there is a conscription system, and men are obliged to serve in the military between their 20th and 28th birthdays. In the past, Yoo Seung-jun, 45, who was one of Korea’s most famous singers, escaped military service by acquiring American citizenship. He is still banned from entering Korea. Military service is such a serious obligation. BTS has had their enlistment postponed for two years due to the “BTS Law,” a revised law that went into effect in June 2020, for those who excel in the field of popular culture and art. However, Jin, the oldest member, will turn 30 this December, so he must enlist before then. Considering that most of the other members are also in their late 20s, it will be difficult for all of them to be together until around 2026.”


Due to various factors, the members have come to the conclusion that they will take a break from their group activities. They will focus on their solo activities from now on.

“Recently, the four-member group “SHINee” experienced a similar hiatus. In December 2018, one of the members enlisted in the military, and the group switched to focusing on solo activities. In 2021, the four members resumed their activities together, but in May of the same year, they again announced a hiatus due to a member’s military service.

After a period of inactivity, popularity naturally declines. There is a growing public opinion that idols who have achieved great achievements should be exempted from military service, similar to Olympic medalists, but this is unlikely to happen within the year. I think this structural problem will continue for some time in the idol industry.”

As of today, the stock price of their agency “HYBE” has plummeted by more than 20%, and the effects are spreading in many directions. As one of the world’s top idol groups, the aftermath of the suspension is likely to continue for some time.

  • Photo Kyodo News Images

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