News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

K-pop fans get 'enlistment depression' as last BTS members join bandmates in military


There's some sad news for fans of the Korean pop band BTS, who call themselves the Army. Leaders of that so-called army are now all in the real army.


Yesterday, singers RM and V from BTS joined the rest of their bandmates to start their 18-month compulsory military service in South Korea. And while the K-pop stars embraced their duty, their fan base is taking it a little harder - like this fan who goes by the name of @faceofe on TikTok.


FACEOFE: So to cure the enlistment depression, I went to Koreatown. I ate a lot of good Korean food. Anyway, that was my way of coping because I'll be missing them.

FADEL: Food is also my way of coping, but a better cure might be listening to their music.


BTS: (Singing) Hey - shining through the city with a little funk and soul, so I'ma light it up like dynamite, whoa.

FADEL: What you're hearing is the group's 2020 hit "Dynamite," which helped propel the band to popularity beyond Korea during some hard times.

GRACE KAO: It was really during COVID. We're all on YouTube a little bit more than before. They announce that they're going to do these online concerts, and their three online concerts are the highest-grossing online concerts of all time.

MARTIN: That's Grace Kao, a professor of sociology at Yale University. She says BTS' global reach inspired her to study the K-pop genre, and that the group's global impact goes beyond music.

KAO: I noticed how quickly their fans went to defend them when they experienced racism. Fans were not going to let people get away with that. Because of them, suddenly racism against Asian Americans was no longer tolerated.

FADEL: Kao says although BTS are not the first Korean artists to go global, the group's influence is changing the way Asians are seen in America.

KAO: The fact that they were on magazine covers, but not as someone that's geeky or martial artists, but as regular people that are seen as attractive - right? - that are musicians, that just seem like regular people.

MARTIN: Kao also says that BTS' popularity has contributed to South Korea's economy and beyond.

KAO: Those artists have a really tremendous amount of influence. K-pop artists promote the country, directly and indirectly. BTS was the ambassador for Seoul for many years.

FADEL: Now, it's unclear if the group will be allowed to sing while they're enlisted, but Kao says there are plenty of K-pop artists to explore before the group is expected to reunite in 2025.

MARTIN: Excuse me, Leila, there is only one BTS.

FADEL: (Laughter) Sorry, Michel. I won't do that again.


BTS: (Singing) ...Right, left, to my beat, get it, let it roll. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.