Hordes of fans waited outside army headquarters in Yongin, southeast of Seoul, to greet the 31-year-old Big Bang rapper, who emerged early on Saturday morning wearing a military uniform and beret.
“I’m back after serving military service well. Thank you for waiting and coming here,” he told fans Saturday. “I’m not a soldier anymore. I will return to my job and (be) faithful to my work.”
Thousands more took to Twitter to celebrate his return. The hashtag #ONE_OF_A_KIND_GD — a reference to his 2012 solo EP — trended worldwide on Twitter on Saturday morning Korea time.
G-Dragon — whose real name is Kwon Ji-yong — is a member of K-pop group Big Bang, which has had huge success in both South Korea and around the world.
The South Korean government even played the group’s 2015 hit “Bang, Bang, Bang,” over the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to taunt their neighbors — with whom they are still technically at war, despite recent rapprochement — and make North Koreans curious about the south.
Stars in the military
Although G-Dragon is one of K-pop’s biggest names, he was still required to serve in the military.
South Korea has compulsory conscription, and almost all healthy men are required to serve time in the army. Under South Korean law, men must start their military service by the time they are 28. In the past, conscripts needed to serve two years, but that’s being gradually reduced so that by June 2020, conscripts will only need to serve 1 year and six months.
This can severely derail careers just as they’re taking off, and there are exemptions for top artists, musicians, and sports players, who don’t need to serve at a military base although they must still complete four weeks of basic training. People who win certain classical music competitions qualify for this exemption — but top K-pop stars do not.
Earlier this month, the government said they would review the rules around military exemptions.
In 2018, South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-kyung brought BTS up at the National Assembly meeting, saying the current rules were a “double standard.”
“If you win first place in classical music competition for violinist or pianist, you can receive exemption but not if you win first place on the Billboard chart with commercial music,” he said.
Time is running out for BTS. The band’s oldest member, Jin — whose real name is Kim Seok-jin — turns 27 in December.
The band’s management has indicated that BTS members will perform their service.
Julia Hollingsworth reported from Hong Kong. Jake Kwon reported from Seoul.