The glory of BTS's enlistment period

The glory of BTS's enlistment period
Courtesy of Hybe

On Thursday night, I saw Suga of BTS in concert. It was at a NYC AMC, and a recording of his Agust D-Day tour's final Seoul date. I had previously been in-awe of the theatrical, personal slant of the show when I saw it live last year, and getting to relive it brought back all those feelings.

It also reminded me that I had wanted to write a newsletter about how much BTS is doing, even though they're technically on hiatus.

BTS's members are in the literal army, yet it still feels like they're serving up plenty of content for ARMY.

Since December 2022 when Jin enlisted, BTS hasn't been together as seven. All of the others have gone in over time, and Jin is set to return to citizen life in June. But it won't be until next year when all of BTS is done serving South Korea's compulsory military service that all able-bodied men serve.

After years of discourse, there was major trepidation over what would happen to BTS when the time for the members to enlist came up. A year and a half to two years (depending on the service) of being out of the spotlight for the biggest pop group of this generation? Unfathomable.

It even become a serious political talking point among politicians and the public in South Korea, since military service is a very sensitive subject, especially since the country's population makeup is changing and there will eventually be too few men to keep the service as it is.

But in June 2022, BTS announced the time had come. They were going on hiatus as a seven-member act, and going to come back after they finished their duty. This announcement itself set off a flurry of honestly hilarious (in retrospect) hand-wringing over the term "hiatus" and what this meant for their future, despite it already being quite clear they'd return after the fact, at the very least to fulfill contractual obligations. In 2018, BTS renewed their contract with Hybe through at least 2025, and then they re-upped it again last year beyond that.

All of this is to say that there was a lot of stress around the enlistment, and what it will mean for the group when they return.

But what it didn't say was that the group would release so much content in the meantime, predominantly as soloists but not solely, that the enlistment era for BTS would be a new creative renaissance.

When other K-pop groups have gone through their enlistment stage of life, it's gone one of a few ways: 1) They never return, and enlistment means their demise. 2) Members rotate in-and-out, and the group remains active, with various lineups promoting. 3) Individual members focus on solos, and reunite after all of them have served. 4) They all go in at the same time, and come out as quickly as possible so the hiatus ends swiftly.

Sometimes, special material comes out, a single release is planned, but it's usually a pretty quiet period for artists' careers.

BTS combined the final two paths, with members focusing on solos and overlapping their enlistment period. Now that the end of Jin's enlistment is in sight, it's apparent that we will not, as a society, as a culture, as a fandom, go without an active citizen member of BTS for more than 6 months. Assuming things work in the typical manner, by next June, all of BTS will be out of the military and the period will end.

But what a period it will have been: a focus on solos, a variety of new creative developments and career paths, like high-profile variety show appearances, which I didn't even mention below. This was all so well-planned I'm surprised a course isn't being taught on it: how to fill a multi-billion-dollar void of a group with precision timing and content curation that makes it feel as if that much-feared hiatus is nothing more than a new stage of creative exploration.

While it'd be impossible to list everything, I wanted to take a quick look at what BTS have released while they've been officially out of the spotlight. It shows the immense planning and hard work that went into this all to ensure that it feels like even when they're not, BTS is here.

While I can't possible touch on everything, here's a quick look at what BTS's break looks like, just from a handful of big releases:

December 2022: Jin enlisted

Suga kicked of Suchwita YouTube show

February 2023: BTS: Yet to Come concert film released

March 2023: J-Hope released "On the Street" with J.Cole (And I interviewed him about it)

Jimin released his first album, Face

RM featured on So!YoON! of Se So Neon's "Smoke Sprite"

April 2023: J-Hope enlisted

Suga as Agust D releases D-Day and goes on tour

May 2023: BTS released a soundtrack, "The Planet," for a South Korean kids show, Bastions

RM featured on Colde's "Don't ever say love me"

June 2023: BTS released "Take Two" to commemorate their 10th anniversary.

Suga and Halsey's "Lilith" is the anthem for Diablo IV.

July 14: Jungkook released "Seven" feat. Latto

September 2023: Suga enlisted

V released his first album, Layover

October 2023: Jungkook teamed up with The Kid Laroi and Central Cee for "Too Much"

November 2023: Jungkook released his first album, Golden, and his own symbol

Permission to Dance on Stage in the US documentary

December 2023: RM and V, then Jimin and Jungkook enlisted

Jimin released the BTS and ARMY tribute "Closer Than This"

V appeared on Umi's "wherever u r"

Jungkook remixes "Standing Next to You" with Usher

BTS Monuments: Beyond the Star docuseries released

January 2024: V appears in IU's "Love wins all" music video

March 2024- J-Hope released Hope on the Street Vol. 1 and HOPE on the Street documentary series

V released "FRI(END)S"

April 2024: Release of D-Day Suga's concert film

I noticed that there were a few gaps, and was like, "wow, downtime? It didn't feel it." Then realized that's because those breaks were typically promotion periods, full of content.

If it seems like a lot, and scrolling took you a bit to get here, it's because it is. And it's even more immense to take a step back and realize I skipped out on one-off festival dates, most television show appearances, award shows, behind-the-scene look at things, and a bunch of other things I'm remembering as I'm in the editing process. Mostly, because if I were to do that, I'd be publishing this in a week from now while I look up everything. I ask your understanding in advance if I missed anything particularly egregious. If it was anything major you think should be added, please comment or email me and I'll add it ASAP.

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What I'm reading

Thoughts from people who had read my recent newsletter! Like Emily Haydel, who works in both sports and K-pop spaces, and shared some insight on the nuances of the sports world, which definitely are a major thing as well.

"On the note of hiring fans, I think inherently especially because a lot of people who work for these teams grew up in that city and therefore loving the team, they’re fans," wrote Haydel. "However, and I know this through friends in HR at some teams, you shouldn’t be a vocal like rabid fan bc it doesn’t contribute to the work place..might become unprofessional with players around. I do have friends who are fans that have stated their own media outlets/account and have become pundits on national networks etc depending on the league/the sport/the team and their PR/media strategy. Some love to give super fans a voice while others avoid like classifying a certain fan group if that makes sense....To clarify this, what I meant by 'some' is some sports teams will give fans/influencers a voice and put attention on those fans while other teams may not depending on the branding of that team! It’s interesting to analyze across various sports as well."

I actually redacted a line about this in the original texts between me and my friend, because it gave identifying info about the hiring process working with specific sports teams, but it seems generally sasaeng, or invasive fan, behavior is frowned upon everywhere, all the time.

Additionally, right after publishing, I saw some articles that make it seem like I wasn't the only one having some of these thoughts. Kayti and Steffi are amazing, definitely worth reading.

The Fan-Journalist Tightrope — Fansplaining
Low pay, minimal worker protections, and pushback from both publicists and fellow fans. Is covering the thing you love even worth it?
Sorry, Wall Street: Fangirls Run The Economy
In recent years, cultural critics have described the Internet as an “attention economy,” but it’s now undeniable: We live in a fangirl economy.

What I'm listening to

"OoWee" by Nowadays is the latest in a whole slew of boy band songs that have come out recently that have made me think that we're moving into a new sonic era for K-pop boy bands. That new era sounds a lot like older ones, something more similar to 2nd and 3rd gen styles rather than 4th gen, when bigger is better became the rule and few could truly make it their own. It's not to say that "OoWee" or any of the other songs I'm thinking of (TWS's "Plot Twist" and ONF's "Bye My Monster" both come to mind) feel outdated, but rather they're full of more melodies and harmonizing than I feel has been in fashion lately. There's also a sense of airiness, sometimes leaning towards brightness but not always (ONF is very dark), but the focus is less on shock factor and wowing people with the performance, and more the music itself. This is what the best K-pop songs have always done, and for a long time it's felt like a lot of the male acts were failing to really step it up, mostly everyone was chasing trends and nobody was trying anything new.

As I was writing that, I remembered I want to give "Deja Vu" by TXT a shoutout. I thought it was a smart move for them to go back to their angsty rock styling, and plays around with what they've done before and elevates it with some really cool discordant aural effects and off-kilter trap beats. I for one am a fan of where K-pop musically is at the moment. I hope 2024 continues to be a good year for the music.

And sadly... After I wrote this but before publishing, I heard the news of Park Boram's passing and wanted to take a moment. I really enjoyed a lot of her music, so want to take this moment to remember her for her life and not her tragic ending. May her memory be a blessing.