How world’s biggest pop band BTS will swap 5-star hotels for brutal beatings & poison gas training in South Korean army | The Sun

SCRAMBLING in mud, choking in gas-filled rooms and roll calls at 6.30am are a far cry from the five-star hotels and pampered lives of millionaire pop stars.

But that’s exactly what K-pop sensations BTS will be facing over the next couple of years.

The Dynamite stars have announced they will complete their compulsory military service in their native South Korean army.

The country's law states that able-bodied men must complete national service between the ages of 18 and 35.

Fans had hoped that the seven-strong boy band, worth between £105m and £130m, would be exempt from the service due to a clause that allows celebrities to postpone or opt-out of their compulsory duty.

But this week their management company, Big Hit Music, confirmed they would each serve their time, beginning with oldest member Jin, who will enlist after turning 30 in December.   


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The six other members, born between 1993 and 1997, will follow suit, with the band expected to reform in 2025.

So what will the BTS boys face as they swap their sell-out tours for the theatre of war? Here we look at the tough life of a South Korean soldier.

Dawn roll call and verbal abuse

The day begins abruptly at 6.30am with a trumpet tune blaring over the public address system.

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South Korean navy's underwater demolition team on a drillCredit: AP

Soldiers are expected to get up and dressed in perfect uniform for a morning roll call before breakfast. 

The rest of the day is taken up with tough military training and gruelling physical exercise, including outdoor distance running.

They may also be assigned menial tasks, such as cleaning the quarters of higher-ranking officers. 

For newbies, the first five weeks are taken up with intensive training – with a huge dose of verbal abuse.

Speaking on Goyang TV, former conscript Gene Kim said the instructors in the basic training deliberately try to break you down.

“They intentionally try to intimidate you, try to scare you, in order to make you into a soldier,” he said. 

Instructors intentionally try to intimidate you, try to scare you, in order to make you into a soldier… You are yelled at constantly. You don't have a voice there

“This five weeks of training was one of the most intense experiences I had. You are yelled at constantly. You don't have a voice there. You can only do what you're told to do and nothing else.”

He revealed you quickly learn to jump to any order very fast because “if you hesitate you get picked on”.

He added: “You re-learn things that you thought you already knew.

"There's a certain way to eat. There's a certain way to stand. There’s a certain way to talk to people. There's a certain way to do everything in the military.”


An investigation by found that physical attacks from commanding officers are also common.

In 2014, a soldier was beaten to death by higher-ranking soldiers after weeks of bullying. 

That same year another conscript posted near the tense border with North Korea killed five colleagues in a shooting spree.

Authorities said the soldier had experienced difficulties adapting to military life.

Maskless in gas-flled room

One of the exercises, designed to prepare soldiers for chemical attacks, involves groups being sent into rooms full of toxic gas.

Entering with their masks on, they are ordered to take them off and, while the gas used has no long-term effects, Gene Kim said “anywhere that's exposed would hurt like hell".

“It feels like a thousand needles just pinching on to you and grabbing onto you," he continued.

"And when you inhale this gas, it feels like you're suffocating. Basically, you can’t breathe.  

“It's just chaos in that tiny room. Everyone’s grabbing onto each other. Everyone’s rolling on the floor.

"There was this one guy, he ran to the door trying to get out, but there was a guard there who prevented that. And it was total chaos.”

Smartphone ban before suicide link

Up until 2019, mobile phones were banned for the duration of service in the South Korean army.

But the high rate of mental health illness and suicides in the ranks led to a change of heart, and soldiers are now permitted to use devices in the evenings.

While taking photos is still banned, being able to communicate with family and friends, play video games and follow events on social media has eased the feeling of isolation felt among conscripts.

Government data shows that in 2020, 42 deaths by suicide occurred in the military, down from 62 the previous year and 56 in 2018.

The overall number of violations of military law also dropped from 6,066 to 5,493, which observers put down to the change in their smartphone policy. 

Last year it was reported that phone access was being monitored after a soldier was found to have been trading images of sexually abused children.

In a statement, the Ministry of National Defence stated that soldiers were prevented from illegal activity, including accessing pornography and gambling.

Sex attack 'silenced'

Dark claims have been made about the military culture – and despite an overhaul, it's unclear how much has changed.

Last year a female Air Force officer took her own life after reporting she was sexually assaulted by a colleague.

She claimed the attack happened after a group dinner and that she was pressured to drop the case.

Following her death the government ordered the formation of a task force to monitor culture, and the chief officer of the Air Force resigned.


BTS may be in for a bit of a shock when it comes to the food.

Last year a photograph which compared the measly portions given to soldiers to the generous serving enjoyed by generals went viral.

The originator of the post, known as Yukdaejeon, has shared other rationed meals and poor hygiene practices in the kitchens.

They included one snap with drenched bits of newspaper floating in a meaty sauce.

The problem was so bad that former President Moon apologised, saying: "It is regretful that substandard meals to our military personnel were provided."

The rations system has since been overhauled with the budget for soldiers' meals upped by 20 per cent, 47 nutritionists being hired and food contracts being opened for bids to encourage better quality food.

'Below minimum wage'

Wages have regularly been a contentious issue for the South Korean military and were listed in the pledge of current President Yoon Suk-yeol before he was elected.

In January he vowed to increase conscripted soldiers' monthly wage from 676,100 won (£420) to 2million won (£1,240) by the end of his five-year term in 2027.

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This still falls short of the average South Korean's income, which was 3.8million won (£2,360) per month last year.

The wages are still an improvement from previous years; before an 88 per cent salary rise in 2018, soldiers' monthly takings were 163,000 won (£101).

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