Here are the men we can’t wait for to be back.
As is customary in South Korea, men do their military service as soon as they finish their schooling.
Most celebrities, however, wait until the age of 29, at which point they have hopefully cemented a place for themselves in the entertainment industry, ready and waiting for them to get back.
Because the Korean War never actually ended—since 1953 they are on a truce—Korean men must do their years of training. Most of them qualify for active service, which is around a year and nine months.
Active service involves living in the base for the entire service length, and soldiers are completely trained in military life, from shooting drills to learning how to dig trenches and the like. The options for public service are Army, Navy, Marines, and the Air Force.
The other option is public service. This lasts for two tears, and care for those usually with a pre-existing condition, like an injury, or bad eyesight. Men in public service do four weeks of basic training, after which they can go home and are assigned to public duty service, like working as traffic wardens or as a public assistant in schools).
For most men, active service is seen as a point of pride, especially when one does it exceptionally well. That’s the best way to earn goodwill: be a legendary public service soldier and Korea will love you forever. Public service is nothing to scoff at, of course, but most men look down on celebrities who do this, believing they are doing it only as an easy way out.
I, as a non-Korean person, am in no place to judge. I also think celebrities and their agencies aren’t stupid: they know anyone trying to run away from any form of service is a good way of ruining a career, usually forever. (This has happened in the past.) So whatever the powers that be have decided, there is nothing we can do about it.
For fans, the hardest years in stunning a male celebrity are the enlistment years, especially for idols. Actors have it easier: they tend to have more longevity in their careers whereas male idols are in a more precarious position.
Who can say their legions of fans will still be there? If you are willing to wait, a military tracker app is available for you to peruse. Called Goondori, the app tracks how long a service length has to go, and how far until the next dates of promotion and salary raise (yes there’s a salary!) are. The average Korean woman probably uses it to track her son/brother/boyfriend’s service, but we use it for our favorites.
Other than Goondori, the other thing that makes the wait bearable are the updates. The celebrities are in the army, mixing with the hoi polloi, who usually tell their families or girlfriends about the celebrity:
“OP (original poster, the writer of the account) says that Chanyeol is tall with a small face and gave us his credit card to buy food at the Army store.”
The stories are sweet because it gives us a glimpse of what these men are like during one of the few normal moments they’ve had in their adult lives.
The nine-member male idol group currently has four members in the military: Suho (public service), Chen (active service), Chanyeol (active), and Baekhyun (public). Two members have already finished: Xiumin (2019-2020) and D.O (2019-2020) while Lay, the lone Chinese member doesn’t have to go.
In the next two years, the youngest members of the group Kai and Sehun will go and do their service, expecting to finish by 2025.
This means EXO will have had a military enlistment that will have lasted from 2019-2025, making it one of the longest. This year, the group is officially on hiatus, while those not in the army take the time to pursue solo projects.
Actor Park Bogum enlisted in the Navy in August of last year and will be there until April 2022. In a letter he wrote to his fans, he mentioned that he was taking the time to appreciate the quieter points in life, while he was digging snow.
“Doing such work made me feel grateful for all people out there who work hard to provide a safer and cleaner environment for us. These days, I feel like I have taken many things for granted when they should have been more appreciated,” he writes.
As the youngest member of SHINee, Taemin at the age of 29 didn’t have to go to the military yet. However, the rest of his group have already finished, and due to COVID-19, he and SM Entertainment decided now was the best time to go.
After all, when the pandemic ends (hopefully), he’ll be done with his service and Shinee can get back on stage together.