Dreaded 'gunbaekgi' period for K-pop boy bands isn't so bad anymore

All members of BTS are currently completing their mandatory military service. This picture was taken on Dec. 11 when BTS's Jimin and Jungkook enlisted. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

This year started on a low note for ARMY, the dedicated fan club of K-pop megastar BTS, after the four remaining members of the band — RM, V, Jimin and Jungkook — bid farewell and started their mandatory military services last December.

It won’t be until June 2025 that all BTS members are back together, but the band has prepared well to minimize their absence from the fans — and they’re not alone in their endeavors.

Fans of K-pop boy bands all inevitably have to say a temporary goodbye as all eligible males are mandated to serve around a year and a half in the military before they turn 30 years old, but changes in the online world and in the Korean military system have allowed the stars to embrace their time away from the stage, referred to as gunbaekgi in Korean, with a lighter heart.

With prerecorded songs, continuous social media engagement and online content, K-pop boy bands are now able and allowed to keep in contact with their fans and keep their adoration quite alive and thriving through the months that band members serve their country.

Jimin, left, and Jungkook of BTS [NEWS1]

Time to say goodbye

Gunbaekgi is a Korean term referring to the hiatus of boy bands as the members complete their mandatory military service. It is a portmanteau of the words gun, meaning military, and gongbaekgi, meaning hiatus or break in time.

In Korea, all able-bodied young Korean men must serve 18 months or more in the military, depending on their branch, unless determined unfit for service.

Not so long ago, the word “military” for K-pop boy band members was equivalent to a death sentence to their career, as the two-year services that were mandated in the past often resulted in a diminished fandom and new prominent boy bands making competition even tougher.

But now that stars are able to log on to the social media during their service more often than the past, the same period is now considered more like a time for the band and its members to refresh, recharge and grow.

The key point is that these members remind the fans of their existence through premade content and occasionally showing their faces by writing messages online from time to time.

In other words, the members can try to be more present with their fans, even though it may not be as much as before enlistment.

A scene from EXO member Baekhyun's YouTube [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Ready-made and already-made

The first and foremost method of staying in touch is to make content before entering the military and then release them one by one.

Baekhyun from EXO is a great example.

Baekhyun left the entertainment scene for his enlistment on May 6, 2021. Though the singer was gone, he uploaded monthly YouTube content for his fans. He uploaded 20 posts after his enlistment until Jan. 17, 2023, and completed his military service on Feb. 5 that year.

All of the singer’s content was recorded before he entered the military, which was planned according to the seasons as well.

Baekhyun is not the only star to have planned such events. K-pop artists such as SF9’s Inseong posted monthly content, titled “Monthly Inseong,” and MonstaX’s Shownu uploaded “SHOWNUayo” during their enlistments.

BTS's V appears in singer IU's ″Love wins all″ music video [SCREEN CAPTURE]

BTS members are also following this trend, with member Jin posting monthly videos titled “Seokjin of n month” (translated) on BTS’s official YouTube channel. Suga is also uploading prerecorded content “Time to Drink with SUGA” (translated) on the band’s channel.

The band also came out with a Disney+ documentary series “BTS Monuments: Beyond the Star,” the last episode of which was released on Jan. 10.

BTS’s V recently made a surprise appearance in singer-songwriter IU’s music video for “Love wins all.” The music video surpassed 35 million views within a week of its release.

Be there, at least online

Social media plays a significant role in keeping fans updated on what's happening with enlisted artists.

Phones were completely prohibited for soldiers until early 2020. Then in July 2020, the military implemented a policy allowing soldiers to use their phones during designated hours, depending on their military branch. This newly allowed artists to communicate with their fans even while they were in the military.

BTS member Jin's YouTube video titled “Seokjin of n month” (translated), on BTS’s official YouTube channel, uploaded in January [SCREEN CAPTURE]

BTS’s Jin often posts messages and pictures on his band’s Weverse channel.

He recently posted on Weverse that he got promoted to sergeant on Dec. 4. Member Jimin and Jungkook also each left a message — Jimin uploading a handwritten letter — on Weverse on the day that they ended their basic military training, Jan. 17.

SHINee's Key also uploaded over 40 posts on his Instagram while he was in the military from March 2019 to October 2020, keeping his fans updated.

These messages don’t even have to be uploaded directly from artists to their fans.

The military has an official website and app for uploading soldiers’ pictures, and fans frequent the site to make sure they don't miss any news about the stars.

Pictures of BTS’s Jimin and Jungkook were recently uploaded on the site. The pictures of the two, who enlisted together on Dec. 12, show them posing with their guns, practicing military positions, and after their chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) defense training.

Rock band Day6’s subunit trio Day6(Even of Day), who was serving in the military at the time, reunited to perform for the KBS music program “Immortal Songs” on Oct. 1, 2023. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Just another schedule

One thing that fans enjoy is seeing their idols participate in military events, especially if it’s related to music. The appearances may also become a steppingstone for the artist to “rise and shine” again in the entertainment industry, even though they are officially taking a break from the scene.

Events include performing on stage or participating in military musicals.

Rock band DAY6’s subunit trio DAY6(Even of Day), who was serving in the military at the time, reunited to perform on the KBS music program “Immortal Songs” 74th Armed Forces Day special, aired on Oct. 1, 2022. The trio performed several of the band’s hit songs, including “Time of Our Life” (2019).

The band’s performance video from the event went viral on social media, reaching 2.9 million views, and the song entered the Top 100 daily chart of major Korean music platform Melon, sitting at No. 43 as of Feb. 6.

Rock band Day6’s subunit trio Day6(Even of Day), who was serving in the military at the time, reunited to perform for the KBS music program “Immortal Songs” on Oct. 1, 2023. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Military musicals are another event that K-pop artists often dive into. Musical “The Promise of The Day” (2019), starring major K-pop singers such as SHINee’s Onew and EXO’s Xiumin, sold out within 30 minutes after sales opened.

As K-pop artists show a new side of themselves to fans, it also gives them the opportunity to try out new things once they leave the military. Xiumin of EXO was cast for his first commercial musical, “Hadestown” (2022), after he completed his military service.

“Thanks to YouTube, the military risk has decreased dramatically,” pop music critic and journalist Park Hee-a said to the Korea JoongAng Daily. “The best part about YouTube is that the creator can fully manage when they upload the content, unlike TV programs, enabling them to record beforehand. Gunbaekgi now certainly isn’t as scary as it was in the past, and stars are beginning to embrace the period in various ways.”

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