Korean music labels file complaint over new military deferment law

It was filed by the Korea Music Content Association on behalf of its members

The Korea Music Content Association (KMCA) has filed an official complaint to the Ministry Of National Defense over a revised military deferment law set to take effect from June 23, 2021.

The KMCA has allegedly filed the objection on behalf of 26 of its 27 member agencies, including South Korea’s “Big Three” agencies: SM, JYP, and YG entertainment, as reported by Korea JoongAng Daily. A number of other well-known agencies who are part of the association are also involved in the complaint.

The amendment, which passed last year, allows pop musicians who have received cultural merits from the Ministry Of Culture, Sports and Tourism to defer their enlistment until the age of 30. It had been put forward by Rep. Jeun Young-gi, who cited the global success of BTS.


In South Korea, all able-bodied men are required to enlist by the age of 28. Currently, special exemptions are granted to athletes, actors, directors and classical musicians who have made a significant international impact.

Typically, only musicians who have been active for at least 15 years can be awarded cultural merits. Citing this in its complaint, the KMCA called the amendment “unrealistic and unfair”, saying it is near-impossible for K-pop musicians to qualify before the age of 28.

“If a male musician would want to meet the criteria before he turns 28, he has to begin his K-pop career when he’s 13 years old at the latest,” said a KMCA official. “And that doesn’t even mean that they can defer their services. That’s only the requirement to apply for the merit. There’s a separate set of standards to see whether they actually get the chance to defer their services.”

Grammy-nominated group BTS were awarded the Order of Cultural Merit by President Moon Jae-In in 2018 as an exception for their extraordinary international success. At the time, the group were only five years into their career. BTS are the only K-pop act that have been awarded cultural merits at such a young age, making them the only act that qualifies for deferment.

The KMCA also claimed that the law discriminates against the pop music industry, as men who establish start-ups or pursue graduate and post-graduate studies abroad are eligible to defer. It called for more realistic standards, which would allow more pop acts to qualify for deferment.


“We are not blindly saying we want lower standards,” said the KMCA official. “All we ask is that the ministry come up with standards that can be met and fulfilled by musicians, not extraordinary measures that cannot be made.”

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