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K-pop fans anguished as boy band star voluntarily enlists in military service

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Fans worldwide are expressing shock and dismay after D.O., a member of the global K-pop boy band EXO, announced that he will be leaving the band to enlist in the South Korean military on July 1.

The decision, which caught many fans off guard because it comes before his required enlistment date, has elicited online responses ranging from the plaintive “PLEASE NO” and “I’m so sad this can’t happen” to the anguished “NOOOOO” and “THIS BETTER NOT BE TRUE I WANT TO DIE.”

“It’s a decision I made after a long consideration, and I promise to safely return in good health,” D.O., a 26-year-old whose real name is Do Kyung-Soo, said in a hand-written letter posted Wednesday on Instagram.

Lee Young Ho/Sipa USA via AP
Do Kyung-soo attends photo call for the South Korean Animated film ‘Underdog Premiere in Seoul, South Korea on January 7, 2019.

EXO, formed by SM Entertainment and nicknamed “Kings of K-pop,” made their debut in 2012 as a nine-member Korean-Chinese boy band, and quickly gained fame after releasing albums in multiple languages. D.O. has also made his mark as an actor in film and TV, most recently starring in the 2018 film “Swing Kids.”

He has asked that his enlistment time and location be kept private, according to SM Entertainment.

Article 39 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea requires all South Korean male citizens age 18 and older to serve in the military for at least 18-21 months, unless eligible for exemption.

Currently, military exemptions are offered to high-achieving athletes, artists, classical musicians and dancers who have significantly contributed to the promotion of national prestige. For sports figures, these contributions are measured by medals won at the Asian Games or Olympics, while for artists, eligibility is determined by their placement at designated national and international arts competitions, according to the Military Service Act.

Exemptions have become a hot topic in recent years, with many wondering if they should be extended to global pop stars and other male singers at the height of their careers.

“The standards of the military exemption on artists are too ambiguous, and there needs to be clearer guidelines,” Jessie Cho, a student from Yonsei University, told ABC News, pointing out that boy bands like EXO and BTS enhance national prestige and contribute to the national economy no less than classical musicians.

PHOTO: South Korean boy group Exo perform onstage during their The ElyXiOn concert on June 2, 2018 in Hong Kong. VCG via Getty Images
South Korean boy group Exo perform onstage during their ‘The ElyXiOn’ concert on June 2, 2018 in Hong Kong.

But those who disagree say profits from K-pop bands benefit only the artists themselves and not the nation as a whole.

“Sure, they do serve as cultural ambassadors,” Ahn Saeyeon, an Ewha Womans University student told ABC News, “but their ultimate goal is to make profits.”

D.O. is the second member of EXO to serve in the military, following band member Xiumin. D.O.’s military service will end on January 25, 2021.

ABC News’ Hakyung Kate Lee, Hansol Park and Sorah Choi contributed to this report.

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