Lee Tae-min is by no means the first K-pop star to be forced to put his career on hold to fulfill a mandatory obligation to join the South Korean military, but still, this enlistment feels different
People outside South Korea like to compare K-pop idols to Western artists pretty much all the time—but especially when explaining the South Korean enlistment process to nonfans. For example, “Can you imagine if Justin Bieber or Harry Styles had to stop during the height of their careers to go join the army for two years! Weird, right?” For international fans with limited knowledge of Korean culture, the idea that almost all South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 28 must enlist in the South Korean military for a 20-month service—including K-pop stars—is admittedly a little tough to comprehend. There’s only so much you can do to help Western music fans understand the strangeness of watching an active artist be forced to temporarily walk away from a thriving career. But simply imagining someone like Nick Jonas leaving the music industry to serve in the army isn’t quite sufficient, especially when it comes to understanding the impact of K-pop’s latest idol to enlist: Lee Tae-min, soloist and star of groups SHINee and SuperM, better known by the mononym Taemin.