Imagine if Justin Timberlake or Usher were plucked from their comfortable lives of celebrity bachelordom and enlisted in the armed forces. South Korean pop star (and actor in American films such as Speed Racer and Ninja Assassin) Rain, a 29-year-old so internationally successful that he was able to sell out consecutive dates at Madison Square Garden and even made an online Time list of the 100 most influential people in the world back in 2006, has begun his mandatory two-year term of service in the South Korean military, much to the heartbreak of his millions of fans. “Thank you for the 10 years of love,” Rain told said fans in a tearful final message before giving a military salute and disappearing into in army base in Uijeongbu.
In Korea, all males are expect to serve a term about two-three years in the country’s military, a policy stemming from the days of the Korean War from which certain athletes are exempted (including Cleveland Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who was excused due to his helping Korea win the baseball Gold Medal in the 2010 Asia Games) but no such entertainers, obviously including Rain. Though a couple entertainers have attempted to dodge the mandatory service, doing so is culturally frowned upon, and news of them doing so has damaged their careers—such as actor Song Seung-Heon, who eventually joined voluntarily to quash the scandal that arose from the reporting of his evasive maneuvering.
America went through something like this over half a century ago, when Elvis Presley joined the military for two years, an event that many incorrectly predicted (and some still erroneously claim) would kill rock and roll. Still, it’s hard to imagine something like that happening today to one of our nation’s greatest pop stars, and even harder to imagine it happening not because of a war or some sort of national crisis, but just because that’s the way military service worked in our country. Best of luck to Rain for an uneventful service time and an expedient return to the limelight. (Maybe in time for Speed Racer 2?)