South Korean Pop Sensation Rain Joins the Army

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South Korean pop singer Rain gives a military salute to his fans in front of an army training center in Uijeongbu, north of of Seoul, on October 11, 2011

Suddenly, there’s been a surge of female interest in joining the armed forces.

Rain, the South Korean pop star and actor, is swapping records for regiments, concerts for corporals and — yes — music for the military. The 29-year-old, who has basically turned our top spot in the TIME 100 reader poll into a veritable second home, is undertaking the best part of two years of military service. And on Tuesday, with haircut duly cropped, he gave a salute to the masses of fans who had gathered to wish him well before he left for an army base in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul.

Despite starting his service at a relatively late age, Rain doesn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. (And good luck using that moniker over the next 21 months — we imagine he’ll be called by his real name, Jung Ji-hoon.) Nearly all able-bodied South Korean men are expected to serve, which is a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. The only exceptions are athletes, Olympic gold medal winners, or those deemed to have improved the country’s image with their accomplishments. But those in showbiz? No such luck.

(PHOTOS: Korean Pop Star Rain)

“Thank you for the 10 years of love,” Rain told hundreds of fans as his eyes welled up with tears. But Rain might have ended up crying for a different reason had he not undertaken his military service. Indeed, he risked a potential public backlash since South Korea does not take kindly toward draft dodgers.

For instance, Song Seung-heon, the Korean drama star who is well known across Asia, incurred the wrath of the people in 2004 when he reportedly tried to dodge the draft. But he succumbed in the end with his career now getting back on track.

But what marks out those in showbiz from sports? “Entertainers are thought to work for their own sakes. That’s the difference,” Hwang Sang-min, a Yonsei University psychology professor and commentator on pop culture, told Yahoo. But whereas once upon a time, a prolonged period out of the spotlight could harm a career, it can nowadays boost one’s profile, presumably because being seen to do the right thing still matters. “The fact that Rain entered the army without any attempts to be exempted will positively affect his future career,” said Kim Hee-ra, a 21-year-old Sogang University student in Seoul.

Rain is also in mighty fine pop star company, following on more than fifty years after a certain Elvis Presley was drafted into the U.S. army at the height of his fame. We will miss Rain, but are beyond excited for the music and movies inspired by this experience that will (ahem) pour out of him.

VIDEO: 10 Questions with Rain

Glen Levy is an Executive Producer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @glenjl. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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