South Korea has a severe focus on higher education and this highly affects BTS who often talk about this in their lyrics.
So let's look at:
BTS VS EDUCATION
I'm going to be looking both at BTS lyrics and also their personal education and society's view on their choice of education.
Let's start simple with some BTS lyrics in N.O:
"From Seoul to the SKY"
- N.O -
This line might be in English, but it is not referring to the cloudy sky over South Korea's capital. It has a much deeper meaning about education in South Korea.
SKY is a shortening of the three top universities in South Korea
S - Seoul National University
K - Korea University
Y - Yonsei University
Together they're called SKY and they're all located in Seoul.
"From Seoul to the SKY. 부모님은 정말 행복하질까?"
"From Seoul to the SKY. Will that truly make your parents happy?"
- N.O -
South Korea has a huge focus on higher education and to attend a SKY university is considered a key step to becoming something more in your professional life. Most higher ups like CEOs and politicians (some people tell me as many as 50%) have attended SKY universities.
So admittance is a matter of high competition, and getting into one of those universities is a true battle and only the best of the best have a remote chance.
"[students] Pressured to be number one."
- N.O -
Attending a university in Seoul is a crucial stepping stone for young people.
In the eyes of most adults and parents it is seen as the only way to be able to make a decent living later on in life.
If you can't get into a University in Seoul you're considered a loser, and if you can't get into one of these three SKY universities you aren't really worth anything in terms of education, to put it in really harsh and bland words:
Your education is not impressive unless you've graduated from one of these universities.
So are you beginning to see what those lyrics in N.O mean in terms of education in Korea? In No More Dream we also have lyrics that refer to this phenomenon of having to go to Seoul to university:
"대학은 걱정 마
멀리라도 갈 거니까"
"Don't worry about university.
At the very least I'll go somewhere far away."
- No More Dream -
This can be understood as Jungkook playing the role of a student telling his parents to not worry because even if he doesn't get into a SKY university, he will aim for a university in Seoul.
He is trying to get his nagging parents off his back, as many young students try to do because all they hear at home is their parents asking about their grades and school placements and studies.
"공부 외엔 대화주제가 없어"
"There is no topic of conversation outside of studying."
- N.O -
When I lived in South Korea for a short while, I talked to a few parents of kids who went to university outside of Seoul. I was fascinated by the elitism surrounding education in South Korea.
The families of such kids rarely ever wanted to admit that their kid went to what was considered a "lesser" university.
The people I met who went to university outside of Seoul had parents who were highly worried about their future, or who had entirely given up on them.
Often these students carried some hope to redeem their reputation in the eyes of their families and society by studying a year abroad.
That hope was presented immediately when asked about their education; "I study at XX university - but I'm planning to study abroad next year."
"우릴 공부는 기계로 만든 건 누구?
일등이 아니면 낙오로 구분
짓게 만든 건 틀에 가둔 건
어린이란 쉽게 수공"
"Who is it that makes us into study machines?
They classify us as either number one or falling behind.
The adults easily build borders between us."
- N.O -
The Korean society at large reinforces this focus on higher education and elitism.
It is precisely this elitism that BTS criticise in many of their school trilogy lyrics, most prominently in No More Dream and N.O.
Not everyone is built to excel at academics and kids are crumbling at an early age at the hands of the elitism.