BTS vs. Education

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.



"일등을 강요"

"[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.

In some countries, high school kids study to finish high school and get a degree. In South Korea, kids study in high school to be able to pass the entrance exam to a good university.


In South Korea what it means to graduate high school is that you've now got the skills to take the entrance exams to a university. And it's expected to take that entrance exam.


Finishing high school is not the end goal, passing the entrance exam for a good university is.

Idol life and University

Did you notice what happened earlier this year when it was announced that Jungkook wouldn't take the entrance exam to a university? That he would simply finish high school?

If not, I can tell you that many people questioned that decision. It's an unusual one. It's not following the expected norm. You're expected to continue on to university when you finish high school. Otherwise people will look at you strangely.


Yet balancing both idol life and student life is extremely tough and idols/celebrities usually study for longer. It takes them one to two years longer to finish their studies and usually they take some time towards the end of their education to properly finish their courses.


Idols do also often get the benefit of honorary admittance, which qualifies them despite lesser impressive academic performances because of busy schedules, and this means that they can usually get into decent universities in Seoul (not SKY though).

​I saw many people puzzled over Jungkook's choice not to seek a higher education.

With BTS's rise in fame he should be able to land an honorary admittance at some university, and yet he chose not to pursue any of that.


He already graduated high school one year later than his peers, because of his busy idol life, and that too stirred much lack of understanding, because at such an early age everyone expects you to be studying.

But when we take a step back and look at BTS's over-packed schedule, it's difficult to see how an education could possible fit into that.


Being an idol is already a full time job and so is being a student. There simply isn't enough hours in a day, or in a week or month or year, to do both at the proper level, and often idols who do carry on with their education, as is expected of them, rarely attend classes at all.

BTS's Higher Education

Jin just graduated from a University in Seoul. He got into Konkuk University before BTS had their debut, and before he was even scouted to become an idol.


He finally finished the education that he started before his debut. The one he started when he thought his life would have a different turn.

Jin is not the only one in BTS to take a higher education. Apart from Jungkook all the members have opted for a higher education - but all of them opted for that option while they were trainees! All of them decided to study at university before they debuted as idols (and V and Jimin shortly after debut).


It looks to me almost like a back-up plan. In case all else fails. In case they don't debut or in case the group doesn't survive for long.

Obviously these concerns are no longer relevant because BTS are doing well these days, so they are not relevant to Jungkook, but at the time when the other members of BTS had to make choices about their education those questions were crucial.


Even though the members of BTS study at University, they don't attend SKY universities - despite the fact that Rap Monster probably could have studied well enough to get in if he really wanted it and took a few years to study hard for it (which would not be unusual when targeting a SKY university).


They don't attend universities in Seoul either (apart from Jin who enrolled before trainee life). Their university doesn't even have a campus. It's a cyber university. Which is perfect for idols, because they can "attend" classes from home and don't physically have to be in class and they don't have the pressure of having to appear on campus with lots of peers and fans chasing them around.

In an fancafe chat in 2013, Suga talked about his education when a fan asked him if he was a good student. Granted in good humour and a joking manner:


"In middle school I was in the top 100. I'm a university student in Seoul. It's a cyber university so I listen to lectures in the dorm in Seoul. Because I'm busy with promotions I can't go to classes a lot, so I listen to lectures in a cyber university. In high school I was originally preparing to go to an arts university. I was a rising star, but I gave up after becoming a trainee. I was preparing to major in composing and midi and was actually pretty good but after doing classical composing...."


Earlier in the chat he also said:


"You know that thing... computer license? I can't remember but that thing. I have a second rank license. I got it in elementary school because I heard you could go to a really good university with one."

(Full chat translation)


Although Suga had followed the regular pressure of going to a good university as a youngster, with trainee life and debut in mind, university seemed less important and the time wasn't there to truly attend.

Perhaps the members of BTS partly see their education at the Global Cyber University as a compromise to gain an education and also a compromise be accepted in a society that's so focused on that education.


I suspect that BigHit might also have urged this approach. It would explain why they're all enrolled at the same university.


Suga was the first one to enroll. In a series of tweets from a few years back he describes his experience as a test taker in the big city of Seoul. He says that unlike most young kids, he hadn't come to Seoul in the hope to attend university there, and yet, he ended up taking the entrance exam anyways.


RM and J-Hope followed Suga's lead the following year and finally V and Jimin also joined.


And yet Jungkook doesn't. He is the only one who has chosen not to get a higher education - in a country that is so focused on higher education - Why?

Officially he is focusing on his career now and hasn't entirely given up on his education.


Considering the focus on higher education in South Korea, this is the explanation he HAS to come with even if he has decided not to go to university at all.


Of course, it is possible that he simply doesn't have the time right now to take the exam and enroll. If that is the truth, then it is BigHit's fault not to give him the opportunity to pursue further education.


It is also possible, and highly likely, that Jungkook never much had a will to go to university, and since his idol life is going well, and it doesn't seem like he will be out of a job nor money anytime soon, there is no real need for him to have a backup plan with a university degree. The urgency certainly isn't there as it must have been for the other members. His career is impressive enough on its own.

Last, I would like to point out that although the Korean society fully expects him to go to university, under no circumstance does Jungkook have to get a higher education!


In their lyrics BTS fight exactly for this! They fight for the right to choose a future and not give in to society's pressure. And that's a fight I hope all young people take up for themselves.


"남의 꿈에 갇혀 살지마"

"Don't be trapped in someone else's dreams."

- N.O -



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#KPOPHISTORY #SouthKorea #Culture #BTS #LYRICS

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Thilde Kold Holdt

I am a novelist by profession, currently working an epic fantasy series about 7th century Korea. My epic fantasy trilogy about Vikings, the Hanged God, is currently being published. I have lived

enough different places that the most difficult question to answer is: "where are you from?" I am, quite simply, from the planet Earth, for I have yet to set foot on Mars. Someday, though...

© Thilde Kold Holdt