Star Golden Bell, Oh! My School — the Korean entertainment industry isn’t unfamiliar with variety shows that put your favorite idols’ brains to the test. In fact, any broadcasted program in general, be it variety, music, or documentary, needs its participants to think quickly and cleverly on the spot to provide the correct atmosphere. To do this, idols need to achieve the perfect balance between a high EQ and a not-so-low IQ.
Recently, on the April 1st episode of Mnet‘s Beatles Code 3D, the leader of BTS — also known as the Bangtan Boys — Rap Monster, revealed his incredible success in academics. While a number of other idols are known for ranking high in their respective schools, like SHINee‘s Onew, Rap Monster did so nationwide.
In a trial examination for language, math, foreign language, and social studies, there was a time I was in about the top 1.3% of the whole country.
Most people who’ve been in school will agree that ranking nationally is no easy feat, especially in the extremely education-oriented society in Korea. Rap Monster explained that his parents wanted him to get a stable job, but didn’t elaborate on whether they encouraged or forced — for a lack of better words — his concentration in academics. Either way, Rap Monster avoided disappointing his parents when exploring his extracurriculars, maintaining a top 1% ranking in school even “while starting to pursue music as a hobby with some Hongdae underground hyungs in junior high.”
Speaking of which, in one of BTS’s title songs, “We Are Bulletproof Pt. 2,” Rap Monster has the line:
Haha, hyungs who only had hip-hop pride told me it’d be impossible but Look carefully, I place a period after impossible I’m possible, now are we all set, boy?
I don’t know exactly how many hyungs Rap Monster knows, but my guess is that the ones he referred to in the song are the ones he followed around in Hongdae when he was younger. He was determined to prove them wrong, and fortunately he accomplished his goal. There’s no saying how much his good discipline in school played a part in his success, but doing better than almost everyone in his grade must have given him some sort of edge — whether it was effective time management or just pure determination — that guided him to where he is today.
Even with his achievements, however, Rap Monster probably wouldn’t call his time at school one of the highlights of his life so far. Before BTS debuted, the rapper wrote the song “School of Tears” with fellow member Suga, describing the flaws in the education system of Korea.
This is the ring called classroom This is a stadium without any referee, only an audience You know there will never be victor everyone will lose
The lyrics continue to denounce school, society, parents, teachers, calling them all wrong. Even if this was an exaggeration intended to bring attention to a much debated issue, I have my doubts in Rap Monster’s appreciation of his previous academic achievements. Soon after debut, BTS as a group denounced the idea of following parents’ wishes in prioritizing education once again.
“N.O,” cowritten by Rap Monster, follows the theme of “School of Tears,” as well as a few of BTS’s other society-centered songs. Korea’s education system, and the stereotypes traditionally associated with being “too Asian,” has been subject to much criticism, but mostly by those observing the time and effort students are forced to put in. On the other hand, when Rap Monster, a previous top student, raps his meaningful lines, it’s coming from someone with firsthand experience in doing exactly what most parents wish to see from their kids.
Except the song’s pretty much trying to convince listeners from following his footsteps, as if sending a direct message somewhere along the lines of, “Hey, I’ve been there before and succeeded, but it has no purpose in the long run, so don’t do what I did.”
Nevertheless, with only a select number of idols enrolling in college — and graduate school being an even rarer feat — it’s possible that many sympathize with Rap Monster. Why succumb to suffering in a prison-like classroom when you can live your musical dreams in reality? I’m sure even non-celebrity students have the same ideas from time to time when faced with academic difficulties. But it’s much more difficult for them to immediately find a way to succeed in another field like idols can.
On the other hand, not every idol is given the chance to study their way to the top. Schools and hagwons require money, and some families simply don’t have the financial ability to provide their children with the most ideal studying environments. It’s widely known that many celebrities enter the industry at a young age due to their families’ lack of, and need for, money. By skipping costly schooling and going straight to bring home some bills (or at least preparing to do so), kids can somewhat relieve their parents’ burdens.
Even with passion instead of money as the reason for becoming a trainee, academics are effected to some extent due to the time factor. Most members of Team B from YG‘s reality show WIN: Who is Next, whose average age is 17, dropped out of school so they could practice together as a full group as much as possible. When the program began in August 2013, however, they faced an ultimate obstacle to their future — the risk of disbandment even before debut. After all, an uncountable number of younglings may have the same musical dream, but it’s unrealistic that everyone’s will come true. Still, Team B is precisely following the advice of BTS’s songs.
As for higher education, the limitations exponentially increase. An idol who has debuted must spend endless hours practicing, recording, filming, and fulfilling other duties. After all, it’s a full-time job. Therefore, there’s no surprise in hearing about prominent idols postponing or sacrificing a college experience completely.
Similarly, with idol group lifetimes often being a topic of much discussion, it’s natural to wonder about what each member will do when their group disbands. Of course, many idols are now attempting to transform into songwriters, actors, and models — occupations with relatively longer lifetimes (arguably for models) — so they can take the route they’re currently in the process of paving. However, there are also others who don’t have as much success in fields outside of being an idol. Without some level of education, securing a job outside of the entertainment industry will most likely be a struggle after disbandment.
Rap Monster is consistently recognized for his talents, having worked with rap god Zico in the past, so I think it’s safe to say that his future isn’t too dim even when BTS, who debuted less than a year ago, comes to an end. Based on what he’s revealed about his family, they probably aren’t in dire need of money either. So he had — and still has — a choice as to whether to focus on academics or not.
From the perspective of just another K-pop fan (aka yours truly), a smart idol is much more attractive than one who can barely comprehend what’s going on. Being smart, in this context, includes the ability to navigate the the idol life while not flunking out of school. Therefore, when Rap Monster made headlines with his national accomplishment, it’s an understatement to say that I was impressed.
However, after a look at some of BTS’s lyrics, I was slightly worried about the message young fans would receive from this top student-turned-rap genius, especially after revealing his 1.3% ranking. Some musicians may believe that experience with Hongdae hyungs would be more beneficial to a professional career than academics, and, yes, the education system (and society in general) is flawed, but I still think that doing well in school does no harm, to say the least, to a person’s future, whatever industry it may be in.
So, kids, let’s enjoy BTS’s music while staying in school! Maybe many listeners already developed this interpretation, but one could view BTS’s plea to say no be directed to being completely engulfed by absolute education. This implies that spending your time partly on academics and partly on your passions — as Rap Monster did — would be the ideal situation.
Don’t get trapped, but no need for complete evasion. I hope this is the message Rap Monster and BTS are looking to spread.