From college to K-pop stardom: How education helped these multi-talented performers

From college to K-pop stardom: How education helped these multi-talented performers
The BTS (Bangtan Boys). Pic: KProfiles.

On Feb 22, a young man graduated with a degree in Art and Acting from South Korea’s Konkuk University.

But this was no ordinary young man walking up the stage of another stuffy college hall to collect his scroll.

The chap was Seokjin of the Bangtan Boys (BTS), a mega popular K-pop group viewed by millions on YouTube. The “ceremony”, which was staged by his group members, was live-streamed on South Korea’s largest real-time broadcasting app.

The video began with Seokjin appearing on his own, explaining how he was unable to make it for the actual graduation ceremony because the group was slated to attend the 6th Gaon Chart Music Awards at the time.

The K-pop “idol” (the term used to describe these multi-skilled singers) and his band members, however, decided to celebrate anyway, using the live stream to broadcast the “ceremony” which even saw him donning his graduation cap and gown.

Recounting how it was just after orientation when he was discovered by a talent agent, Seokjin’s bandmate, Rap Monster, said:

“So your college played a part in your destiny. This graduation cap is very meaningful – this cap is what brought Seokjin into BTS, guys!”

“You could say college brought us together,” Seokjin said later.

Fate or not, Seokjin’s achievement showed he stuck through years of classes and lectures before putting on his mortar board.

He could have chosen to leave school to concentrate on his music career. It wouldn’t be unheard of – many other stars of similar caliber around the world have done the same.

But his decision to stay in college instead of diving head-first into the music industry was, even for an established artiste like him, one grounded in the harsh realities of a music career.

A degree will prove to be an asset for Seokjin. It isn’t just an on-paper achievement; it will serve him well as a back-up plan for the future, should he one day no longer be a part of the group of blue-eyed boys in the K-pop scene.

As any aspiring musician who toiled through college would know, the campus is really where the magic usually happens – bonds are formed and the best bands find synergy among other rising stars who share the same dream.

A budding performer may have natural stage talent but getting formal training, guidance and an education on how best to hone those existing skills could never be a bad bet – and a performance school is where that is done.

Paul Kirkham, chief executive of the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP) in Kilburn, northwest London, says he finds it “ridiculously absurd” popular musicians think it is necessary to hide the fact they’ve had to study their craft.

“If you’re a classical musician, you’d start from an early age, you’d go to the conservatoire, you knew you were going to have to practise seven or eight hours a day,” he tells Financial Times (FT).

“If you’re a successful classical player and someone is interviewing you, the first thing you get asked is, ‘Where did you study? How much have you studied?’ And those are the last questions anybody would ask a popular musician.”

The ICMP, which is one of some 30 UK universities and colleges that offer popular music courses, currently has about 900 students enrolled, studying anything from diploma, degree to master’s courses, according to FT.

Looking forward, a college degree is also something these idols can show future employers to prove they are well-rounded achievers armed with both academic and technical skills. And that is certainly better than simply saying they spent the last decade as a boy band member.

Older idols know this – Girl’s Generation’s Seohyun (Dongguk University) and Girl’s Day’s Yura (Dongduk Women’s University) among others, put in their time behind the books in addition to studio sessions and tours, to graduate from college.

So are idols younger than Seokjin who are still in school, such as GFriend’s SoWon (SungShin Women’s University) and UP10TION’s WooShin and SunYoul (Dong-Ah Broadcasting College).

They know they may be idols now, but fame is not forever. And when it ends, it’s better to be an ex-idol with a degree, than one without.

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