Kings and queens of pop .. and academia? The smartest K-pop idols today

smartest k-pop idols

The Internet was recently abuzz with the news that legendary K-pop idol G-Dragon recently accepted the role of visiting professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). 

The 35-year-old, best known to fans as a rapper from boyband BIGBANG, is now adding the title of lecturer to his already-successful career. G-Dragon, real name Kwon Jiyong, will be known as Professor Kwon in the university’s mechanical engineering department, delivering lectures on leadership. He’ll also organise cultural events for students while promoting the university abroad. 

“It is an honour to be appointed as a visiting professor at KAIST, a cradle for numerous scientific geniuses,” said G-Dragon during his acceptance speech. “I look forward to the great synergy, or ‘Big Bang,’ that will occur when my expertise in entertainment meets with top-notch science and technology experts.” 

He isn’t the first hotshot to become a visiting professor at KAIST. Former SM Entertainment chief producer Lee Soo Man and opera singer Jo Sumi were also visiting lecturers previously.

While G-Dragon’s change in job scope may raise some eyebrows, he actually does have the credentials to back it up. In fact, he’s one of the smartest K-pop idols in the industry and is actually very academically inclined. 

In 2008, he enrolled at Kyunghee University to study postmodern music but dropped out due to his work with BIGBANG. However, he was determined to obtain a degree, so he enrolled in Gukje Cyber University the following year and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in leisure sports studies in 2013.

But that wasn’t the end of the rapper’s academic pursuits.

That same year, G-Dragon pursued a postgraduate degree in content and retail distribution at Sejong University, one of the top colleges in South Korea. If it weren’t for his military enlistment, he would have continued on to a doctoral degree. 

While his academic journey is inspirational to many, perhaps it’s an opportunity to reflect on those in the industry who were not so fortunate with their education. 

smartest k-pop idols

At the time of their debut, not a single NewJeans member was over 18 years old. Source: AFP

The K-pop industry’s glaring issue

From strict contracts to intense dieting regimes, intense schedules, and sexualisation, the K-pop industry is littered with problems. But the most obvious issue over the past decade is that K-pop has become a prime example of exploiting children, taking advantage of their young age to control their careers.

Of course, the K-pop industry isn’t the only perpetrator.

Some of the biggest pop stars in the US, like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, are unfortunate examples of children being exploited by the music industry. Spears only gained legal freedom at 39 years old, while Cyrus suffered from the effects of being a child star, never granted the luxury of being “young and dumb” outside of the microscopic media lenses.

K-pop is hardly any different — just take a look at one of the world’s current biggest girl group, NewJeans. They were mostly underaged when they debuted, with the youngest member only being 14 years old.

The list goes way back. SHINee‘s Taemin debuted at 14 years old, and so did Krystal from f(x), Sohyun from 4MINUTE, and Minzi from 2NE1. 

Jang Wonyoung, previously from I*zone, is famous for entering Produce 101, a K-pop survival show at 13 years old. She then achieved Rank 1 in Produce 101 on her 14th birthday. 

While many of these young debutees graduated middle or high school, some of them dropped out to become K-pop trainees, relying on homeschooling or online classes to obtain an education. 

Perhaps a classic example would be BoA, known as “Queen of K-pop” to many. She entered the industry at only 13 years old and was forced to quit school in order to promote her music. 

This is a worrying trend amongst not only K-pop idols, but also those inspired to follow in their footsteps.

These early teen years are supposed to revolve around socialising in school, making friends, and experiencing enjoyable childhood memories, and debuting at a young age in such a cutthroat industry means they miss out on such things. 

In the worst-case scenario, if they fail to succeed as celebrities, they will be left with limited career options, as they will have missed a significant portion of their education due to idol activities.

Of course, some K-pop idols still attend school and university, even while training and promoting their music.

Bae from NMIXX graduated from Hanlim Multi Arts School while being an active member of the group, and Sung Hanbin from ZEROBASEONE is currently enrolled at Dong-ah Institute of Media and Arts.

There are even former K-pop idols who left the industry and continued to pursue education.

For example, Daisy from the K-pop group Momoland, real name Yoo Jung Ahn, left the group and is now pursuing a degree at an undisclosed university. Sojin from Girl’s Day studied engineering at Yeongnam University while doing acting gigs – she was one of the only 8 girls out of the 800 engineering students. 

Perhaps this is a major step in providing the general public with a different perspective of the K-pop world.

These idols are more than just the shiny singers and dancers you see on stage, in K-dramas or product advertisements – some of them are actually brilliant in more ways than one. 

smartest k-pop idols

“I’m a smarter, baby, smarter.” – Smart by LE SSERAFIM. Source: AFP

There’s more than one way to be smart

We’re pretty sure there are a few lists out there that rank K-pop idols based on their IQ level. We’re here to disprove those lists. 

Of course, we’re not denying that a high IQ qualifies someone to be smart – just putting it out there in case anyone comes for us. Most people may think being smart means having a higher IQ or multiple degrees. 

But in reality, there are many other ways to be intelligent. So, saying that someone is not smart because they possess a lower IQ is often an incorrect statement. 

In the early 1980s, Harvard professor Howard Gardner proposed the idea that multiple types of intelligence exist. 

  • Linguistic Intelligence – spoken and written language 
  • Logical-mathematical Intelligence – analysing problems, doing math, and investigating issues
  • Spatial Intelligence – mentally comprehend 3D and 4D objects and issues 
  • Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence – skilled in controlling body movements and physical surroundings 
  • Musical Intelligence – understand and create music 
  • Interpersonal Intelligence – understand and interact well with others  
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence – to understand oneself
  • Naturalist Intelligence – to understand what’s happening in nature 
  • Existential/Spiritual Intelligence – an innate ability to explore deep questions about life and its meaning 

One may ask how IQ ties into Gardner’s model, and the answer is, well, not really. 

In short, even if someone doesn’t have a high IQ or a degree, it doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent in their own right, especially in an industry as saturated as the K-pop world. 

Let’s take a look at some of the smartest K-pop idols in the industry.

smartest k-pop idols

Wendy’s lowest score in school was a B+. Source: Red Velvet on X

The smartest K-pop idols in the current industry

Red Velvet – Wendy 

Mostly known for her vocal prowess and beauty, Wendy from Red Velvet was actually an honour student when she was younger. She attended Shattuck-St Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota, where she was an honour student and athlete, winning several awards for academics and music-related activities. 

Notably, she received the US Presential Award in eighth grade, awarded by former US President Obama himself. The award is given yearly to students with outstanding grades, and her birth name, Shon Seung-wan, was even engraved in the school’s hall of fame. 

IVE – Wonyoung

Often described as Korea’s “it girl,” Jang Wonyoung was born a picture-perfect idol. Not only is she known for her stunning, jaw-dropping visuals and tall stature, but she is also incredibly smart and hardworking. 

After debuting in I*zone, Jang left Yonggang Middle School and completed her education by homeschooling. She then took the qualification exam, passing with perfect scores in Korean, English, and Mathematics. She previously said that if she weren’t an idol, she would have become a lawyer. 

Most of all, she puts a lot of clever thought behind each of her mannerisms to portray the image of a perfect idol, all while revealing little of her personal life. This Reddit user says, “And I give her props for it – we’re all playing roles in our lives, and she’s Academy Award-winning.”

smartest K-pop idols

RM is the leader of the incredibly successful boyband BTS. Source: AFP

BTS – Namjoon/RM

Many K-pop fans know that Kim Namjoon, known as RM – formerly Rap Monster – is constantly praised for his high IQ score of 148. 

However, there are many other areas in which the leader of BTS excels, such as academics — his mock examination scores for language, math, foreign languages, and social studies were in the top 1% of the nation. He also scored impressively on his TOEIC exam, obtaining over 900 marks out of the full 990. It should also be noted that he began learning English by watching American sitcoms as a teenager, with his favourite being “Friends.” 

Being part of BTS — and even being its leader — is no small feat. Thanks to his intelligence and fluency in English, RM has gone on to represent his group and country at international events. He even gave a speech at the UN General Assembly when he was only 24 years old, where he spoke about the band’s partnership with UNICEF.

“Maybe I made a mistake yesterday, but yesterday’s me is still me. I am who I am today, with all my faults. Tomorrow I might be a tiny bit wiser, and that’s me, too. These faults and mistakes are what I am, making up the brightest stars in the constellation of my life. I have come to love myself for who I was, who I am, and who I hope to become.” — RM’s speech at the UN General Assembly.

Cignature – Chloe

Chloe, whose real name is Jenny Yun, hails from Irvine, California, and is currently attending the University of Michigan. She is pursuing a degree in data science and is an active K-pop artist. Funnily enough, she went viral online when a clip of her teaching her viewers to code on Vlive made its rounds. 

In her schooling years at Crean Lutheran High School, she received President Obama’s President Education Awards Program certificate and the Congressional Award. 

smartest K-pop idols

(L-R) Kim Gyu-vin, Kim Ji-woong, Seok Matthew, Han Yu-jin, Zhang Hao, Sung Han-bin, Kim Tae-rae, Ricky and Park Gun-wook pose for photos during their debut showcase in Seoul on July 10, 2023. Source: AFP


Originally from China, Zhang Hao certainly had one of the most impressive academic journeys prior to his debut as leader of ZEROBASEONE.

Zhang took the Gaokao at only 16 years old when the exam is normally taken at 18. He was then accepted into the China University of Geosciences, one of the world’s top five institutes for geoscience, but abruptly turned it down because he was interested in music.

He then underwent rigorous training for six months, mastering the violin from scratch before taking the CSATs for Arts, which he placed first in the entire Fujian province. Following that, he enrolled at Fujian Normal University to major in Music Education, even obtaining a teacher’s license to teach elementary and high school students. He only started training in Korea after obtaining his degree. 

And that’s not all. Zhang is also the first non-Korean to achieve Rank 1 in a Korean survival show – Boy’s Planet. He cleverly wore different coloured hair clips during filming for the show to avoid “evil editing,” where show editors would mesh together different scenes and create a false narrative.