Will NewJeans end up collateral damage in internal feud at K-pop juggernaut Hybe?

Posted on : 2024-04-24 17:11 KST Modified on : 2024-04-24 17:20 KST
The rift between Ador and Hybe continues to mount amid allegations that Ador’s CEO attempted to spin off the agency
Ador CEO Min Hee-jin. (courtesy of Ador)
Ador CEO Min Hee-jin. (courtesy of Ador)

A feud has been brewing between South Korea’s biggest K-pop planning agency Hybe and the affiliated label Ador, which manages the Hybe-affiliated girl group NewJeans.

Hybe, which is chaired by Bang Si-huk and based in Seoul’s Yongsan area, invoked its auditing authority against Ador on Monday and demanded the resignation of CEO Min Hee-jin, whom it accused of attempting to usurp management powers for the label.

In response, Min accused the company of making accusations against her due to her “insolence” after she protested that the NewJeans concept had been plagiarized for Illit, another girl group planned by Belift Lab, a different Hybe label.

Hybe responded on Tuesday by ratcheting up the pressure on Min, claiming the attempted takeover of management rights was “orchestrated without any connection to Illit.”

In an email to Hybe employees that day, CEO Park Ji-won said, “We have determined that the matters in question were orchestrated beforehand without any connection to the time of Illit’s debut.”

“This is a case where a clear attempt to take over the company was identified, and we have launched an audit to confirm and rectify that,” the email continued, clearly indicating that the invocation of auditing authority was a separate matter from Min’s accusations concerning Illit.

NewJeans. (courtesy of Ador)
NewJeans. (courtesy of Ador)

Hybe reportedly obtained internal documents from Ador containing evidence that Min and others attempted to use overseas funds and other means to encourage the sale of Hybe’s 80% stake in the label.

From the document alone, it is unclear whether Ador actually initiated efforts to establish independent management authority or merely explored the possibility.

Entertainment industry experts said Hybe and Min appeared to have crossed the proverbial Rubicon.

“Seeing as how the official audit has been launched and Min Hee-jin is taking aim at Illit, which is another Hybe-affiliated act, it looks like the conflict has already reached a point beyond repair,” one industry official said.

“They’re going through procedures to take legal action. This battle could drag out,” the source predicted.

The prevailing response from the entertainment world was that the conflict between Bang, the Hybe chairperson behind the legendary success story of BTS, and Min, the figure responsible for nurturing the currently dominant NewJeans, has been a long time coming.

According to insiders, there has been a deep rift dating back quite some time. One entertainment agency official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Hybe officials have been openly critical of Min Hee-jin.”

“The main complaint is that she has been acting high-handed, and there has even been talk about Bang ‘not being able to control her,’” they explained.

Min, who was entrusted with full authority while planning NewJeans, formed the group’s current members with trainees from different labels. This prompted a fierce outcry from the labels whose trainees were poached, and feelings of resentment fed the feelings of antagonism toward Min within Hybe, the same official said.

“I doubt this came as much of a shock to people in the business who know Min,” said Kim Do-heon, a music critic. “She has a big ego. She would have struggled to adapt to business relationships that involve cooperation on the terms of parent companies, affiliate companies and associate companies.”

Promotional poster for NewJeans’ fan meeting in Tokyo, Japan, in June. (courtesy of Ador)
Promotional poster for NewJeans’ fan meeting in Tokyo, Japan, in June. (courtesy of Ador)

Yet some say that personality isn’t all that’s at play. When Min was brought on to Hybe, her condition was that she be allowed to work without outside interference, and some say that she was simply doing just that. 

“As the executive producer who had absolute authority over the emergence and growth of NewJeans, who are being heralded as this ‘game changer’ for K-pop for how phenomenal they are, Min got a lot more of the spotlight than the other girl groups that Bang has taken a hands-off approach with,” shared one entertainment industry insider, speaking anonymously. 

“Sure, Min tends to play up her achievements, but there’s a chance that this recent blowup comes down to internal perceptions that Min was getting all the credit, and that checks were being put on her for that reason,” they added. 

The biggest question that remains is what will happen to NewJeans, who have found themselves swept up into a fight between the grownups in the room. 

In an internal email, Hybe CEO Park Ji-won asked employees to “give their all to working on NewJeans’ comeback and growth,” suggesting that the girl group will continue their activities as per usual for the time being. The five-piece group will be coming back with a new album out next month, and have a fan meeting in Tokyo slated for June. 

But many are curious about what would happen in the event that Min leaves Ador. 

“It’s NewJeans, who are at the height of their popularity across the globe, so there’s unlikely to be any major hiccups even if Min isn’t producing,” predicted Kim, the music critic. “It’s not like artists at SM started fading from the spotlight when Lee Soo-man stepped down.”

By Lee Jung-gook, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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