Star K-pop producer causes online stir after lashing out at industry bosses

By AFP   April 27, 2024 | 06:27 pm PT
The creative director behind the girl band NewJeans has found online fame after a tearful, profanity-laced news conference in which she slammed some of K-pop's most powerful executives as "middle-aged jerks."

HYBE, the South Korean agency behind K-pop sensation BTS, filed a legal complaint on Thursday against Min Hee-jin, the head of its powerhouse subsidiary label ADOR, for breach of trust in business.

K-pop producer Min Hee-jin. Photo from Mins Instagram

K-pop producer Min Hee-jin. Photo from Min's Instagram

That followed an announcement three days earlier that it had launched an audit of ADOR and demanded that Min resign. HYBE's share price fell close to 10 percent after the audit was announced and closed on Friday down 4.95 percent.

Min, 44, hit back in a news conference on Thursday that drew empathy online from young working men and women who compared her story with their own experiences with unreasonable and jealous bosses who either took credit for their work or failed to acknowledge it fairly.

Others, however, said she had acted inappropriately and unprofessionally by occasionally lapsing into profanity.

She denied HYBE's accusations and claimed it was trying to dismiss her unfairly after she accused another of its subsidiaries, BELIFT LAB, of imitating NewJeans with a girl group of its own called ILLIT.

Min, speaking off the cuff and often breaking down in tears, candidly shared her frustrations for more than two hours.

She referred to HYBE's leaders, including chairman Bang Si-hyuk, the man behind BTS, as "gaejeossi", which translates roughly to a "middle-aged or old male jerk".

"I feel betrayed by HYBE... they used me until I was no longer of use to them," she said.


The live-streamed event, during which even her lawyers appeared embarrassed, had millions of views and drew an explosive public response.

One parody YouTube video seen by 2.5 million viewers combined a clip of Min speaking passionately with hip-hop music. The t-shirt and baseball cap she was wearing sold out on several online platforms and many others said they had suffered similar experiences.

"Women who have truly worked (hard) and experienced being undermined by men, along with the dirty side of office politics, could never speak ill of Min Hee-jin," a South Korean woman said on social media platform X.

But Lee Moon-won, a culture critic who watched the news conference, said Min sidestepped the real allegations against her.

"No figure as influential as Min in the entertainment industry has ever used curse words during an official press conference, people have really never seen anything like it, so this obviously has attracted enormous attention," he told AFP.

'Incompetence and vulgarity'

Min, who joined the industry in the early 2000s, is widely regarded as one of the most successful producers in K-pop, having worked with stars such as Girls' Generation, EXO and SHINee.

NewJeans, a K-pop phenomenon that made its debut in 2022 and whose members are all under 20, is among HYBE's most successful K-pop groups along with BTS.

As one of few successful women producers in the industry, Min has been recognised for her arresting visual imagery on numerous K-pop hits, including Girls' Generation's "Gee" and EXO's "Growl".

NewJeans has topped global charts, including the Billboard 200, and broke the Guinness World Record last year for "Fastest K-pop act to reach 1 billion streams on Spotify".

Min said HYBE chairman Bang never congratulated her on NewJeans' debut and that the parent company had given promotional priority to another of its K-pop groups, Le Sserafim.

HYBE rejected Min's accusations and urged her again to resign and stop discussing NewJeans.

Some experts criticised both Min and HYBE over a scandal that has gripped much of South Korea.

K-pop columnist Isak Choi said those involved showed "incompetence and vulgarity by not hesitating to publicly display infighting".

Just because Min criticised HYBE's leadership, "it doesn't mean she is free from the rotten issues of this industry", Choi wrote on X.

"She cannot become the underdog simply because she is fighting with the management, especially after having gained astronomical benefits from within it."

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