HYBE And Min Hee Jin's Slapfight Leaves K-Pop Artists Caught In The Middle

In the midst of a power struggle between juggernaut forces, NewJeans and others continue to try to focus on their careers.

HYBE And Min Hee Jin's Slapfight Leaves K-Pop Artists Caught In The Middle
NewJeans poses as ambassador's of the Levi's brand. Source: Levistrauss.com

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Those of you who've been reading me for years now know that my K-Pop preferences mostly hit up against groups that aren't hugely famous. It's pretty obvious, given my favorite group ever is Dreamcatcher, the Little Company-backed Non-traditional Girl Group That Could. But my other favorites rarely scratch the "Big 4", with JYPE's ITZY being the closest, and part of the reason for that is because for all the fame, privilege, and opportunity granted to big company-backed groups, there is also the potential for equally big messes.

NewJeans Reveal New Album 'OMG': Exclusive Interview
NewJeans with a group picture for album "OMG". Source: Rolling Stone

The whole saga between Big 4 Company HYBE (the juggernaut that first rose to notoriety in housing now world-famous boy group BTS), and sublabel ADOR's CEO Min Hee Jin (who is also the producing force behind monster rookies NewJeans), is the most recent example of such drama that you almost couldn't script.

The latest HYBE/ADOR/Min Hee Jin megathread on the /r/kpop subreddit has done its best to compile the information of what happened, and for those of you who don't want to sift through all of it, the dispute essentially boils down to HYBE auditing ADOR and specifically citing plans that Min Hee Jin made to break ADOR out from under the HYBE umbrella, an action that HYBE called a "breach of trust" of their exclusive contract, a justification to remove her as CEO. The latest news, which saw the South Korean courts ruling in favor of an initial injunction filed by ADOR to stop HYBE from forcefully ousting Min Hee Jin as ADOR's CEO, but saw HYBE dismiss two of her close colleagues and ADOR's board members, replacing them with three more, means this dispute isn't ending anytime soon.

None of this, of course, is helped by the fact that some really wild things have come out during the course of this dispute, which has involved two polarizing and quote-worthy press conferences by Min Hee Jin, responses by HYBE that refuted what they saw as unfounded claims, a set of alleged text messages sent by Min Hee Jin that had some pretty derogatory things to say, and even the fact that a shaman was consulted to help with company problems. In short, for K-Pop tea drinkers, this is practically a never-ending cup.

However, for the artists, this can't be much of a picnic. As fans, we're probably not 100% privy to how they feel, but it seems to me that if I was watching CEOs and companies slug it out over me or my fellow peers, I'd probably feel like I was in the middle of an awkward family fight at the holiday dinner table. It's probably even worse when you get directly mentioned, as girl groups ILLIT and LE SSERAFIM were. Min Hee Jin accused ILLIT of being a plagiarized imitation of New Jeans and felt betrayed that HYBE decided to prioritize LE SSERAFIM over NewJeans, accusations that prompted the companies of both groups (BeLift and Source Music) to take action.

K-Pop artists are already under an insane amount of scrutiny for how they look, what they say, and how they perform. So regardless of who is in the right in this current corporate slugfest, artists are inevitably affected. LE SSERAFIM, for example, was already coming off of a high amount of criticism for their week 1 performance at Coachella, while ILLIT is in that volatile "just debuted" period where being locked in and focused on your performances matter. Distractions like hearing the CEO of a fellow sublabel say wild things about you just aren't helpful.

The obvious artist to focus on, of course, is NewJeans themselves. Already having notched a ton of accolades in their two years under ADOR and Min Hee Jin, the timing of having a comeback while the status of their label's leadership is called into question can't be fun to go through. The group did provide a set of petitions over the injunction to remove their embattled CEO, and they have shown thankfulness as recent as six days ago during their win on KBS's Music Bank for Min Hee Jin's role in helping make them a success.

Though these have been only peeks into what the group themselves think, both actions have obviously drawn their own set of speculations and assumptions about where they stand, from fans finding it natural that they'd support someone so intimately involved in their careers to critics who thought the support ill-timed.

I'm not going to pretend I can draw a definitive conclusion about what NewJeans themselves thinks of this. I feel like I can only speculate that their thoughts on the issue are more complex and nuanced than K-Pop fans think it might be. This makes notions that Danielle (in the video above) disrespectfully interrupted LE SSERAFIM's Eunchae to voice support for Min Hee Jin to be, in my opinion, odd reaches. We just can't know how they feel unless they directly address the issue, and that's as likely to happen, especially during a comeback, as it is for me to become a K-Pop idol and debut this year.

Instead, I'd rather support all the artists involved, whether it's to listen to their music, watch their videos, or signal boost their work. I have no idea how HYBE's fight with ADOR and Min Hee Jin is going to turn out, and after a certain point, it's not helpful for me to worry about huge corporations and polarizing, passionate CEOs. What is helpful is being understanding and empathetic towards the fact that there are K-Pop artists in the middle of this mess who likely want nothing more than to have successful careers, have days where they don't add to what is perhaps already a stressful schedule, and just do what they love to do, which is entertain and make music for fans to enjoy. In the battle to figure out what side in this affair is in the right or which artist is better or more deserving, that's the thing we should remember the most. Give the above tracks a listen. They'll appreciate that more than trying to figure out who's right on the internet.

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