Meet Min Hee-jin, mastermind behind K-pop girl group NewJeans: the CEO of Hybe sub-label Ador helped launch Girls Generation and Exo at SM, so why has her new group’s branding been slammed?
The five-strong collective debuted its self-titled album on August 8, which shattered the record for the highest number of first-day sales for a debuting group on Korean real-time chart Hanteo. They are already known for their cutting edge Y2K-nostalgic style … and for their youth: all five members were born between 2004 and 2008.
That being said, Min’s success shouldn’t really be as much of a surprise – some might even call it an inevitability.
During her time at SM Entertainment, Min’s notable achievements included winning best visual and art director at the Mnet Asian Music Awards in 2016 for “[maximising] the artist’s image and [contributing] to the progress of ‘visual music’”.
However, despite joining SM Entertainment’s board of directors in 2017, Min had left the company entirely by the end of 2018. In a December 2021 episode of You Quiz on the Block, Min said that at one point, she was releasing four to five albums a month with all the artistic, promotional and video work that came with it, and felt burnt out.
The next big hit
Not long after her departure, BTS’ record label Big Hit Entertainment announced that Min would join as chief branding officer charged with what we now know was the rebranding work necessary for Big Hit to become entertainment company Hybe Corporation, which launched in May 2021.
Min’s success as CBO clearly helped her nab her new role as the CEO of Hybe’s first original sub-label Ador (All Doors One Room) in November last year, which now manages NewJeans, Hybe’s first original girl group.
Getting in to hot water
Given her rise through the ranks at Hybe and stellar track record with other groups, then, NewJeans’ successful launch might well have seemed like a foregone conclusion. But not everyone is happy with her branding of the five girls in her charge.
K-pop news outlet AllKpop reported in July that netizens were raising concerns over Min’s recent Instagram posts, several of which are mood board-style photos of “underaged girls who are seen half-naked with older men and also the photos of a teenage Brooke Shields”.
Netizens’ chief concerns appear to be that Min may be glamorising underaged women, with many pointing to the youthful NewJeans’ pre-debut photos that show the girls wearing shirts with slogans like “Pimp is Yours” on the front.
In early August, AllKpop shared details of JoongAng Ilbo’s interview with Min in which she responded to the controversy. On the backlash against the “Pimp is Yours” T-shirt, Min said: “The word started as a slang word in the 70s and 80s and is still used in the United States, in the same way, to mean ‘to decorate gorgeously’ and has a great cultural value.”
“Defaming me like this is very serious. I have decided to file a criminal complaint,” she added. “To prevent this problem in the future and protect the members, we have decided to set up a dedicated organisation in Ador to deal with similar issues.”
It seems that Min intends to stand her ground too, as she’s not yet taken down the February 2022 and November 2021 Instagram posts in question.
- At SM Entertainment, Min Hee-jin was responsible for the visual branding of smash groups Girls’ Generation, Red Velvet, Exo, Shinee and F(x) – so no surprise NewJeans are already a hit
- After burning out Min joined Hybe – the agency behind BTS, Le Sserafim and Enhypen – to become CEO of sub-label Ador, but her Instagram feed has already sparked controversy