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?

Min Hee-jin is the new CEO of Hybe’s sub label Ador – but is her creativity suddenly getting her in trouble? Photo: Hybe
The latest buzz from entertainment conglomerate Hybe (formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment) has been the recent debut of NewJeans – the first girl group under indie sub-label Ador.

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.

NewJeans debuted on August 8 under Hybe’s sub label Ador. Source: NewJeans
The group is a substantial win for Ador CEO Min Hee-jin, given the group’s prestigious label mates BTS, TXT, Le Sserafim, Fromis 9, Enhypen, Zico, Seventeen and others. Min joined Hybe in 2019 as its chief brand officer before being appointed Ador’s CEO in November last year.

That being said, Min’s success shouldn’t really be as much of a surprise – some might even call it an inevitability.


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Hotshot beginnings

Before NewJeans, Ador and Hybe, Min had already played a key role with Big Hit’s rival SM Entertainment for 15 years. Joining the entertainment agency in 2002 as a graphic designer, she went on to lead the visual branding for its flagship K-pop groups including Girls’ Generation (who recently reunited for their 15th anniversary and first release in five years), Shinee, F(x), Exo and Red Velvet.
Red Velvet on the set of their 2017 music video for Red Flavour, which Min Hee-jin styled. Photo: SM Entertainment

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’”.

She also oversaw visual and artistic direction from the ground up for sister groups Shinee and F(x) – which debuted in 2008 and 2009 respectively – as well as girl group phenomenon Red Velvet and more.
Some of her key credits were on SNSD’s 2010 viral hit Genie; F(x) albums “Pink Tape” and “4 Walls” released in 2013 and 2015, and her 2016 releases, Shinee’s “1of1” album, Jonghyun’s She Is (both of which were the late Kim Jong-hyun’s last releases) and Red Velvet’s Russian Roulette.
Min Hee-jin was responsible for the look and feel of Girls’ Generation’s viral 2010 hit Genie. Photo: SM Entertainment.

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.

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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.

Big Hit Entertainment expanded on its success with BTS by bringing Min Hee-jin aboard to rebrand the entertainment corporation now known as Hybe. Photo: Getty Images
Hybe’s success is now largely attributed to its flagship boy group, as well its moves to acquire small rising labels such as Pledis Entertainment (Fromis 9, Seventeen), Source Music ( Le Sserafim, GFriend) and KOZ Entertainment (Zico, DVWN); and partnering with CJ E&M to manage Belift Lab (Enhypen).
Ador’s parent company, Hybe, is known for having huge hits with groups like Le Sserafim, pictured here. Photo: Hybe

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.

In a statement, Min said: “I’m fully prepared to give rise to another change in the music industry through the launch of this new label. Without any fear of taking on new challenges, we will present new artistic IP and content that will showcase Ador’s unique philosophy.”
The launch of youthful girl group NewJeans mark the start of Min Hee-jin’s new chapter as CEO of Hybe sub label Ador. Photo: Ador

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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”.

The article also claims that F(x) idol Krystal had sent the photo of a young Shields to Min “as an idea proposal, and [Min] really liked it”. The problem? Brooke Shields was just 15 in 1980 when she was featured in a Calvin Klein advert and asked to say the controversial line, “Do you know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” The subsequent backlash even got the advert banned in several countries.

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.”

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KBizoom’s translation of Min’s comments showed her anger at feeling misrepresented by the criticism: “When people take screenshots of things they like, do they all research where they come from before posting? I didn’t think much of those pictures either. I just posted what I like, but people thought I was up to something.”

“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.

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  • 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