The drama between Min Hee Jin and Hybe Labels, explained

Fiery feud


By Marissa Chin

The drama between Min Hee Jin and Hybe Labels, explained

Plagiarism allegations, infighting, emotional live press conferences full of tears—after two gruelling months, one of the biggest K-pop controversies in recent memory has concluded (for now). Ahead, we break down the feud between ADOR CEO Min Hee Jin and Hybe Labels, from the origin of the dispute to the court’s explosive ruling.

[This article uses English translations from Soompi, Korea Times and Korea JoongAng Daily. Please note that these translations may not capture the nuances, context and meanings of the Korean language. Reader’s discretion is advised.] 

This article has been updated following new developments.


Court rules in favour of Min Hee Jin’s injunction request against Hybe Labels

Min Hee Jin appearing at her second press conference at the Korea Conference Centre ahead of her injunction grant / Getty Images

After several months of a tense legal battle between ADOR CEO Min Hee Jin and Hybe Labels, the court has come to a decision. On 30 May, it was revealed that the 50th Civil Affairs Division of the Seoul Central District Court ruled in favour of Min Hee Jin. As a result, the creative visionary will continue to keep her role as CEO at NewJeans’ label ADOR for the foreseeable future.

Min first filed for an injunction as she argued that her contract explicitly stated that she would serve as ADOR’s CEO for five years. Therefore, it would be unlawful for Hybe to demand her resignation. Due to her approved injunction, Hybe, which owns an 80 per cent stake in ADOR, cannot exercise its right to terminate Min’s position unless they pay a compensation of 20 billion won (approximately RM68 million).

Hybe Labels, a major shareholder which takes up an 80 per cent stake at ADOR, will not be able to exercise its rights to terminate Min’s contract / Getty Images

While the court “recognised the attempt by Min Hee Jin to weaken Hybe’s control over ADOR and seek a way to manage the company independently from Hybe,” it ultimately ruled that she did not act on her own ambition and was provoked by Hybe’s discriminatory treatment towards her and NewJeans.

“Hybe’s reasons for Min’s dismissal were not explained sufficiently,” the court stated. “Min Hee Jin’s actions can be a betrayal of Hybe but it is difficult to be seen as a breach of trust against ADOR.” As her actions were not seen as destructive or harmful towards her company and there were no conclusive attempts of her coup, the court could not rule in favour of Hybe’s claim that there was a breach of trust. 


The court finds that plagiarism of NewJeans are legitimate concerns

The court has found that Min’s claims of Hybe’s plagiarism of NewJeans are of legitimate concerns / ADOR

Another highly contentious topic during this legal drama is the topic of plagiarism, specifically how Hybe is modelling its newest girl group, Illit, after NewJeans. On 30 May, the court also ruled that these claims of plagiarism raised by Min as well as discrimination against NewJeans and Hybe’s album pushing were “legitimate” concerns. Attorney Noh Jong Eon explained that the court believed Min was within her rights as the CEO to raise concerns about the plagiarism and that they were “not completely groundless.”


Min offers an olive branch to Hybe Labels

Min extends an olive branch to Hybe Labels and hopes to move forward for both parties’ sake during her press conference / Getty Images

On 31 May, Min held her second press conference to address the results of the court ruling. Clad in a yellow tweed jacket, the ADOR CEO looked much more composed and brighter as she expressed her wish to compromise with Hybe and move forward. “I have been hurt emotionally, but so have they,” Min shared. “But I want to rise above. We really poured everything into the fight, so let’s just move on—let’s move on to the next chapter.”

With NewJeans’ comeback promotions currently underway with How Sweet and Bubble Gum, Min’s priority is on her girl group. “My vision for myself and NewJeans is just to be happy,” she said. “All I hope for is for all of us to be able to pursue that vision…We are preparing to perform at the Tokyo Dome in June and go on a world tour next year. The past month has obscured all those plans but I hope that everyone knows that I wish the best for myself and NewJeans. I really hope to come to an amicable agreement with Hybe.”

Hybe Labels rejects Min’s call to compromise and will follow up on police investigations following the court ruling / Getty Images

However, critics have suggested that the road ahead of Min may be challenging. On 31 May, Hybe Labels dismissed two members from ADOR’s board of executives and appointed three new board members during its shareholders meeting. While Min hopes that these new members will have NewJeans’ best interests in mind, experts claim that there will be “uneasy cohabitation” and more internal conflicts. “It will be challenging for Min to speak up in her company,” shared music critic Han Dong-yoon to The Korea Times. “In particular, there will be clashes in matters that require board resolution … In Hybe’s case, it may still focus on discovering the smoking gun to prove that she attempted to usurp its control of ADOR.”

Furthermore, a representative of Hybe has rejected Min’s call for a compromise, stating, “Hybe has no intention to compromise and intends to reach a conclusion through police investigations or related lawsuits.”

[The original article below was published on 30 April.]


How did the dispute start?

NewJeans is the only group under ADOR (All Doors One Room) founded by K-pop veteran, Min Hee Jin / Dispatch

The scandal broke out when Hybe Labels announced on 22 April that it would audit its subsidiary label, ADOR, and its executives. This also included a notice for ADOR’s CEO Min Hee Jin, the creative visionary behind NewJeans, to resign. 

READ: Why NewJeans is the biggest K-pop group right now

The entertainment company shared that they received evidence that Min was planning to take full control of ADOR and leaked private information to attract investors. Min holds an 18 per cent stake in ADOR whilst two per cent is held by to top executives and 80 per cent is held by Hybe Labels. 

Following this, ADOR responded with an official statement, including accusations that NewJeans was being plagiarised by Hybe’s new girl group, Illit. Allegedly, ADOR had brought up the plagiarism internally and no action was taken. Instead, an audit was launched. “It’s not me who betrayed Hybe, it’s Hybe that betrayed me,” Min stated.


Why the dispute is garnering so much attention

Hybe Labels, founded by Bang Si Hyuk, is currently the biggest K-pop entertainment company in the industry with six major subsidiaries under their wing / Getty Images

Since 22 April, the narrative from both parties has snowballed into accounts full of twists and turns. While scandals are nothing new in the Hallyu world, the drama has gripped the entire nation and K-pop industry for many reasons. 

For one, it involves South Korea’s biggest entertainment company (responsible for housing megastars BTS) going head-to-head with one of K-pop’s most influential creative minds. Min is best known as the former creative director of SM Entertainment and was the visionary behind popular groups such as Girls’ Generation, Shinee, Red Velvet and Super Junior. 

Min Hee Jin is regarded as one of the key figures in catapulting K-pop to the mainstream as the creative visionary behind groups such as Super Junior, Girls’ Generation and Red Velvet.

Furthermore, the dispute has incited fan wars and intense discussion between NewJeans, Illit and Le Sserafim’s fandom. Min had explicitly mentioned Illit for plagiarising NewJeans and Le Sserafim for delaying NewJeans’ debut, leading fans to either refute or come to Min’s defence of these claims. 

On 25 April, tensions reached a fever pitch when Min held an emergency press conference in response to the results of Hybe’s audit. In the live-streamed event, the ADOR CEO denied the accusations and revealed her side of the story—screenshots and all. During the two-hour press conference, Min was accompanied by her lawyers and gave an impassioned response whilst sobbing and using expletives. 

Min appearing at an emergency press conference  with her attorneys at the Korea Conference Centre following Hybe’s audit results / Getty Images

Hybe Labels released their official statement on 26 April, commenting on several claims she made. From the truth of NewJeans’ formation to Min’s alleged coup, here are the biggest accusations from the ongoing dispute and each party’s stance.


The alleged coup de tat 

During the press conference, Min refuted this claiming that a coup was not possible with her 18 per cent sharehold. “It doesn’t make sense to say that I stole the management rights for money…If I wanted money, I wouldn’t have made an internal accusation.” She also claimed that she did not have plans to make ADOR independent and only focused on her work and NewJeans. “All I care about is NewJeans,” Min shared. “I have no intention of taking the company. I don’t even care if someone else owns the company. All I’m asking is that they leave us alone.” 

Min looking visibly emotional while talking about NewJeans / Getty Images

However, on 26 April, Hybe revealed that they found records of discussions held over several months in conversation transcripts and work logs. Individuals involved in these talks included a vice president who is a “certified public accountant with professional knowledge of corporate governance who has conducted Hybe’s IPO duties and numerous M&As” and is a core executive of ADOR. Furthermore, several documents that contained calculations of “exercising put options…mentions of infringement lawsuits, investors and battle of public opinion” have also been found.


The real truth behind NewJeans and ADOR 

In the live event, the ADOR CEO detailed the formation of NewJeans and how Hybe allegedly misled her to believe she would debut Hybe’s first girl group. Using screenshots from her conversations with Hybe CEO, Bang Si Hyuk, Min revealed that Bang headhunted her in the hopes of creating a “BTS girl group” in “Min Hee Jin’s world.”

NewJeans splashed into the scene in 2022 with no prior promotions and immediately captured audiences with their refreshing Y2K sound and aesthetic / ADOR

From this, it was revealed that NewJeans members were originally Source Music trainees. She shared that Bang wanted to acquire Source Music and use its existing pool of trainees to debut the group. After holding an audition branded as “Min Hee Jin’s girl group”, she eventually formed NewJeans with its five members and planned for the debut. 

However, in 2021, Min received the shocking news that Hybe wished to debut former Izone members Sakura and Kim Chaewon in Hybe’s girl group first. However, they did not fit the concept Min had for NewJeans. Due to this, Le Sserafim was formed and debuted first under Source Music. According to Min, this blocked and delayed any promotion plans for NewJeans.

According to Min, Hybe wanted to compete with IVE by debuting fellow former members of Izone, Chaewon (centre) and Sakura (most right), affecting NewJeans’ debut / Getty Images

“They never apologized to the parents. The parents were so angry. They blamed Source Music because they were afraid that [NewJeans] might not debut because of the Source Music girl group. I didn’t want to turn my back on the trainees because I would be abandoning them.” 

To protect NewJeans and ensure they debut, Min decided to form ADOR. “I told them that I’d take these girls because I wanted to help them debut. I wasn’t stealing them,” Min elaborated. “I thought that making ADOR would be for the good of the girls and the shareholders.” 

CEO Min Hee Jin is accused of attempting to make ADOR independent from Hybe Labels / Be(Attitude) Korea

In Hybe’s statement on 26 April, the entertainment giant refuted these claims and called it a “distorted way of interpretation”. They cited that the reason why NewJeans was not able to debut as Hybe’s first girl group was because of Min’s own request to debut them under her separate label. 

As a result, Hybe allowed the members to be transferred to ADOR and provided around $11.6 million in resources to assist. “In this process, NewJeans’ debut schedule could not help but be delayed regardless of Hybe’s intention due to the division of the company and the transfer of contracts.”


Illit’s alleged plagiarism of NewJeans

Since Illit’s debut, the girl group has been embroiled in plagiarism scandals for their similarities with NewJeans / Belift Lab

Another huge point of contention in this dispute is Min’s accusation that Hybe has plagiarised NewJeans in the form of their newest girl group, Illit. Produced under Belift Lab, the group’s youthful look draws on the Y2K aesthetic. This claim has divided fans, with some agreeing while others state that Illit has a more Japanese-inspired Harajuku concept. 

READ: Unravelling NewJeans’ effortless school-girl style

“Illit is copying NewJeans in all aspects of entertainment activities including hair, makeup, clothing, choreography, photos, videos, and event appearances,” the statement reads. The latter refers to when Illit attended Acne’s Paris Fashion Week before their debut, similar to NewJeans’ group appearance at Chanel. 

Illit attending Acne Studio’s fashion show at Paris Fashion Week ahead of their official debut / Getty Images

Hybe has not given their official response to the plagiarism accusations, both in their 22 and 26 April statements. In the meantime, netizens have been making their own compilations online to find the similarities and differences. 


Hybe’s lack of care towards NewJeans 

According to Min, Hybe has shown preferential treatment towards Illit and Le Sserafim. She alleges that Bang never congratulated the members for their success and when NewJeans topped the Billboard 200 with Ditto, he sent her a message in a provocative tone. “’Are you happy? Why are you laughing? I want to know”, the texts read. “Why wouldn’t I have been happy? Doesn’t the conversation seem really weird?”

Min also expressed frustration at being unable to promote NewJeans to keep Le Sserafim’s debut in the spotlight. Likening her experience with Cinderella and the evil stepsisters, she claims she received little help from Hybe. “They expected nothing from us, and that’s how I made NewJeans,” she shared.  “They never let me promote NewJeans as the first girl group from Min Hee-jin because they intentionally wanted to confuse people. That was all Bang Si-hyuk’s doing.”

Min claims that she and NewJeans had been cast aside in favour of Illit and Le Sserafim / Getty Images

In response, Hybe shared in their statement on 26 April that the company had promoted NewJeans diligently. “Last year, 273 press releases were written and distributed for NewJeans alone…Our PR is promoting all labels and artists without discrimination and doing their best to promote them.”

Further, Hybe cited that both Le Sserafim and NewJeans were given minimal promotional periods as their debut schedules were back to back. To “protect the news value of both teams” and maintain public intrigue, ADOR could not reveal the lineup of their members ahead of time as a typical K-pop group would. 


What is going on with NewJeans now?

All promotions for NewJeans will proceed as planned amidst the ongoing dispute / ADOR

Amidst the legal battle between Min and Hybe Labels, fans are concerned about how this will affect NewJeans’ well-being and the group in the long run. According to Hybe, all promotions are to continue as scheduled and the label ensures that the members receive care during this tumultuous period.

On 27 April, their pre-release single Bubble Gum premiered on YouTube and received positive feedback from netizens in a show of support for the group. NewJeans will continue to be in the spotlight as they prepare for their May comeback, How Sweet.


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