K-pop group NewJeans is at the center of messy feud: What to know

Is this K-pop’s biggest feud of 2024?

NewJeans, the chart-topping five-member girl group behind hits like “Attention” and “Super Shy,” is at the heart of a messy legal feud between its label head, ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin, and Hybe, its parent company behind top K-pop groups like BTS, Tomorrow x Together and Seventeen.

The controversial fight between ADOR (an acronym for All Doors One Room) and Hybe first surfaced in late April, when it came to light that Hybe was auditing ADOR over its plans to break off independently and take NewJeans — which made its debut in July 2022 and catapulted to fame — with it. Over the course of the public feud, accusations have involved plagiarism, shamanism and insider trading.

As the battle for control — and the court of public opinion — continues, here’s what you need to know about the ongoing K-pop drama between ADOR CEO Min and Hybe.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 25: ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin attends a press conference on April 25, 2024 in Seoul, South Korea. HYBE, the company behind BTS, has launched an audit of its subsidiary ADOR and is demanding the resignation of CEO Min Hee-jin, alleging she attempted a takeover of the popular girl group NewJeans and leaked sensitive information, while Min claims HYBE exploited ADOR and allowed plagiarism of NewJeans' concept. The high-stakes feud between the two entertainment powerhouses threatens to disrupt the careers of NewJeans and other HYBE artists caught in the middle of the corporate power struggle. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 25: ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin attends a press conference on April 25, 2024 in Seoul, South Korea. HYBE, the company behind BTS, has launched an audit of its subsidiary ADOR and is demanding the resignation of CEO Min Hee-jin, alleging she attempted a takeover of the popular girl group NewJeans and leaked sensitive information, while Min claims HYBE exploited ADOR and allowed plagiarism of NewJeans' concept. The high-stakes feud between the two entertainment powerhouses threatens to disrupt the careers of NewJeans and other HYBE artists caught in the middle of the corporate power struggle. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin at a press conference on April 25, 2024 in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Min Hee-jin, who calls herself the “mother” of NewJeans, is the current head of ADOR, an independently run sublabel under the Hybe banner.

A K-pop industry veteran, Min joined Hybe in 2019 when it was known as Big Hit Entertainment, after playing a significant role in shaping the creative direction for genre-defining acts like SHINee, EXO and Girls’ Generation. In 2021, she became the CEO of the newly formed label, ADOR, of which she owns an 18% stake, in anticipation of launching her first girl group, which later became NewJeans. Hybe owns an 80% stake in the company, while the remaining 2% are controlled by other executives.

The first sign of trouble came on April 22, when Billboard reported Hybe initiated an internal audit of ADOR following allegations that Min was secretly planning to take over control of the label and go completely independent. In an official letter, Hybe also called for Min to step down as CEO.

In response, ADOR suggested that the infighting began because Min had reason to believe that Hybe intentionally copied NewJeans’s concept to launch ILLIT, a rookie five-member girl group that debuted in March under Hybe sister label, Belift Lab. ADOR also denied Hybe’s accusations that its CEO was entertaining various avenues, including allegedly seeking outside investors (a claim Min rejected) in an alleged attempt to break the label away from its corporate parent company.

On April 25, Hybe issued a press release stating that the audit had found “concrete evidence” Min was aiming “to seize management control” of ADOR, including alleged instructions on how to pressure Hybe to sell off its 80% stake. Hybe also said it was filing an official police complaint against Min and fellow ADOR executives for breach of trust, which prompted the CEO to call an emergency press conference that same day to deny the allegations.

During the emotional two-hour presser, Min maintained her loyalty to NewJeans and insisted she didn’t intend to break contractual ties with Hybe. She also claimed she was under “a slave contract” at Hybe (which the company denied), addressed allegations she sought guidance from a shaman and argued the debut of Le Sserafim — a Hybe girl group under sublabel Source Music — was prioritized over NewJeans, among various other claims.

ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin attends a press conference on April 25 in Seoul, South Korea.ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin attends a press conference on April 25 in Seoul, South Korea.

ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin attends a press conference on April 25 in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

In the weeks that followed, things have gotten messier between Min and Hybe, which recently became South Korea’s first entertainment conglomerate. Parents of NewJeans’s members have gotten involved, and rumors of cults and chart manipulation have circulated.

Despite Min and Hybe’s feud over who has control over ADOR (and ultimately NewJeans), both parties appear to at least be aligned on one thing amid the public mud-slinging: protecting NewJeans.

Minji, Hyein, Danielle, Hanni, and Haerin of NewJeans perform at the Lollapalooza Music Festival in August 2023, at Grant Park in Chicago.Minji, Hyein, Danielle, Hanni, and Haerin of NewJeans perform at the Lollapalooza Music Festival in August 2023, at Grant Park in Chicago.

From left, Minji, Hyein, Danielle, Hanni, and Haerin of NewJeans perform at the Lollapalooza Music Festival in August 2023. (Amy Harris/Invision via AP)

The ADOR-Hybe battle comes at an inconvenient time for NewJeans. The group, which consists of members Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin and Hyein, is in the middle of a comeback.

“Our company is committed to doing its best to ensure that NewJeans’ comeback activities are not hindered,” Hybe said in an April 25 statement. A few days after the feud was first reported in April, the fivesome dropped the music video for its latest song, “Bubble Gum,” which will be released alongside the upcoming single, “How Sweet,” on May 24.

Then, the quintet is scheduled to appear at the K-Wave Concert Inkigayo in Incheon, South Korea, on June 2.

NewJeans will then make its Japanese debut with the single, “Supernatural,” on June 21. A second song, “Right Now,” with contributions by Pharrell, will also drop that same day. The group is scheduled to hold a fan meeting, “Bunnies Camp 2024,” in Tokyo on June 26 and 27.

NewJeans doesn’t have any official activities after the Tokyo concerts, so it remains unclear what the future will hold for them and what will have transpired in the ADOR-Hybe fight. One month before the controversy, it was reported that NewJeans was potentially releasing a new album in the second half of the year and planned to go on its first world tour in 2025.

The narrative changed when new claims emerged after one of the members’s parents alleged in a May interview that Hybe was planning to put NewJeans “on a long hiatus” after the group’s activities concluded.

Hybe is exercising due process to oust Min from her position as ADOR CEO, though that has not yet happened.

On May 10, ADOR’s board agreed to hold an extraordinary shareholders meeting scheduled for May 31, where it will discuss replacing Min and other board members.

Min had filed an injunction on May 7 before with the Seoul Central District Court to prohibit Hybe, from exercising its voting rights to dismiss her.

The hearing took place May 17, with more accusations hurled from both sides. Among them, Hybe alleged the Ador CEO gaslit NewJeans, shared trade secrets and secretly met with outside investors. Min accused the company of attempting to chart-rig one of NewJeans’s albums.

The court’s decision whether to approve or dismiss her injunction is expected to come before the shareholders meeting.

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