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At the Home of BTS, Turmoil Over a Rising Okay-Pop Star

At the Home of BTS, Turmoil Over a Rising Okay-Pop Star


The video had not one of the hallmarks of Okay-pop. No catchy tune, no snazzy outfits, no slick dance routines. Definitely no stars. It was set in an unremarkable auditorium with plain white tables and a big projector display.

But it included screenshots of chats between two energy gamers within the business and immediately turned the discuss of the Okay-pop world.

It was the reside broadcast of a two-hour emotional tell-all delivered final month by Min Hee-Jin, the producer of NewJeans, arguably right this moment’s hottest Okay-pop act. She had referred to as a information convention to dispute accusations of company malfeasance by her employer, Hybe, the Okay-pop colossus behind BTS.

The unusually public and hostile feud — which has included allegations of plagiarism, chart rigging and shamanism — has led to tons of of tens of millions of {dollars} being wiped off Hybe’s market worth. And it has solid a cloud over Hybe’s relationship with a rising star, NewJeans, whereas its largest act, BTS, is on hiatus.

“It’s about cash, it’s about management and likewise the possession of an artist,” mentioned Andrew Eungi Kim, referring to NewJeans. A professor at Korea University, Mr. Kim research the nation’s cultural affect, a phenomenon often called hallyu.

The members of BTS, who’re all serving in South Korea’s army due to obligatory conscription, will not be anticipated to reunite till subsequent 12 months. As a few of them have launched solo albums, NewJeans has racked up its share of accolades. In the previous 12 months it has topped the Billboard 200, performed at Lollapalooza and appeared in commercials for Apple and Coca-Cola.

The artistic power behind the act is Ms. Min, who was recruited by Hybe to develop a lady band. Her pushback in opposition to Hybe and its founder, Bang Si-hyuk, has resonated broadly in South Korea, the place company life may be punishingly hierarchal.

“She’s like a powerless visionary who’s preventing in opposition to a large company,” Mr. Kim mentioned.

Started practically twenty years in the past as a label referred to as Big Hit, Hybe turned the dominant power in Okay-pop thanks largely to the worldwide success of BTS. It went public in 2020, and a 12 months later, its market worth peaked round $12 billion. Since then, its shares have misplaced about half of their worth amid considerations that it could not be capable of replicate the profitability of BTS.

Hybe has had success with different teams like Seventeen and Tomorrow X Together. It has additionally expanded within the United States with offers like the acquisition of Ithaca Holdings, which manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. In 2022, it launched NewJeans’ first single, “Attention,” with out the attribute fanfare of Okay-pop debuts. The following 12 months was Hybe’s most profitable on file, with the corporate posting annual revenue of about 186.6 billion Korean received, or $136 million.

One of the primary public indications of the turmoil at Hybe got here on April 22, when it introduced that it was going to audit Ador, a subsidiary run by Ms. Min. It accused Ms. Min of illegally making an attempt to take management of Ador and requested her to step down. Hybe owns 80 p.c of Ador, Ms. Min has an 18 p.c stake and the remainder is owned by different executives. On April 25, Hybe filed a police criticism in opposition to her.

Ms. Min responded publicly the identical day with a information convention. Dressed in a inexperienced T-shirt with white stripes and a Los Angeles Dodgers hat, she appeared raveled and broke down a number of occasions. She rejected Hybe’s accusations and shared screenshots of chats with Mr. Bang, the agency’s founder, that she instructed had been proof of a fraught work atmosphere.

She additionally mentioned that she had not been compensated pretty and accused Hybe of plagiarizing her work with NewJeans to enhance different acts. Hybe has denied her allegations.

To Ms. Min, the dispute was a tug of conflict between artistic and company pursuits.

“All I care about is NewJeans,” Ms. Min mentioned in feedback that had been livestreamed by the main South Korean broadcasters.

Two days later, a brand new music by NewJeans, “Bubble Gum,” was launched as scheduled.

In a written response to questions, Ms. Min mentioned, “It is time to rethink the character of the leisure business.” For Okay-pop to maintain prospering, she added, the business must focus “essentially on creators and creation” as a substitute of on cash and administration.

After Ms. Min’s look, rumors involving Hybe artists, chart-rigging and cults circulated the web. To followers, this sullied the picture of their favourite acts.

One group of BTS followers took out an commercial in native newspapers, criticizing Hybe for airing its soiled laundry. Another protested exterior Hybe’s places of work.

Ian Liu, a NewJeans fan from Jakarta, Indonesia, had an identical sentiment. “The artists are collateral injury,” he mentioned.

Hybe was additionally concerned in a public feud final 12 months, although that was with exterior events. It was a bidding conflict for SM Entertainment, one other Okay-pop agency, that was received by Kakao, a South Korean expertise big.

The dispute with Ms. Lee, who’s the chief government of Ador, is headed to the courts.

“It’s exhausting to foretell what is going to occur at this level,” mentioned Lee Gyu Tag, a professor of cultural research and anthropology at George Mason University’s Korea department. “In the tip, this concern between Hybe and Ador might be a studying alternative for different businesses to learn to successfully handle their corporations.”

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