The woman behind girl group NewJeans refuses to follow any formulas

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The woman behind girl group NewJeans refuses to follow any formulas

Min Hee-jin, creative director and CEO of ADOR, which recently launched girl group NewJeans [ADOR]

Min Hee-jin, creative director and CEO of ADOR, which recently launched girl group NewJeans [ADOR]

NewJeans entered the K-pop scene on July 22 and quickly became one of the most-talked-about girl groups. When introducing this highly-anticipated launch, one phrase sufficed — “Min Hee-jin’s girl group.”  
Known as a “genius creative director” in K-pop with a two-decade career, Min has impressive names in her portfolio: star groups Girls’ Generation, SHINee, Exo, f(x) and Red Velvet, for which she was the art director under SM Entertainment. She was the creative mind behind the colorful skinny jeans trend sparked by Girls’ Generation’s megahit “Gee” (2009), the school uniform look of boy band Exo in “Growl” (2013) and the dimensional concept of Red Velvet that established a new unique feminine image for K-pop girl groups.  
In 2019, she joined HYBE, the powerhouse behind BTS. As chief brand officer, Min established her label ADOR, which stands for “all doors one room.” NewJeans is the first act to come from the new agency.  
Girl group NewJeans [ADOR]

Girl group NewJeans [ADOR]

Among those in Korea’s four largest entertainment firms — SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, YG Entertainment and HYBE — she is the only woman to receive an annual salary of over 500 million won ($381,480). In March, she was featured on Variety’s list of “Women That Have Made an Impact in Global Entertainment.”
The “Min Hee-jin girl group” is proving to exceed the high expectations it faced. Min broke away from the K-pop debut customs, which follows the order of revealing members, teasers and finally a music video. Instead, NewJeans’ first music video “Attention,” uploaded on July 22, was also the first revelation of the group’s name. The video has surpassed 12 million views as of Thursday.  
NewJeans' debut EP "New Jeans" (2022) [ADOR]

NewJeans' debut EP "New Jeans" (2022) [ADOR]

NewJeans has since uploaded three more music videos: “Hype Boy,” “Hurt” and “Cookie,” which along with "Attention" make up the four tracks of the group's debut EP “New Jeans.” They all ranked on Spotify Korea’s top 10. As of Thursday. “Attention” is No. 1 on Spotify Korea and No. 2 on Melon. The EP officially dropped on Aug. 1 and sold over 440,000 copies in preorders alone, setting a new record for a debuting K-pop girl group.
Min sat down for an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, last month prior to NewJeans’ debut. She also conducted a follow-up written interview after the group's launch. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
How do you feel about the public’s reaction toward NewJeans?
It’s basically what I expected. I don’t want to come across as conceited [...] It’s true that I was confident, but I also had my concerns. Every decision required so much caution. So I got what I expected, but it wasn’t easy to get here.  
NewJeans' debut process was different from most K-pop idols.
I don’t like formulas. To me, a fun culture is one without formulas. Teasers are supposed to incite curiosity, but after some point, I felt like it just became a custom. Since [NewJeans] was already receiving a lot of attention, I didn’t feel the need for teasers.  
I thought curiosity surrounding never-before-seen content would create more buzz, and my biggest goal was to transform that curiosity into something tangible — to actually go listen to the music since the new concept I wanted to showcase was the music itself. [I needed that strategy] because the music I chose was not the conventional K-pop idol style. Even if the song is good, it takes time for the public to get used to it. The music video was a means to highlight the strengths of NewJeans’ music and induce people to listen to it several times.  
Since we kept the members strictly secret, we thought not revealing any information about the members would lead people to re-watch the music videos several times in order to identify the members. So even the members’ names weren’t revealed at first. We thought that would lead people to look up online who the members are.  
NewJeans [ADOR]

NewJeans [ADOR]

We styled each member drastically different in each music video to intentionally make it confusing so that people would re-watch all four videos to figure out who’s who. The strategy was to make the fans keep “studying.” I think for a rookie with no fan base to garner interest in the beginning, securing a fandom in a short period of time is key. So I expected [our strategy] to create a buzz voluntarily among viewers.
What do you mean by “the music is the concept”?
People who were waiting for my work were mostly people who had expectations for the concept [I would come up with]. People tend to think of the concept as something mostly, or even strictly, visual. But today, there are so many media outlets and such an overflow of visualization techniques, which also means that nothing feels new to the public. So it’s foolish to focus only on visualizing [...] In my opinion, a good concept isn’t something that can be defined just by one factor. Even if you can’t exactly put your finger on it, something that makes you feel complex feelings yet attracts you is what makes a truly great concept.
Exo in 2013. Min was the art director behind the boy band's popular school uniform look. [SM ENTERTAINMENT]

Exo in 2013. Min was the art director behind the boy band's popular school uniform look. [SM ENTERTAINMENT]

What’s it like to work as a producer?
The reason I wanted a label of my own was solely for the musical aspect [...] My label being independent was the only condition I had.  
Usually, the visual and musical sectors are separated, and I’ve been working in an environment like that for over a decade. So I had a thirst, wanting to create an album that consists of the exact music I want. I had a sense of mission, so most of all, I needed an environment that was free from external intervention. Since I’m not a composer, we won’t be able to define ADOR’s music as just one style.  
NewJeans’ music is said to “not be like K-pop.”
I felt like I had been tacitly forced to follow the formula of how to produce K-pop hits. It was taken for granted, so I felt a bit rebellious and wanted to break that formula. I wondered, “Hasn’t the concept of ‘public appeal’ that we commonly talk about also been repeatedly crammed into us?”
As someone working in the industry, seeing everyone aiming for a similar style in order to guarantee success was disheartening. I wanted to suggest a different way.
NewJeans [ADOR]

NewJeans [ADOR]

How did company officials react?

After confirming the lineup of the members, I invited them to my house. We had a briefing session about the directionality and concept I had in mind. All the members reacted favorably.  
Interestingly, within HYBE, I was told [my concept for NewJeans] was “plain” or “the type that doesn’t have public appeal.” Some people were convinced that it was unlikely to be a hit because it doesn’t follow the conventional “K-pop idol grammar.” But I didn’t care. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do, and I was confident with the music I chose. The more I heard skeptical comments like that, it just made me want to showcase [NewJeans] sooner.  
It wasn’t just confidence; confidence alone doesn’t guarantee a good outcome. I was genuinely curious how people would react to this challenge I was about to undertake. It’s surreal and moving to be able to talk now, after it has turned out well.  
Min Hee-jin with members of NewJeans [MIN HEE-JIN]

Min Hee-jin with members of NewJeans [MIN HEE-JIN]

What goals do you aspire to reach with NewJeans?
It can be scary to suggest something different. But once the suggestion is accepted, I think that’s what writes new history.  
I envision NewJeans as a truly “whimsical” group — not whimsical just for the sake of being quirky, but trying out what hasn’t been done in K-pop even though it should have been. The members are ready to go on an adventure with me. Even before NewJeans’ debut, we already had the next release planned. If things go as planned, it will also be a very whimsical album. 

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