Tensions Between Hybe and NewJeans' Agency Raise Questions About Girl Group's Future | Be Korea-savvy

Tensions Between Hybe and NewJeans’ Agency Raise Questions About Girl Group’s Future

NewJeans (Image courtesy of Ador)

NewJeans (Image courtesy of Ador)

SEOUL, Apr. 25 (Korea Bizwire) – As the conflict between Hybe and Ador Entertainment, the company behind the rising K-pop girl group NewJeans, escalates, attention is turning to the potential impact on the members’ comebacks and activities. 

In the K-pop industry, the prevailing view is that major disruptions are unlikely in the near term, as Hybe appears determined to retain control over the lucrative NewJeans intellectual property.

However, the strong bond between the members and Ador founder Min Hee-jin, whom they affectionately call “Mom,” is seen as a potential complicating factor. 

NewJeans, a five-member group that debuted in July 2022, is proceeding with a packed comeback schedule ahead of their anticipated return next month, according to industry sources. On April 27, they will unveil the music video for their new single “Bubble Gum,” followed by the release of another single, “How Sweet,” on May 24. 

The group also plans to debut “Right Now” as the promotional track for advertising campaigns in Korea and Japan in May, before issuing their first official Japanese single album, featuring “Supernatural” and “Right Now,” on June 21. NewJeans will hold a large-scale fan meeting at the Tokyo Dome on June 26 and 27, with a new album and a world tour also in the works for the latter half of the year.

While Hybe has launched an audit targeting Min and others at Ador, the company has stated its intention to protect the NewJeans artists as much as possible. In an internal email, Hybe CEO Park Jiwon urged employees not to be unsettled and to focus on supporting NewJeans’ comeback and growth. He added that the company would continue exploring ways to facilitate the development of NewJeans and their labelmate IVE. 

Under Hybe’s multi-label system, day-to-day operations related to NewJeans are understood to be entirely under Ador’s purview, leaving Hybe itself in the dark until updates are provided by the subsidiary label. As of now, no changes to NewJeans’ comeback activities have been detected. 

The key uncertainty lies in whether the NewJeans members might side with Min amid her escalating standoff against Hybe. In an extreme scenario discussed online, they could potentially leave Hybe to join Min’s camp. 

The members, discovered and trained by Min from among trainees at Hybe’s Source Music label, have demonstrated strong loyalty and gratitude toward the Ador founder over the years.

If NewJeans were to attempt leaving with Min, two potential avenues have been speculated: filing for an injunction to suspend their exclusive contracts citing unfair treatment, or having Ador terminate the members’ contracts first, while Min and her associates remain part of the company’s leadership. 

Ador founder Min Hee-jin (Image courtesy of Ador)

Ador founder Min Hee-jin (Image courtesy of Ador)

However, industry observers view either path as unlikely. Considering the typical seven-year contract structure in K-pop, the NewJeans members, who debuted less than two years ago, would face an uphill battle in court to justify suspending their contracts.

“If Ador proactively ‘unlocks the contract chains,’ Hybe could potentially pursue criminal charges of breach of trust against Min and other executives,” said one industry insider who requested anonymity.

“The dispute between Hybe and Ador does not seem likely to end easily,” said culture critic Jeong Duk-hyun. “However, a public relations battle would be undesirable. We should wait for the substantive truth to emerge, though there are concerns about potential disruptions to NewJeans’ activities.” 

Min has responded to Hybe’s audit questionnaire by the April 24 deadline, though Hybe declined to disclose the contents, stating it would “strongly respond with legal measures” if made public. 

Hybe demanded an Ador board meeting on April 22, scheduled for April 30. If Ador’s directors fail to attend, leading to an inquorate meeting, Hybe plans to apply to the court for permission to convene an extraordinary general meeting of shareholders.

A court decision is expected within four to five weeks of the application. Once issued, notice for the extraordinary general meeting would be given the same day, with the meeting and a subsequent board meeting taking place 15 days later. 

Hybe is expected to use the extraordinary general meeting to dismiss Min and the existing directors before appointing new ones, potentially leading to the selection of a new CEO at the ensuing board meeting.

Lina Jang (linajang@koreabizwire.com)

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