Who Benefits from HYBE's Civil War?
Who Benefits from HYBE's Civil War?
Sound Signal

Who Benefits from HYBE's Civil War?

We unravel the war rumbling within a K-pop juggernaut for Sound Signal's latest Trend of the Week.

This piece originally appeared in our biweekly newsletter, Sound Signal, which identifies emerging artists, scenes, and trending tracks, crafted by the world's best writers and curators. Sign up here to never miss our take on what's next in music.

While the hip-hop world has been engrossed in Kendrick Lamar and Drake’s vitriolic rap feud, a different kind of diss track is going viral in South Korea. The person firing shots isn’t an artist at all, but Min Hee-jin: the CEO of record label ADOR, and the creator and creative director of NewJeans, one of Korea’s biggest breakout artists. Min’s target? Her employer, the K-pop juggernaut and label of BTS, HYBE Entertainment.

The conflict started in mid-April, when HYBE began conducting an audit of ADOR, soon claiming that Min was plotting a takeover of the label. A war of words between ADOR and HYBE quickly spiraled into a messy conflict—Min denounced any plotting while accusing HYBE’s newest girl group, ILLIT, of copying NewJeans’ sound and aesthetic in their debut EP from March. HYBE announced that they would formally report Min to the police for breach of trust, while claiming she had accused even more K-pop acts, like TWS, RIIZE, and even BTS, of copying NewJeans. The dispute is complex and ongoing, even as NewJeans prepares to release a new single this month.

Seeing two of the most prominent names in the K-pop industry engage in a public, messy fight is already jaw-dropping. But what really set the Korean public ablaze was an April 25 press conference held by Min, where she rambled, cried, and sweared (to the visible distress of her lawyers) for two hours about all the ills HYBE’s executives had seemingly passed onto her. Min is only one of a few female CEOs operating in the K-pop space, and her passionate pleas could easily have been understood as an independent creative mind fighting against HYBE’s corporate machine.

And what of the two groups at the center of this civil war, NewJeans and ILLIT, who—quite frankly—have the most to lose? Well, for the most part, they appear to be doing just fine. In the weeks since the conflict, ILLIT’s Spotify monthly listeners have grown by 31%, and the group has continued to rack up wins on music shows and top Korean music charts with their debut single, “Magnetic.” NewJeans, meanwhile, has seen their past catalog creep up the same charts: on Korea’s Weekly Melon chart for example, their single “Hype Boy” rose from #30 on April 21st to #19 on May 5. In fact, as of May 5, five NewJeans singles appear in the top half of the chart. It’s a welcoming show of support in what must be a distressing situation for the young members, as if listeners and fans are choosing a side.

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