August 30, 2022
SEOUL – Min Hee-jin, CEO of label Ador (All Doors One Room), in 2010 said in an interview with a local media outlet that “physical CDs are no longer something to be heard but seen,” because “it’s through the CD covers that the consumer meets new music.”
Then the manager of SM Entertainment’s visual directing team, Min shared her strategy to overcome the drop in physical album sales. As visual director, Min not only designed the album cover and styles, but she turned the whole process of planning the album — its production and its promotions — into a single, coherent visual storytelling.
Min’s idea was not only a solution for the record industry, but a game-changer for K-pop. Since then, K-pop has evolved into the visual-centered, narrative-building music genre that the world is now familiar with.
Fast forward 12 years, Min has offered another game-changer, this time with her self-produced girl group, NewJeans.
As she previously redefined the idea of physical CDs as the first thing that would grab the attention of listeners, Min took it her own way this time to catch the public’s eye.
Skipping the usual step-by-step process of media plugs, the band’s music and content became its promotional tools. Even before unveiling the names of the five members, Ador released the official music video of NewJeans’ first single, “Attention.” The following day, the bandmates’ names were revealed through the second single, “Hype Boy,” which came with four music videos — one each for Minji, Hyein, Hanni and a unit edition for Danielle and Haerin.
NewJeans’ launch was highly hyped, as it also marked Min’s debut as an executive producer. Rather than being pushed by such public anticipation, Min strategically took advantage of it.
“The role of a teaser is to make people curious, but it had become more like inertia, and I felt it was unnecessary,” Min told Joongang Ilbo in an interview published Aug. 10. “With no information revealed about the members, people would keep on replaying the music video, and I expected this would lead them to continue searching about them online. After watching the second music video, in which the members’ names are revealed, I anticipated that people would come back to the first video to look them up.”
She was right. By the time the self-titled debut album “New Jeans” was officially released on Aug. 8, almost everyone had heard of the group. The EP racked up the highest first-week sales for a girl group’s debut album, with over 440,000 sold and numerous records set on local charts. NewJeans was the first female Korean group to line up all four of its songs atop Spotify’s daily top songs chart on Aug. 15 and to top the daily top artist chart on Aug. 16.
Something new, but natural
While Min’s works have always hit the public as original, ironically, reflecting the natural beauty of artists and creating a style and narrative to match them is what she focuses on.
When she pitched the conceptual idea for Girls’ Generation ahead of the group’s debut in 2007, she focused on the perception of “girls.” Rather than limiting the term to just dainty, innocent or bubbly young women, she looked for something that could embrace many nuances — a fresh and healthy schoolgirl image that fit the age. This was realized through Girls’ Generation’s debut single, “Into the New World,” according to Min’s past interviews.
In a 2013 interview about SHINee’s third LP, “Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You,” Min said she refrained from following trends and often discovered creative ideas spontaneously while working with artists on the ground.
In the 2013 interview she said, “This is how we find something only we can do. They come to define SHINee’s colors, and if people like what they see from SHINee, that would naturally lead to a new trend.”
Min applied the same rule in conceptualizing NewJeans.
Free of the heavy makeup and flamboyant fashion that now reigns in K-pop, the bandmates — all in their teens — appear mostly in T-shirts, pants and sneakers. Their hair is dark and straight, like ordinary teenage girls.
NewJeans’ music is also easy listening, consisting mostly of midtempo melodies and repetitive lyrics that thump softly on the ears, which in turn allows each of the five voices to ring out their unique qualities more clearly.
Min also tried to make the overall production process natural, especially for the band’s members.
“The most important thing was to find a harmony that was not forced. We all know how hard it is to work with a colleague who we don’t get along with. As important as it was for the girls to show synergy in their looks, their characters also had to mingle well,” the Ador CEO told Joongang Ilbo.
How the individual bandmates were trained and communicated with the producers also happened in a comfortable environment. Rather than giving them a song and instructing them to practice, she played the music to them through listening sessions and asked for their opinions. The recordings were made without a guide vocalist, so they could sing in their own styles.
Music as the concept
If it was the strategic promotion and visuals that had enchanted the public at first, eventually it is the music that will make listeners stay with NewJeans. This “good music” is what Min hoped to show to the world as an executive producer.
In July 2019, when it was announced that Min had joined Hybe and would launch her own label and girl group there, some viewed it skeptically, especially as they believed Min was not an expert in music.
Appearing on the TV talk show “You Quiz” in December, Min said she had felt burnt out after ceaseless years of working. Although she had made her best efforts to find the fun, she still faced obstacles and restraints on fully realizing her ideas.
Just as she had expanded her role to ultimately establish a whole new field of creative directing, Min is redefining the role of a producer with Ador. Rather than being discouraged by the skepticism, Min turned her weakness into her strength.
“An ear for selecting good music is not directly related to one’s expertise in making it,” Min said. “I knew people had low expectations due to the preconceptions that I was not a musician, and I believed this was the point with which I could surprise them.”
NewJeans’ debut and the astonishing records the group has set so far are enough to prove Min’s capability to make good music by putting together all of the right elements. It’s indisputable that she is skilled at effectively delivering music to listeners and amplifying their experience with the right mix of supporting elements.
The future role of a producer is no longer limited to training and debuting a K-pop group to be successful in the market. It now goes beyond that to the producer cultivating a group of artists who will influence and inspire their generation, according to culture critic Kim Do-heon. Min’s attempts with NewJeans may be the start of such a change, Kim added.
“K-pop idols must now carry a message and philosophy, and this is not something you can force upon them through short-term training. The company must be able to teach them to think wisely,” Kim said.
“CEO Min Hee-jin’s NewJeans has recently been an issue. In her interview, she said more than anything, the members must be happy. She is making efforts to make new attempts, and such values and an efficient system to back it up will be important.”