'Cult religion and illegal marketing': HYBE's old skeletons dug up in feud

Korea JoongAng Daily/April 29, 2024

By Yoon So-Yeon

The HYBE-ADOR feud took a strange turn over the weekend when Korean online users dug up old dirt on the BTS agency involving its alleged connections to a religious cult and an instance of the company being blackmailed for chart rigging practices back in 2017.
Multiple posts were uploaded on various online communities over the weekend demonstrating HYBE's alleged involvement in a “brain training and meditation company” that people suspect to be a religious cult named Dahn World — or Dahn Yoga.

Users suspect that the company has been using its boy bands BTS and Tomorrow X Together, and even girl groups GFriend — which was shortly disbanded after HYBE bought its agency Source Music —, NewJeans and ILLIT to promote the Dahn World company and its beliefs.

Other posts also pointed out that HYBE had been blackmailed by a person surnamed Lee and three accomplices in 2017 for allegedly using “expedient marketing strategies” while promoting BTS’s album in 2015. Lee was sentenced to a year in prison and the three others were let off with a fine.
HYBE’s current position is that it will not react to such rumors “because they are ungrounded rumors that have been addressed in the past.” It added it would take strong legal measures against anyone spreading lies.
HYBE had previously said that it would not react to ADOR CEO and NewJeans’ producer Min Hee-jin’s accusations against the company during her press conference held last Thursday, but it issued a long statement the day after.

Cult connection claims
Rumors surrounding BTS and Tomorrow X Together’s connection to Dahn World had actually been circulating among fans from earlier on in the groups’ activities, but resurfaced due to the ongoing HYBE-ADOR battle.
Dahn World, also stylized as Dahnworld, is a meditation company founded in 1985 in Seoul “that began as a small center and grew up to become a global health culture company spreading the traditional training methods and the spirit of Korea around the world,” according to the company’s introduction on its website.
The company explains itself as “managing the health of the brain by training the body and mind, thereby increasing the quality of life through self-care and self-development.” Despite this, the company has been known to spread unorthodox religious beliefs, such as people using the power of “life electrons” through prayer and meditation.
It has been acknowledged as a pseudo-religious cult by major Christian associations in Korea.

The online posts contained multiple instances where BTS and Tomorrow X Together members were seen carrying Dahn World symbols in their outfits, such as bears or three-legged crows, or singing songs mentioning Dahn World beliefs, such as meditative abdominal breathing.
The posts pointed out that multiple HYBE artists graduated from, or are currently students of, Global Cyber University, which was founded in 2010 by Dahn World creator and school president Lee Seung-heon. They include BTS members RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook; Tomorrow X Together members Soobin and Yeonjun; and Heeseung of Enhypen.
Some even claimed that Min is being retaliated against for her refusal to go along with Dahn World beliefs, citing the music video for NewJeans’ 2023 hit track “OMG” as an example. Min mentioned that she was “threatened by HYBE because of the ‘OMG’ music video” in a KakaoTalk chat with HYBE CEO Park Ji-won.
The “OMG” music video takes place in a psychiatric ward with the members of NewJeans trying to escape the institution. Users say the video is symbolic of Min trying to escape HYBE’s coercion.

The sajaegi stir
Another major allegation stemmed from an actual court ruling in 2017 when HYBE was blackmailed by a group of four marketers that threatened to disclose proof that the company had used the forbidden act of sajaegi while promoting BTS’s music in 2015.
Sajaegi is the act of buying a large number of albums or manipulating music charts with fake IDs to gain higher chart rankings. BTS released two singles in 2015: “For You” and “I Need U.”
According to a court ruling on Aug. 31, 2017, Lee sent an email to HYBE — known as Big Hit Entertainment back then — saying that they had evidence of “illegal marketing” regarding the company's artist and demanded 330 million won ($240,000) for silence.
Big Hit Entertainment ended up paying Lee 57 million won “because it was afraid of damaging the artist’s reputation,” according to its company’s testimony. The term “sajaegi marketing” was specifically mentioned in the ruling, with the court saying that Lee had made a “sajaegi marketing deal” with Big Hit Entertainment and threatened the company based on that account.

“The victim did provide grounds [for Lee] to make the blackmail by proceeding with expedient marketing measures,”the court said in its reasoning for sentencing Lee to a year in prison.
Instead of issuing a new statement, HYBE reiterated its position from back in 2017, stating that “the inadequate marketing mentioned by the criminal is nothing but a lopsided argument.”
“The expedient marketing only refers to a common online marketing strategy,” the company said. “We made the report to the investigative forces because Lee’s argument had nothing to do with the contract that we wrote and we had nothing to hide. The money was paid only in the best interest of the artist by an individual [working at the company], not officially by the company. We are victims of blackmail.”

“Liars will be punished”
BTS and Tomorrow X Together’s agency BigHit Music said Monday that it will take strong legal measures against the malicious attacks made against its artists. No explanations were made regarding the two accusations.
“We have detected a very systematic move to damage the reputation of BTS and make ungrounded rumors,” the agency said.
“The malicious derogations, rumors and insults are getting serious. We deem it a serious act against the artist’s reputation and will appoint an additional law firm to take necessary measures. We are conducting round-the-clock monitoring on related posts to gather evidence. We will show no mercy or tolerance to the perpetrators.”

HYBE also accused Min of inappropriate religious activities on Thursday, just minutes before she began her press conference at 3 p.m.
The company argued that Min had been consulting a female shaman to decide on major company management matters, including the military services of BTS members or who to hire for the company.
HYBE said it secured lengthy transcripts of conversations between Min and the shaman through a forensic analysis from the internal audit of ADOR, while Min explained that she just consulted a friend who happens to be a shaman, as many Koreans do when they need guidance.
ADOR has not made an official statement on any issues either as of Monday. NewJeans released the music video for “Bubble Gum” on Friday at midnight on YouTube. It has been viewed over 13 million times as of Monday noon.

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