SM’s art director, Min Heejin, who changed the flow of the music industry with original ideas.
“In order to express the concepts I designed more clearly, I got to taking part in album designs, as well as various jobs.”
This is an interview with art director Min Heejin, who, along with SM Entertainment’s concept plans, does general album visuals, and graphic works.
With original and fresh ideas, art director Min Heejin is in charge of SM musicians’ concepts and art directing. She joined SM as a graphic designer, and brought about numerous album artwork for Girls’ Generation, SHINee, f(x), and even EXO. However, without being smug about the present, she expressed musicians’ concepts in various ways the way she feels, and also completed ‘Pink tape’ Art Film for f(x), who recently had a comeback. Art director Min Heejin, who currently handles all of SM’s visual images. What kind of completed works will she entertain our eyes and ears with in the future?
Designer Min Heejin
Hello. Please introduce yourself.
Hello. I am SM Entertainment’s visual & art director, Min Heejin, and I am working as a graphic designer. It’s nice to meet you.
How long ago did you get the dream of becoming a graphic designer?
My grandfather drew, and I kept drawing close to me since I was younger, and liked it. So entering a college of fine arts seemed natural. My younger siblings each majored in visual design and directing in film. When I was little, I had a momentary interest in becoming an audio producer, so I was active in broadcasting throughout my school days. However, as expected, I could not throw away my affection for art, so I majored in visual design. I think I gradually bred my dream in fields of design.
What did you do before going into SM?
SM was my the first company [I worked at] after graduating. I had some interest in advertising during my university days, so I got about a year of experience at an advertising company after passing a university student internship they held. Almost all the 4th year students of the graduating class applied with employment as their goals, but I was a 3rd year student at the time. Thanks to that, I was able to experience organizations a bit easier before my colleagues.
Afterwards, was there any special reason you applied to SM?
Advertising companies were a popular type of occupation, and I liked the creative and dynamic atmosphere. But I started becoming greedy with wanting to spread art work as a designer. In the midst of that, I happened to see an announcement about SM’s open recruitment, and applied. Album designs are an especially charming area for designers. But, in my case, I didn’t have a lot of interest in pop music. Because I didn’t have much interest in it, I think that’s why I got more interest in [the job]. (laughs) Might I say, it stimulated my curiosity? It was vague, but what I like, and I wanted to show the general public ‘something’ new.
You said you like music, what kind of music did you like at the time?
Rather than ‘at the time’, there is a style that I’ve liked since I was little. Whatever the genre, I shield my own style and listen to them. It’s the same now as it was then. I like a bit of a sluggish style. If I had to choose, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Francis Lai kind of styles. I liked 60~70s Italian sounds. I also like Brazilian sounds. I’m recalling how I listened to, my personal classic album, that I found accidentally, Daniel Taubkin’s album during my college days until it gave out.
You’re currently doing various types of work, to the point where you can’t pick just one occupation. Was there normally such a field of work at SM?
There wasn’t. My team was in a new department at the time that I joined, and has experienced many changes thus far. The album designs I imagined were not simply just working on decorating albums to look pretty, but involving the musician or production’s intention or interpretation. Working with that mindset helped to gradually create things that weren’t there before, as well as get involved in things. If one attempt succeeds, it’s bound to naturally become systemized afterwards. Anything is difficult at first, but it’s almost certain to become easier after. Of course, there are self-conscious things and practices that need to be carried out in order to not just settle for things. Nothing changes if you keep still. In order to achieve that you wanted properly, you need to make sounds and put that idea into practice.
I feel that process isn’t easy.
Looking back, there are times where how I spent my past feel distant. It feels like I worked like a crazy person. A year passed like a month. I learned that, while working, the most important thing is perseverance. Because all people’s paces aren’t the same as mine, I perceived the truth that you need to know when to wait for an opportunity. For every project, there is a question that I throw at myself. ‘Did I do my best in the given time?’
When did you start taking part in stage outfits?
I suggested an overall concept, my process of starting the visual work appealed to the company, and the company entrusted me with general visual directing including the stage outfits. I didn’t like how the album concept and stage outfits were dualized. Since then, I started creating a new process that could connect concepts, the stage, and things in general organically. If you were looking for a time, Super Junior from ‘Sorry Sorry’, Girls’ Generation from ‘Gee’, and since SHINee, f(x), and EXO’s debut.
I’m curious about the process of producing a stage outfit.
Recently, f(x)’s ‘Pink Tape Art Film’ was your first video project. How did you get to working on this?
Near the end of each album promotions, we naturally start planning ideas for the next album. Even before it, I wanted to draw out a romantic f(x) for this new album. After hearing the title song, I drew it out rapidly. From the video to the album design. In order to express this concept well, a video that matches it was needed. I felt that this was the time to show an image different from f(x)’s past. And so I told the company that I wanted to create a film as a new concept. I was so excited, my heart fluttered. Symbolically, I wanted to say, ‘Let’s make a pink VHS!’. I also gained influence from the title and design to decide on ‘Pink Tape’.
The area [of work] doesn’t matter much to me. Whatever the area, if it seems needed, I think it’s necessary to suggest and make it. Of course, the moment I step outside my business territory, there is a possibility of, personally, encountering very complicated, difficult jobs. Music video production is not my duty. However, during the production of SHINee’s ‘Dream Girl’ music video, I suggested the Digipedi team to the company, as I felt they were a necessity. When it comes to f(x)’s recent album, in order to express the concept properly, I felt that a video with a new approach was a must. I wanted to suggest a new way of bringing about the new album concept. As I do graphic work, naturally, I have an interest in video. When it comes to expression, I think I can work from a perspective different from video majors.
‘Bizarre beauty’. Through f(x), I always want to draw out a different beauty that is not typical. And so I set up the initial basic concept in that direction. In this album, I wanted to unravel f(x)’s own a love story. Everyone has their own unique love story. Even if it looks common on the outside, when you look inside, there is a method of love that only you, and nobody else, know. I wanted to unravel the secret to first loves visually, in a unique way.
yes. In order to represent the freshness of a first love, I applied school uniforms. Rather than a formal one, it’s an outfit that only borrowed the nuance of a uniform. When it comes to the general mood, hair, and makeup of the set, an Asian touch was added, and I put an emphasis on a languid, melancholy image. Even while filming, only sluggish, old, sunshine pop was played. Like drawing out the strange omnibus of stateless and multinational students. I wanted to gather those images and place them in an odd, pink-colored tape.
It was done simply. It was something I was doing for the first time, so I couldn’t have a large budget. It’s not that the budget is directly proportional to the result. I thought we should work quietly and have fun with the lowest budget. There wasn’t a lot of time, so I thought a lot about who to cast as a director. First of all, it had to be someone who fully understood my aim, and someone new who had an interest, simply in working, with money not being the goal. I suddenly recalled my youngest sibling who was enrolled in the department of film. I happened to see my sibling’s assignment, and I remembered it being really good. However, I was rejected at first because (s)he did not have an interest in music videos or commercial work. Because we’re family, I was more worried for no reason, but considering the conditions, there wasn’t anyone other than my sibling who could understand me easily. If their sincerity meets with my ideas, even at incomplete situations, I felt that a fun project could come about. After some more convincing, in the end, we got to working together. Like that, my sibling and their friends joined, and I’m thankful for them all. I want to compliment the friends who showed their creative passion even with the simple production conditions.
I’m curious about what kind of response f(x) members showed for this concept.
They really liked it. I’m grateful because they always trust and follow me. At first, their eyes got wide at the new project, but they immediately understood and were enthusiastic. They engaged on the jacket and film shoot excitedly for a few days.
The part where you used the light in Art Film left an impression. Was there a special reason for this?
Whatever the space, when it comes to directing an atmosphere, there is ‘light, sound, smell’. I think these three things are most important. The use of light and sound is especially important in videos. When it comes to people who do visual work, ‘light’ is always an important topic. The supervisors in charge of directions knew well about this. They (her sibling and friends) thought a lot about lighting. Especially with a low budget, it’s crucial knowing how well basic elements are applied in order to create ideal results.
As soon as ‘Pink Tape’ Art Film was released, the response was good. I feel you would have been proud that the results of the first video you worked on was good.
I’m happy that lots of responses were sent for a simple project. Personally, it was a project that was meaningful in more than one way. The general mood of the video did fall into a bit of a brighter keynote than we all initially intended, but if you take the fact that they’re pop artists, I don’t think it’s bad. There were a lot of complications until the day before the night it was revealed, but I feel the good results were possible because everyone who participated in it worked hard. I’m grateful for producer Lee Sooman and the CEO for giving me unconditional trust, despite it being my first project. While it’s a bit grandiose, I want to take this moment to send thanks to everyone who worked together with me.
How is EXO’s recent comeback’s ‘Growl’ concept?
Street is the primary part of the concept. The moment I heard the song, I was sure it had to unwind with a school uniform. School uniforms and street looks probably don’t match, but the way they fit sentimentally made me pay attention to it. First of all, the first official album concept was unraveled largely at a school. And so, the hakwon (private educational institute) reference was drawn out with notebooks and graduation photos for the first album, and extended it to the streets for the next song. Like linking young boys’ daily lives going from school to after school in one album. I wanted to show this group EXO’s image in a friendly, yet individualistic, way through this threaded drawing.
Was this EXO’s concept from the start?
No. The world’s view of boys with supernatural powers from EXO planet was the idea of producer Lee Sooman. (not sure about this line) When I first heard it, I thought it was fun. It’s creative and unique. However, I worried that the results could vary depending on how I unravel it practically. I didn’t want to do it with the simple method of approach. I first made EXO’s own symbol and character to represent EXO planet with planets and meteors as the motif. EXO’s symbol reflects their personalities, and I modified that shape to fit the situation. The uniqueness of the ‘world’s view’ is good, but I also worried about there not being any familiarity. Depending on the way of expression, it could be felt as a distant existence. My worries lead to imaginations, and the moment I wondered, ‘What would 12 boys who suddenly fell from a alien planet do on earth?’, I slapped my knee. At that moment, my worries were gone, and everything was solved. (laughs) EXO, who had an emergency landing, will continue to repeatedly transform. There are too many things they still have to experience on the Earth. Of course, I’m thinking about ‘space’, too. (laughs) EXO’s symbol, as expected, will change depending on EXO’s condition. This time, ‘love’ and ‘friendship’ changed to the meaningful symbols of ‘kiss-♡’ and ‘hug-○’.
You said you you thought of school uniforms as soon as you heard the song ‘Growl’, but I want to hear about it in more detail.
More than anything, I wanted to express our kind of hip-hop and R&B. When you think of hip-hop, it’s easy to recall showy, black hip-hop, but we wanted to stay true to more of the student-like feelings, and express it in our own, light way. The boys with supernatural powers jumped into reality. Into street boys you may happen to run into on the streets. So, the shoot for this album jacket took place in a neighborhood alley.
I don’t know if it’s because you filmed in an actual neighborhood, but the restaurant and construction signs were amusing. Also, I thought using actual streets suited the expression well.
Thank you for noticing it. Occasionally, when I come across responses like, ‘It would have looked better if the restaurant signs weren’t there’, or, ‘Why did they take these so blindly in a neighborhood?’, I feel hurt. (laughs) I just wanted to show things as is. Straightforward, just ‘reality’. I also thought if fantasy-like idols played the parts of realistic appearances in reality, inversely, it would be fun.
Looking at responses like that, you must have a lot of troubles.
Not troubles, but worries are elsewhere. I have worries about meaningful works. The general public usually come across celebrities, especially idols, in appearances where they’re always dressed up, so they’re bound to get caught up in an illusion. As a human being is someone who dreams, fantasies must be met. However, I wanted to draw out that reality in itself is beautiful. People may say it’s a grand meaning for an idol’s album, but, in this generation, I feel ‘sincerity’ is a high-priority virtue. In between the album, as resting pages, we printed photos of cute neighborhood children, as well as dogs. The place where EXO landed safely on earth and is remaining. That place is the real appearance.
I’m aware that you are preparing a special project with EXO. I’d like to ask for a simple introduction.
We’ve planned, and prepared for a special collaboration with the album, at the same time. As ‘Growl’ has been expressed through a school, street look, I thought it would be fun to do it together with a street label. To fit the individual album concept, we prepared four collaboration shops with a local street brand, with EXO’s first album as the theme. A few days ago, the members visited the stop and had a ball. You’ll be able to see shop with an amusing form on a street soon. You’ll probably get surprised by the traces of the EXO members hidden within the stores. (laughs)
If it’s new, fun work, I’ll be happy with anything. Early this year, a special compilation album was planned. SM’s special collaboration album to commemorate the 5th anniversary of 10 Corso Como. I have a lot of interest in fun compilation albums. Through indie artists with unique personalities, SM’s songs were specially reinterpreted. From the DJ list up process to the launching party, because it ended smoothly and successfully, I was very happy. Also, I want to break away from commercial purposes, and try to make a video with my own plans.
The Midas Touch in Design
Min Heejin’s Lifestyle.
What did you normally spend your time doing?
I work. I think of work as play. (laughs) The office is a playground, as is my home. Since I’m usually so busy, thankfully, people around me fit in with my time. We meet like lightning. (not sure about this line) Well.. We meet and eat, and talk about various things. There are times where we just listen to music for hours.
It seems you really like music.
Yes. I really love it. (laughs) I don’t enjoy playing music or singing, but if there wasn’t music, I think life would have been really sad. Every now and then, even if I meet someone I don’t know, if our music taste matches, we get close quickly. Sometimes at the office, employees ask me about the songs I listen to. It feels nice when they do. (laughs)
What kind of music have you been listening to lately?
Recently, I listened to Barden Powell’s songs again for the first time in a while, and, I don’t know if it was because I listened to it on a rainy day, but it was really nice. I listened to Daft Punk’s new release not too long ago, and recalled Giorgio Moroder once again. It made me want to hear the LP I listened to in elementary school, ‘Lady Lady Lady’. He was a musician that really left an impression when I was young, and they worked together with Daft Punk! Daft Punk is really an incredible team in many ways.
Rather than really liking a musician, regardless of who it is, I like songs that are my style. I like the sounds of Light and Sound, Kim Trio, Shade Blowing New Wave, Lee Byungwoo, Junggigo, Jazzyfact, amongst others; there are too many.
I’m curious as to why you chose your residence for today’s interview site.
Well. Because my home is comfortable.
Since you’re a graphic designer, it seems you gave lots of attention to the interior.
While becoming independent, I had thoughts about the kind of house I wanted to live in. I don’t like homes that have walls with baseboards. (laughs) I just wanted to comfortably create a workspace slash studio.
I’m curious about your personal dream, not as a designer.
I want to release my own kind of compilation album. Every now and then, I put together or memo songs that people I know want from my playlist. I really want to make one at times like that.
What is ‘SM’ to Min Heejin?
That’s a really hard question. It’s somewhat like my offspring.. An adopted child? (laughs) It’s not like a child I had, but one that I brought up as my own with great effort. A child I had with my heart! That’s exactly it. (laughs)
Lastly, could you say a few words to readers of Cuvism Magazine?
I wish everyone’s perspectives on pop culture would diversify. I think the words, ‘You only see as much as you know’, are really true. You have to have a wide field of vision to see many fun things, and you can enjoy things a lot more. I hope that I and everyone else can enjoy life more richly.
Translator's Note: this wasn’t all translated in one sitting, so if there are any mistakes/confusing parts, feel free to send me a message about it, and I’ll take a look at it again.
Translation by: ch0sshi 2.0
Original Article and Photos: CUVISMMAG.COM
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