9:34 am - 12/19/2018

[TW] Minzy Opens Up About Depression & How 'Fighting for Myself' Forced Her to Leave 2NE1

For the first time ever, the 24-year-old shares why her time in one of the world's most beloved girl groups led to years of instability and confusion. Now, with the help of friends and faith, the solo star wants to inspire those fighting similar demons.

The first time Minzy visited Los Angeles, the singer-dancer was in town for a first-of-its-kind K-pop concert with her girl group, 2NE1, as well as some studio time with will.i.am. Her latest trip is equally star-powered with the debut performance of her new solo single at Al Gore's 24-hour-long Climate Reality livestream program, rehearsals with a new dance crew, and more studio time. What's changed, though, is her mindset: she’s gone from a confused, teenaged pop star to a mature young woman who's looking to take what she’s learned from tough celebrity lessons and offer a path of inspiration and guidance.

Before making her mark in the K-pop scene, elementary-school-year-old Minzy, neé Gong Min-ji, was first recruited to YG Entertainment -- the powerful Korean superlabel that helmed acts like BIGBANG and BLACKPINK, and was home to PSY when he broke internationally -- after videos of her dance skills went locally viral. Minzy says the label originally planned to debut her as a solo artist, but the company's forthcoming girl group 2NE1 lacked in the dance department. Despite the K-pop hopeful training longer than eventual band mates CL, Bom and Dara, Minzy was added as the final, and youngest, member for their 2009 debut.

Today, in her room at a downtown Los Angeles hotel, Minzy looks cozy as she sits in a lounge chair in a bright-pink hoodie. She comes across as friendly and approachable -- answering nearly every question with an adorable "eye smile" -- but the star notes that four years of waiting for her professional life to start at age 15 stunted her personal growth and social skills.

"I didn't know how to have relationships with people," she reflects. "Since I was so young in such a controlled environment, I never learned how to socialize. I really didn't have a normal childhood -- I never went out to play with other kids. I was just training and everyone was older than me."

With a fierce, hip-hop-inspired style and avant-garde look, 2NE1 stuck out from peers like Girls' Generation and Wonder Girls, and would go on to make a major impact in the K-pop industry. By the time of their 2016 disbanding, the group had accumulated nearly a dozen No. 1 hits in Korea, became the only Korean females to play arena shows in America, collaborated with will.i.am and Jeremy Scott, and held a slew of Billboard chart records, including years as the highest-charting and best-selling K-pop album in America. Despite their success, 2NE1's appearances were belittled by a harsh Korean public often critiquing their "visuals," the girls given backhanded compliments and the group once sharing on television that the YG CEO Yang Hyun-suk called them "really ugly" on multiple occasions. She doesn't throw any barbs at her former label, but notes all of this became a major mental weight for a young Minzy who could only read Korean comments despite a growing international -- and more forgiving -- fanbase.

"People, netizens were critiquing the fact that, you know, we were not the prettiest group," she says. "We were the 'ugly group.' I didn't know how to process that, I held that in. It was tough. [As a group], we pretended it was not a big deal and tried to forget about it, but you can't forget about it -- it's tough. I was trying to keep up with the other girls in the group in terms of maturity, but when you're up against these girl groups who look like models and you're doing something different -- cool, but different -- you deal in a different way."

With success came challenges that extended beyond her professional life. Citing a lack of a "natural support system" that only magnified with the increasing pressures of celebrity, Minzy says depression and suicidal thoughts plagued her throughout her teenage years. She hit her lowest points when she was 16 and 17 -- around 2NE1’s "Can't Nobody," "I Am the Best" and "Ugly" era, for fans familiar. What eventually came was a confusion of where her passion laid.

"I would go on stage and everyone was so supportive, they'd love me," she says. "Then when the stage was done, I would be in the hotel feeling so empty. Life felt like just a stage. I didn't know what was my life about; I wasn't sure if life was better as a performer or if life would be better just alone. It was such a contrast, but I never had the time to figure out how to balance both being on stage and being alone."

This was 2NE1's heyday in Korea with five No. 1 singles, one of 2010's best-selling albums via their To Anyone full-length, and the 2011 release of their now-signature single "I Am the Best" that remains their most-watched music video with a quarter of a billion YouTube views. But Minzy also cites professional disappointments throughout: She was preparing and recording a solo album, scheduled ahead of "I Am the Best," but that got pushed back and eventually scrapped due to an issue "with a different artist in the company."

"There wasn't enough focus to finish my stuff,” she says of a management style where every company release required all hands on deck. “They kept delaying it and then when it comes to basically everything else, you don't know the details."

Longer hiatuses in between 2NE1 albums meant less quality time with her band mates. She calls them her "sisters" to this day. "We are all homebodies so really just being at home watching TV were the best moments," she says of CL, Bom and Dara. "Those memories were very cozy and warm, to me at least. Maybe because I was so young? But the world was quite a strange place to me, so those moments are close to my heart. The family feel was more important to me than the fame, but as it took longer and longer for our albums to come out, we would only really meet when it was time to plan for the album. As everyone started doing their own thing, I was having even less time with them."

In South Korean society, mental illness is seen as taboo, though the country suffers the highest suicide rate in the world for children ages 10-19. The country's focus on public image and lack of communication on such issues rendered Minzy unable to find help with her depression. "In Korea [mental illness is] seen more as 'stop being sad,' not something actually acknowledged."

Where she did find a resource was in Teddy Park, who was mainly responsible for producing a majority of 2NE1's discography and encouraged her to hold on to her Christian faith as a positive from her pre-fame life.

"Since I was the youngest, he would try to encourage me," he says. "He would say things like, 'I know you're feeling like you're depressed and struggling with your depression, but you believe in God and you're going to get through this.' I have good memories of him. I'm really thankful for Teddy and see him as a good person in my life to remind me to keep going even when depression was at its worst."

Minzy's breakthrough came by connecting with Christianity in her late teens, which led her to finding resources and, finally, people open to talking about her mental health. "I was struggling most intensely at 16, 17, and no one knew about it," she shares. "There was a point where I would just avoid people. People didn't even really know I was struggling. I was just alone. When I was 17, 18, I basically met God, I found my faith. That was a major change in my life. The people with the same faith and that same encouragement came into my life and were able to speak very boldly into my life. It wasn't like, 'Oh, you just have to get better.' It was 'We understand that it's a struggle. It's OK to struggle and it's OK to feel bad, but let's think about it, deal with it and have faith.' I held onto that."

When she decided to depart 2NE1 and YG Entertainment in 2016, Minzy says it was the first step in figuring out if performing was her true path. "I needed some time to deal with my depression, find my own way and decide if this was something I really wanted to do,” she explains. “It was something I was doing for so long, but it was so hard to maintain. I had to find my own direction, and the only way to do that was by leaving the group and fighting for my own will. I was wondering, 'What is my life about?'"

The next step was putting herself first. She signed with a smaller label, The Music Works, which helped put out her Minzy Work 01 EP that hit No. 2 on Billboard's World Albums chart last year. She surrounded herself with people who support her and her vision like Ashley Choi, whose previous clients include Justin Timberlake and Jay Park, who handles global management and is her "best friend." These changes allowed her space to set new goals, both personally and professionally.

"Leaving 2NE1, it's not about leaving [or] breaking up the group. It's that I fought for myself, my own future and what I wanted," she reflects of her now-solo journey. "I finally chose something for myself. I did feel pressure and [a] burden [when going solo], but it was a good burden."

Looking ahead, Minzy wants to incorporate mental health resources and support for those dealing with similar issues into her upcoming tours in a similar vein to Demi Lovato offering free mental-health counseling throughout her 2018 Tell Me You Love Me tour. "I want to help people who are struggling as someone who has struggled, overcome and taken control of my mind and heart," she says. "I want to share the love I feel from my faith and from my music to let people know they, too, are loved and that there's love for them."

Minzy choosing to speak out about her journey comes when almost exactly a year ago SHINee's Jonghyun died suddenly in late 2017. His passing -- ruled as a suicide -- struck her. "That reminded me of my old self and I could understand why he wanted to escape," she says, before hoping her words can make a difference in K-pop's future. "I want to let the young and newer idols know that success in the idol world is just not as important what you need to live up to as a person."

With her music embracing a global mindset (latest single "All of You Say" is in English and boasts reggaeton vibes) and seeing a higher purpose in speaking openly about mental health, Minzy says her path is clear and rich with the experiences that have helped her in her battle and growth as an artist, advocate and woman. The longest pause she takes to answer during the conversation comes when she considers who she was then and who she is now.

"As I've come into my own, I am a different person," she confidently declares. "I've experienced pulling through," she says before thinking again back to her past self. "I want to help that woman."

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call a suicide hotline and find resources in your country here.

Source: billboard
typhlogirl 19th-Dec-2018 09:08 am (UTC)
and the group once sharing on television that the YG CEO Yang Hyun-suk called them "really ugly" on multiple occasions.

this demonic misogynist shouldn't be allowed to manage girl groups full stop, the absolute RAGE i am feeling rn
babyjenkski 19th-Dec-2018 09:22 am (UTC)
I don't know why but I was tearing up reading this. I know this is about Minzy but how I wish there was a Teddy Park in Jonghyun's life.
benihime99 19th-Dec-2018 09:25 am (UTC)
I cried too
It's ok to cry, it's better to let it out
petecarl 19th-Dec-2018 10:26 am (UTC)
Wow. This was a really good article. I liked the way she spoke about depression, that it's okay to be down sometimes but that it's also important to think about how to fix or change things.

I didn't know she was so close to Teddy, but maybe that's because she when I got into kpop, 2NE1 were basically on hiatus outside of touring. It's nice to hear she had some support during that time. Korea (like most countries) still doesn't talk much about mental health, but I'm glad that more celebrities there are speaking out. I feel like people are slowly learning and feeling more comfortable opening up about these things.

I'm glad she found support through her faith (I'm also a Christian), but the way she phrases it worries me because it shows clearly how vulnerable people when looking for help can easily be taken advantage of when they're just looking for comfort and support.

Minzy's breakthrough came by connecting with Christianity in her late teens, which led her to finding resources and, finally, people open to talking about her mental health.
dongsaengkiller 19th-Dec-2018 11:12 am (UTC)
YG really did a number on the girls. He remains the worst. I’m glad she is doing better and is using this as a platform to hopefully help others. But I’m mostly just glad she’s better
timetobegin 19th-Dec-2018 12:41 pm (UTC)
Lmao about when she said regarding the pre-IATB solo album that go delayed and then scrapped. No surprised about that lol. Wondering who that 'other artist' they clashed with and why?

It's painful to read about all she experienced. Glad to hear she's in a better place now, I hope she can walk the career path she's been deserving of all this time!
suggestivepeach 19th-Dec-2018 01:29 pm (UTC)

"We were the 'ugly group.' I didn't know how to process that, I held that in. It was tough. [As a group], we pretended it was not a big deal and tried to forget about it, but you can't forget about it” i can really relate to this feeling as a kid. I didn’t look normal and no matter how many people told me to ignore it and no matter how much I tried to tell myself it wasn’t bothering me, it really did and it wasn’t something I could easily brush off. YG telling the girls they were straight up ugly reminds me of a time when a kid straight up asked me to my face why my face looked weird. That shit is humiliating and stays with you forever, even if you do eventually “glo up.”

It also makes me so angry that Asian countries typically still view depression or mental illness as simply being sad.

I hope she really is better and has found a good support system now.

myungung 19th-Dec-2018 02:33 pm (UTC)
it's sad to hear that she struggled for so long, but it's quite heartening to hear that she found support in a senior in the company? and I'm just glad she found people outside of YGE for comfort and solace. here's hoping for things to go up for her now
sra_interesante 19th-Dec-2018 02:46 pm (UTC)
aawww im glad she finally find a way to end up all that struggle nobody should face those problems alone , its sad but i bet if you asked that same question many more idols would understand what jjong was fighting ... of course idol image will never include talk openly about their emotions (lets not even mention deppression and other mental struggles) in any way

hopefully her message will reach others, or at least give courage to younger idols.. there's no need to ignore your real feelings to live up to your idol image
no amount of success or money is worthy such miserable life

Edited at 2018-12-19 03:02 pm (UTC)
daynr 19th-Dec-2018 07:08 pm (UTC)
I don't understand, do you mind explaining what you mean by understanding what jjong was fighting v what Minzy was struggling with?
torontok 19th-Dec-2018 02:54 pm (UTC)
What do you guys think about some people criticizing this article for brushing aside the very valid concerns her fans have with Ashley Choi and saying Jeff was shilling?

ETA: the comment

Edited at 2018-12-19 02:57 pm (UTC)
benihime99 19th-Dec-2018 03:02 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure if the article brushed aside those concerns
It's just, they weren't the point of the article, it focused on Minzy and her mental health, how she got better
I don't see how bringing up concet related issue would fit in here? Maybe I'm missing something? Did Ashley Choi use the article to promote or shield herself?

Those concenrns are indeed valid but not related to the issue at hand

Edited at 2018-12-19 03:06 pm (UTC)
daynr 19th-Dec-2018 06:58 pm (UTC)
I think it is awesome and wonderful that she is speaking about the effects of both the criticisms they received and the lack of support she had because of 1. being a trainee so young (and the only one that age at the time in YG), and 2, the lack of societal support.

My wary/cynical side does not like that it seems she grounded her changes and recovery only in faith. Being heard and having the truth of your struggles acknowledged is really important, but I hope she received and has access to help that is not just "God is love, etc. etc." Particularly since I understand that Korea struggles with Christianity derived cults.

Edited at 2018-12-19 07:24 pm (UTC)
thebloomroom 19th-Dec-2018 07:52 pm (UTC)
This is so sad, I'm on the verge of tears tbh. She's very candid here and her thoughts about being the "ugly group" smh... :( YG is really such a piece of shit. I hate that some of these idols debut so young, it really robs them of growth.
adenar 19th-Dec-2018 09:02 pm (UTC)
It's interesting that she talks about her faith being what she used to find her way out. I was following her closely through 2ne1's activities and her resultant departure from the group, and you could tell when she finally started getting satisfaction out of her life again because before that she was posting Bible quotes practically daily and prayers etc. That dropped off a cliff practically overnight when she signed with Music Works and started her solo activities. I can recognise that sort of obsessiveness that comes from mental health problems - to be honest, I had that with kpop when I was at my lowest - so I'm glad that she's been able to turn it into something that's helped her move forward rather than something that's kept her mired in that obsessive thinking. She's used her interest in her religion to take her to higher education and to find new friends, and it clearly motivated her to find her way out of the bad year of 2ne1's hiatus, and while I really dislike organised religion I have some hope that this is in some way benign.

Also she looks great in the photos. She's got so much better at posing lately. We've come so long from 'hand on hip slightly bent over mouth open, profit', haha. I love the header image.
digitalqueen 20th-Dec-2018 10:26 am (UTC)
i really wish people would stop using jonghyun as an example
jyushimatsu 23rd-Dec-2018 05:07 am (UTC)
I’m late as fuck but it breaks my heart that she dealt with this at such a young age. Fuck YG and fuck all the international kpop fans that would constantly bash her for being ugly. There are girl group stans that pretend to really respect women when they only “respect” women they deem attractive.
lil_poisonfrog 23rd-Dec-2018 08:30 pm (UTC)
This is so true omg. I feel like so many Twice and BP fans are like this, I don't have any specific examples but it's like they go so hard in the paint defending the members "talents" and it's like...just admit you like them bc they're pretty and #goals and all that. Both groups have bops,Twice is fun to watch live, and BP has great styling--you can think all that without deluding yourself that all the members are great singers and dancers...
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