MIN Opens Up About Battling K-Pop Rivals, Ageism & Playing the ‘Peacemaker’ Ahead of Debut Album: ‘This Is My Prime Time’

A longtime symbol of love, beauty and longevity, the camellia has made its mark on pop culture as Coco Chanel’s signature flower, teaching an important lesson about prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird and, for MIN and her grandmother, the floral represents the K-pop star herself.


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“Whenever it blooms, she always gets so excited,” MIN says of the sometimes-fickle flowers her grandma grows. “She says, ‘Min-young, you’re going to be like the flower that has bloomed! You’re going to do so well.’ She always tells me that.”

As July marks 14 years since she and her girl group miss A debuted with the instant K-pop chart-topper “Bad Girl Good Girl,” MIN might seem past the point of needing such encouragement (no matter how adorable). But on her 33rd birthday today, June 21, the Seoul native is releasing her first-ever full project with Prime Time. The four-track EP doesn’t just take its name from the genre-shifting title track but acts as a layered mantra. 

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“On the surface level, it’s saying this is my ‘Prime Time’ and you don’t get to choose when my prime time is — no one gets to tell me when my prime time is,” she explains in her longest-ranging interview in years. “Internally, I’ve felt like I was very repressed in a way that I didn’t really know I was repressed: I didn’t speak my mind, give an opinion or say my truth. I always felt like I had to listen to my elders and industry higher-up people who got to pick my time or choose what I do.”

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Dressed today in cozy, oversized sweats inside the comfort of I LOVE DANCE‘s Manhattan studio where she frequently rehearses, guest-teaches classes, and, eventually, found a music and production team in the newly formed Monstar Entertainment, MIN (born Lee Minyoung) has a subtle, humble quietness to her despite spending most of her life entertaining. After working on South Korean children’s television and joining K-pop agency JYP Entertainment in middle school, a teenage MIN moved to New York for an intended international solo career that included mentorship from Lil Jon. After years of prep, internal plans at the company changed and she was introduced to her future band mates Fei, Jia and Suzy months before they’d debut as miss A, the first girl group to come from JYP after its Wonder Girls became the first K-pop act to break into the Hot 100.

“I met Jia and Fei once when I came to Korea from America, but that was it,” MIN recalls. “After three months, we were together 24-7. It was hard, very hard…I was under a lot of pressure to be successful and be on the same level when it comes to music and exposure as your rivals; I had to hit the top spot every time.”

While “Bad Girl Good Girl” kicked off the quartet’s five-year string of consecutive Top 10 singles in Korea (including five Top 10s on Billboard‘s World Digital Song Sales chart), miss A released less frequently by its third year as the members’ careers took off down non-musical roads like acting, television, hosting and modeling, while Chinese members Jia and Fei balanced opportunities in Korea and their home country. MIN booked variety television and movie roles, but her original intentions for solo music seemed incompatible with the fast-paced K-pop scene and a rapidly growing JYP Entertainment.

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“I have such a big respect for JYP and we still talk,” she says of the company’s founder and namesake who also produces music for his acts. “There are a lot of people working for one group and I’m one of the artists. It isn’t that my opinion doesn’t matter — we listened to everyone’s opinion to decide anything — but it also depends maybe how much money you make for the company and then people might listen to you and your opinion would matter more. It’s a big business with a lot of people needing to be paid…and maybe for some people, it is just a job. But for artists, it’s their life. It’s my life — giving 14, 15 years of my life. I have wanted to release solo [music], but it didn’t fit and didn’t happen.”

To encourage more miss A music and group activities, MIN found herself in the “peacemaker” role among her band mates around the band’s fifth year. “I believe that I tried my best at that time,” she reflects. “But I think that was already too late to take that role on or to make everyone happy.”

Indeed, before its fifth anniversary, miss A released what would be its final album, Colors, in March 2015. While the EP became the quartet’s highest- and longest-charting entry on World Albums, gossip regarding discord between the members began affecting its fanbase, and excessive media speculation led a young MIN to wish she had been more image-conscious.

Lauren Nakao Winn

Lauren Nakao Winn

“I didn’t understand the fans’ desire for us to be best friends,” MIN admits. “I think everyone wants that to be true, but I think it’s just very unfair. If I understood that, I think I would’ve acted differently. I was just young and feel like I should’ve thought ahead. It’s scary to be in front of people and on camera, and I would have acted smarter.”

Despite being characterized as miss A’s spunky main dancer, typically rocking a jagged bob and showing heel-over-head flexibility in music videos, MIN says she began battling high levels of self-doubt and anxiety near the act’s third or fourth year. At the time, mental health resources and using social media for direct fan communication were far from where they stand today in K-pop, allowing for rumors and anonymous trolls to run amok regarding the group.

“Just because I could dance and look strong doesn’t mean I can take or handle all the bad sides of the industry,” she says matter-of-factly. “Everything that we were and we did was fully under control, so I feel like a lot of people see me in a certain way. Things were more based on ‘the image,’ but I wasn’t a strong person, so I would get hurt by comments and online bullying — it just haunted me every day.

“I don’t really look at my stuff online. I always ask my friends if there are good [comments] that would cheer me up for my mental health and they would screenshot the good ones. But back then, naturally, I would maybe scroll down and see a bad comment, and I just couldn’t go to sleep. Wherever I was in public, I started to feel like, ‘Oh, maybe that person was thinking that.’ I felt my personality become very small and guarded…I still struggle with certain things and certain comments. In a way, I feel like I’m villainized, you know? It’s very unfair and sad, but I don’t want to dwell in the past and I don’t want to drag anyone down; that’s not me.”

By the end of 2017, MIN’s contract with JYP ended, and the company announced Miss A’s disbandment. While considering offers from new agencies, she “blocked every communication” and hid in her grandmother’s home as a safe space. She nearly signed on to join a K-pop survival show for idols rebooting their careers, but her grandma advised against it.

“I think I would’ve burnt out,” she recalls. “I just was not ready to face the world after my contract ended with JYP. I was in a really dark place; I was just scared to be outside or even be seen in public. I just had so much anxiety, so if I wasn’t seen then I could avoid all of that tension.”

Years later, MIN slowly returned to the spotlight with a new, noticeably un-idol-like attitude heard on singles like 2021’s “Onion” (with lyrics like, “I smoke, I drink, I get nasty with me/ Dirty, different and messy/ Patient, confident, weary/ Baby, there are layers to me”) and returned to New York (to co-star in the musical KPOP on Broadway in late 2022) settling in with her pet pomeranian Dan-chu. She credits the city in part to her music comeback.

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“It’s a hustle; everyone’s hustling,” she muses of NYC. “I just get that vibe and energy in the city and of the people. No one cares if you’re a f-cking K-pop idol. No one cares if you’re whatever.”

Liberating herself of outside expectations and reconnecting with her love of music and dance in New York translated into the Prime Time album where MIN says she has the freedom to return to, as well as break away from, her image in miss A.

MIN’s comeback single “PRIME TIME,” featuring rapper Lil Cherry (who enlisted MIN on an experimental album cut in 2022), purposely opens with a knocking, harder hip-hop opening as a callback to her miss A days. Her soaring belt hops into a Jersey club beat before it all gets mashed into a glitchy, glittery, gutsy chorus.

“Nobody’s telling me that I have to put out my album by a certain time or be a certain weight by a certain date,” she says that doubles as an anthem against stereotypes and pretenses in the K-pop industry.

“I felt like I’m an old person, but I am not an old person!” she laughs. “The average age is so young, especially in the idol world, so you breathe in that air and perceive it like that…but I’m just doing this because I want to and I think now is a time that I can fully [use] my potential to the fullest without caring too much of anyone’s demands — it’s on my terms.”

Lauren Nakao Winn

Listening through the EP, “SHIMMY (Skip)” shrewdly uses a Korean playground song as a basis for setting boundaries (“I can be anything, you can’t tell me what to sing”) while the breezy, easy-listening pop of “M.A.W” (standing for “Might as Well”) is a personal motto for both her and her grandmother — who closes the EP with a surprise, uplifting voice recording on “HAPPY PLANT (A Call From Grandma).” 

“She’s my role model,” MIN is sure to add. “Whenever I had to make a big decision, I always go to her and ask her opinion. She would say, ‘Might as well just do it.’” While Grandma is excited about her granddaughter’s music (“She’s just so happy for me”), MIN also wants to make sure listeners understand that the confidence in Prime Time results from not letting the outside world crush what and who she loves on the inside.

“I want to give people who are in the hardest moment of their life a message of hope and encouragement,” she says. “I feel like I could relate to them because there have been so many ups and downs in my life as well. I want people to know that it’s okay and you don’t have to give up on your life. Don’t. Because there is someone that loves you.”

The final seconds of the EP echo just that: MIN’s sunny laugh and her grandmother’s warm rasp ending “Call From Grandma,” telling each other that they love one another.