South Korean K-pop girl group AOA has been active since 2012 and is known for hits such as ‘Miniskirt’ and ‘Short Hair’. However, leader Jimin, whose real name is Shin Ji-min, has left the group following explosive accusations of bullying and harassment from former member Mina.

According to Korean entertainment news portal Soompi, AOA’s management FNC Entertainment said last Saturday that Jimin, 29, “has decided to leave AOA and halt all of her activities in the entertainment industry”.

This means that AOA, originally an eight-member group, is now down to four members.

Last Friday, former member Mina, whose real name is Kwon Min-ah, uploaded a series of long Instagram posts on suffering a decade of bullying from Jimin. Mina, 26, left the group in May last year.

She said that when her father was battling cancer in 2014, Jimin told her not to cry as it would “ruin the mood”. Mina said she did not manage to see her father before he died as she was afraid that if she stopped working, Jimin would scold her.

Mina alleged that Jimin had hit her when they were trainees and made disparaging comments about her body. She said that due to the stress and anxiety caused by Jimin, she attempted suicide multiple times and posted a photo of scars on her wrists as evidence.

According to Soompi, the translation of the caption in the post reads:

I really, really want to get lost too, but I have to take care of my mom… Oh, I’ll probably be contacted and told I’m brainless again. That’s right. I’m brainless and I never learned anything properly. I had to earn money from a young age because our family was struggling. Around the time of my dad’s passing, I cried once in the waiting room and one of the unnies [older member] told me that I was ruining everyone’s mood and told me not to cry, dragging me to the closet of the waiting room. I told her I was so scared at the thought of my dad dying. I still can’t forget those words. Other bullying incidents? Other profanities? I can deal with them, even though they hurt. Because we rode the same car, I was given a sedative and sleeping pills and put to sleep. I knew I had to do well at scheduled activities but I could feel myself breaking more and more. Because of her, I once tried to attempt suicide.

And I’m okay with not being acknowledged as an idol or an actor. I’m very bad at it, I’m still very lacking. But I’ve been so happy doing it and I worked really hard, it’s a job I really love. I’ve never felt stressed because of work. To be honest, I really didn’t want to leave AOA but because of one person who hated me, I was bullied for 10 years and by the end, I was so angry that I wanted to curse at her just once. In the end, I gave up AOA. I used to enjoy promoting with the other members. Recently, her father passed away. My heart ached and I felt strange because I knew what that feels like. I went to the funeral hall and as soon as she saw me, she cried and apologized. I felt so empty and my heart crumbled. It felt like everything had emptied out, all of my resentment disappeared and everything felt okay. But because I was so broken, I was scared of being on hiatus. Of course, I’d anticipated it and thought I’d be okay if I learned new things and got treated for depression, panic disorder, or anxiety. But so many things happened during that hiatus. To be honest, I was worn out. Netizens? Just like what the people on the internet were saying, I didn’t know who I was anymore, I didn’t want to see myself anymore, and I thought of myself as annoyingly loud. But I wasn’t born because I wanted to be born. I also have a mouth, I also have hands, I couldn’t control myself anymore, but I had to keep living for my mom. I don’t need people to like me or be interested in me, can’t people just leave me alone? Because it’s all my fault.

She went on to shed additional light on her encounters with Jimin with a second Instagram post.

The caption in the post says:

Oh, the reason I brought up that person in AOA is because my dad was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer and I knew he would pass away soon, but because I thought she would tell me off again, I had an acting job, we were making a comeback so I didn’t want to negatively affect the other members as we were promoting, I had lines to learn and had to smile a lot, I felt like I couldn’t get caught up in thoughts of my dad and I needed to do my job properly, so I couldn’t visit my dad at the hospital. Because of his cancer, he was skin and bones, and I couldn’t help but cry when I saw him. My sister would call and say that my dad couldn’t speak anymore but was still asking for me. But what if I start crying during a scheduled activity? What if she says something to me again? I was so young and I thought that was what I needed to do. I thought that was the right thing to do and I didn’t want to get told off anymore. So I could have seen my dad more but I didn’t. And when my father closed his eyes, I saw it and I heard the sound of the machine as his pulse flatlined. I was told that my dad had shakily written “Where is my daughter?” on a sketchbook and shown the nurse, but I hadn’t been able to go see him because I was working. From what I heard, she’d been given a VIP room and her solo activities were canceled, but I hope that wasn’t the case. You should be professional, too. Don’t cry, okay? You said it ruined the mood, you asked why you had to walk on eggshells because of me. You need to overcome it well, too. I still can’t erase the memory of what you said to me and how you acted. Even though the memories are fainter, I remember them all. Whenever I remember them, I take medication and get through it. But I think what happened with my dad will stay with me for life. Those might have been words you spit out without much thought for me, but those words were so hurtful to me. In our last five minutes together, I told you about how that had been hurtful, and you glared at me and said, “I don’t think I’m that much of a bad person that I would say something like that?” Another member so courageously spoke up and said those were words you did say. I was so dispirited that I couldn’t speak and I thought to myself, ‘Is she even human?’ And we said our goodbyes. To be honest, I’m not that smart so I have really bad memory but with you, the list is endless, there’s so much there. But I’ll only say that one thing because who knows, I terminated my contract with the agency but what if they ask me to pay for breach of contract? I haven’t said everything, so it’s okay, right? Because of you, I take numerous pills and because I cut my left wrist so much, the nerves are damaged so it stings and aches. But when I look at my mom, I feel the will to live, I need to go make money. So I’m working hard to undergo scar treatment, although I still have nightmares. What’s funny is that before I left, we [AOA members] would have drinks together without you and talk, but still, none of us can figure it out? Why do you hate me?

In response, Jimin uploaded a since-deleted Instagram story which said “Fiction” on a black screen.

AOA Leader Jimin Leaves Group After Bullying Accusations
Image: Screengrab / @jiminbaby_18’s Instagram

Mina responded to this with a series of Instagram posts and also showed a picture of her scarred wrist in one of them. She made a total of nine posts regarding the matter.

On July 4, Jimin issued a statement in the caption of an Instagram post, saying:

It says:

I can’t express everything in a short post but I am very, very sorry. I was lacking as a leader and I did wrong. As I carry this regret and sense of guilt, I realize that I did not understand Mina well during the time we spent together and I did not look around me carefully. Yesterday, I cried and apologized and cried again. However, I realize that the emotions that Mina has built up about me over time cannot be easily resolved, so I am very sorry. When I was younger, I believed that our team should only show our good sides to our staff and the world. That’s how I thought during my early twenties, but I realize now that I was lacking a humane side as a leader to lead a team in such a manner. I’m sorry for causing controversy and I’m sorry for writing a statement that is all over the place. More than anything else, I’m sincerely sorry to Mina and the members, who spent a lot of effort for the two of us.

Text: Jan Lee / The Straits Times / July 2020
Additional text: Sally Manik
Featured image: TPG Images