For the first time ever, Minzy has opened up about the personal and professional struggles she faced during her time with 2NE1, including her depression and her faith.
Minzy’s journey to stardom began in her elementary school days, when she joined YG Entertainment as a trainee. The company originally planned to debut Minzy as a soloist, but ended up adding her to 2NE1’s line-up to amp up the group’s dance skills.
In 2009, 15-year-old Minzy debuted alongside CL, Park Bom and Sandara Park (Dara) in what would become one of the most influential girl groups in K-Pop history.
Unfortunately, training and debuting at such a young age had a negative impact on the star’s social skills.
“I didn’t know how to have relationships with people. 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.”
2NE1’s powerful, hip-hop style and fierce image won the hearts of millions of fans, but with that success came criticism and stress. The members endured harsh comments and backhanded compliments about their looks from the public, and even from their own CEO, Yang Hyun Suk, who called them “really ugly” more than once.
Minzy said that these criticisms were hard to endure, especially since she could only read Korean comments at the time. She could not read the positive feedback from 2NE1’s growing, international fanbase.
“People, netizens were critiquing the fact that, you know, we were not the prettiest group. 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.”
When 2NE1 was approaching the peak of their success, Minzy was at her lowest point.
Suicidal thoughts, depression, and loneliness followed her through her teen years, and hit hardest when she was 16 and 17, around the same time that 2NE1 dropped “Can’t Nobody”, “I Am the Best”, and “Ugly”.
“I would go on stage and everyone was so supportive, they’d love me. 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.”
Even though 2NE1 was wildly successful as a group, Minzy experienced her share of professional disappointments with her solo pursuits.
The solo album she had been scheduled to release before “I Am the Best” was pushed back and then scrapped, due to a conflict with “a different artist in the company”.
“There wasn’t enough focus to finish my stuff. They kept delaying it and then when it comes to basically everything else, you don’t know the details.”
2NE1’s hiatuses between albums also took a toll on Minzy’s wellbeing. She couldn’t spend as much time with her 2NE1 “sisters” while everyone was pursuing their own solo projects.
“We are all homebodies so really just being at home watching TV were the best moments. 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 a society where mental illness is still considered taboo, Minzy found herself without the support system or resources needed to help her deal with her depression.
“In Korea [mental illness is] seen more as ‘stop being sad,’ not something actually acknowledged.”
She credits 2NE1’s main producer Teddy Park with helping her through the worst of her depression. He encouraged her to seek refuge in her Christian faith.
“Since I was the youngest, he would try to encourage me. 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.”
Through reconnecting with God, Minzy was about to find the mental health resources she so desperately needed.
“I was struggling most intensely at 16, 17, and no one knew about it. 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.”
Minzy said that leaving 2NE1 was the first step she needed to take control of her own life.
“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?'”
After leaving YG Entertainment in 2016, Minzy put herself and her mental health first. She signed with a new label, The Music Works, who released her Minzy Work 01 EP, and she surrounded herself with people who would support her in both her professional and personal life.
“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. I finally chose something for myself. I did feel pressure and [a] burden [when going solo], but it was a good burden.”
Now, Minzy wants to be a voice for other people who are struggling like she did.
“I want to help people who are struggling as someone who has struggled, overcome and taken control of my mind and heart. 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’s decision to talk about her depression with Billboard comes a year after SHINee‘s Jonghyun took his own life.
“[Jonghyun’s passing] reminded me of my old self and I could understand why he wanted to escape…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.”
Like gold tested by fire, Minzy fought through her battles and is now stronger and more determined than ever. She wants to use her personal journey to become an artist and advocate that people can relate to.
“As I’ve come into my own, I am a different person. I’ve experienced pulling through. I want to help that woman, [my past self].”