Monsta X Fans Gather on Seoul's Streets & Social Media to Condemn Wonho's Departure

I.M, Minhyuk, Jooheon, Kihyun, Wonho, Hyungwon, and Shownu of Monsta X
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

I.M, Minhyuk, Jooheon, Kihyun, Wonho, Hyungwon, and Shownu of Monsta X attend Q102's Jingle Ball 2018 at Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 5, 2018 in Philadelphia. 

#FightForWonho and other hashtags show the intercultural conversations that happen when controversy hits the K-pop scene.

K-pop fans around the world are speaking up for Wonho after the singer-songwriter-producer departed his boy band Monsta X.

Hours after the news broke that the 26-year-old (real name Lee Ho-seok) was leaving his group on Thursday following a swirl of rumors and accusations about his past behavior, local fans began gathering outside the Seoul offices of Monsta X's Korean record label Starship Entertainment. Billboard observed the quiet and peaceful gathering where Monsta X fans (known affectionately as Monbebe) began writing on stickie notes and posting them across the front and side of the building as a security guard stood outside and watched. The messages were mostly in Korean but included some English messages, with dozens of fans of multiple nationalities in attendance.

The notes had been cleared the next day with supporters under the impression they were collected and brought to Starship.

Supporters who couldn't make it to Seoul have shown their feelings online via social media, with Twitter becoming the main fighting ground for Wonho.

The hashtag #?????_??? (roughly translating to Supporting Monsta X) has been a top trending topic worldwide on Twitter since Thursday's news. Meanwhile, other phrases like #FightForWonho and #???_???_???_?? (Starship, We Want Answers) have risen to the top of worldwide trends on Twitter as fans discussed everything from theories in how the news broke and finding additional ways to support the singer.

At press time, a petition titled "Keep a member of Monsta X" has more than 350,000 signatures.

Like past incidents involving K-pop stars, the increasingly international fanbase of the Korean music scene continues to have a rocky reckoning with its home base in conservative South Korea.

The past days have seen Wonho accused of failing to pay back borrowed money from a former friend, attending a juvenile detention center and smoking marijuana -- with the latter accusation being the only actual illegal activity the star has been accused of, as marijuana is illegal in Korea while no specific evidence of the former two accusations have been shared to date. Still, the rumors have caused a K-pop controversy and led to marks against his image in Korea, where one's public perception is invaluable and a digitally connected online fan community is slow to forgive.

But as Monsta X has grown their global fanbase (recently signing with Epic Records for U.S.-focused English releases), these incidents increasingly appear unfair to other fans who have watched over Wonho as a Monsta X member for more than four years and aren't afraid to speak out. A similar situation arose when HyunA and E'Dawn of boy band Pentagon were axed from their record label Cube Entertainment for publicly revealing their relationship -- a controversy for K-pop, but not in many other music scenes -- before the label announced they would review the situation after public outcry on social media. HyunA and E'Dawn eventually parted ways with their company, but it became a turning point in watching the influence that international fans and social media has on K-pop.

As Monbebes threaten boycotts and further in-person and online protests, Monsta X and Starship Entertainment have not announced plans to review or reconsider their decision. Still, there's certainly more international eyes watching these supposed K-pop controversies and forcing labels to widen who they're considering when making major decisions.