When Wonho pops up on my computer screen in his little rectangle on Zoom, he's leaning forward on his couch in a heather-gray cutoff shirt exposing his sculpted biceps while his thighs are fully out in black basketball shorts. For 28 minutes, I'm inside the K-pop star's Instagram feed.
Since officially becoming a solo artist a year ago, Wonho has garnered 2.3 million Instagram followers for his nuanced take on thirst traps. Just the other day, the 28-year-old self-professed foodie posted a shot of himself grilling. You can't see Wonho's face, but you're encouraged to marvel at the definition of his back muscles. (The comments are probably as hilariously lustful as you could imagine.) Don't even get me started on the mirror photos he's taken from his bed.
Needless to say, if I'd never seen Wonho's Instagram, this scene would have almost seemed too intimate, too casual for an interview. I'm used to K-pop stars video chatting with me from conference rooms in zipped-up hoodies, white T-shirts, or carefully styled outfits — not from their living rooms in gym clothes. But Wonho's vibe is exactly what I see before me. He wants me, you, and his fans to see him exactly like this: laid-back in his natural habitat. "I love being comfortable around people, around my fans," he says. "So I wear comfortable outfits."
We saw peeks of this side of Wonho among seven other guys while he was a member of Monsta X from 2015 to 2019 with a flash of his abs here; a shirtless moment there. Wonho quickly became known for having the most enviable body in K-pop. Even his peers were mesmerized by his trim physique at award shows. Instead of shying away from this image as a soloist, Wonho kept the momentum going, proving he's most confident when he's not, well, fully clothed. "I want to show myself like the real me, how I am on a daily basis and perform as myself on stage," he explains.
On a deeper level, Wonho isn't just doing what makes him feel best — he's also doing what he believes is suitable for everyone. "I feel a responsibility to fill the stage by myself," Wonho reveals. If that means doing so shirtless, so be it.
"I want to show myself like the real me, how I am on a daily basis and perform as myself on stage."
After years of slipping on harnesses, stiff suits, and leather pants, Wonho's exposed solo aesthetic typically includes mesh shirts, unzipped jackets, crop tops, and gauzy blouses left unbuttoned. Basically, as long as something isn't too tight, bulky, or restricting, Wonho says he'll wear it. "I don't really like suits or anything that's too dressy," he admits. When I mention this may be his way of translating his athleticism and passion for working out to his stage aesthetic, Wonho quickly agrees. "I would say so," he remarks.
The same low-key look extends upward to Wonho's skin and hair, too. As we talk, Wonho constantly smiles so big that I could probably see his molars if I really wanted to. His luminous complexion is free of makeup and an extensive skin-care regimen. When the latter comes up in our interview, Wonho tells me all he does to take care of his skin is wash it and pat on toner.
I have a hard time hiding my shock at the lack of moisturizer in his routine. I think I need one to survive. For some reason, he tells me he's jealous of that. That's Wonho in a nutshell, though, if you ask me. Over the years of crossing paths with Wonho during his time with Monsta X, I noticed he has this disarming consideration of the people around him. Wonho's always paying attention, even when you don't think he is. But I digress.
Wonho with magenta hair back in 2019
After cycling through every color of the rainbow (he truly hasn't left a single shade untouched) and countless haircuts, Wonho now has closely cropped blonde hair. His roots are starting to grow in a bit, making the hairstyle all the more effortless and seemingly less high maintenance. "I like shorter hair, in general," Wonho says before adding it's part of his effort to, again, be more "comfortable and natural with who I am as an artist."
Although he's pushing this What You See Is What You Get message, Wonho is almost simplifying himself to broaden his appeal. He brings much more to the world than a body to marvel at. After all, Wonho is a performer — not a fitness model of some sort. Music is a major part of Wonho's equation. His meticulous involvement in each melody and lyric is what truly makes all of this tick.
Instead of singing and dancing to songs his label has given him (a misinformed stereotype often tacked onto K-pop), Wonho prefers to be a part of every single step of the music-making process. In fact, Wonho's true comfort in his solo work blossoms out of writing his own lyrics and music on his own terms, for himself and his fans. In these moments, Wonho says he feels most like himself.
Many of the songs Wonho has written are based on places his mind escapes to. "I daydream a lot, like, truly a lot," Wonho admits, spoken like a true Pisces. "It's kind of difficult for me to explain how I fit them into my music, though."
Sharing the gist of his daydreams comes a bit more easily for Wonho. For a second, he leads me into his psyche in a way I wasn't expecting. Turns out, Wonho's reveries aren't realistic; they're more sensory. For instance, he often imagines what it would be like to live underwater and even cycles through what-if situations. "Like, what would I have been or what if the world has ever been like this?" Wonho shares.
The mention of sensory makes me wonder if Wonho has synesthesia. Instead of straight-up asking if he has it, I phrase it in more illustrative terms: "Are you the kind of person who can see a number and connect a color to it, or if you see a letter, you're like, 'Oh, that has a certain color'?"
"Yes, I can," Wonho replies nonchalantly. "Don't others too?"
Not everyone has that knack. I sure don't, I tell him. Wonho ponders this revelation for a couple more seconds than he planned as our internet connection is lost. "I'm not really sure why others are not like that," Wonho remarks when it comes back. "I thought everyone was like me."
The moody photographs Wonho sprinkles among his muscle-baring photos give us a glance at this introspective side of him. Capturing blue skies, striking architecture, and abstract paintings he loves has made photography a fun hobby for Wonho on the side. "I usually post things that I like," he says. "I post things that are happening in my daily life."
Honestly, I wanted to uncover the secret inner workings of Wonho's Instagram — Is there a content calendar? Are there planned shoots? — but something about the swift, blasé way Wonho answers my questions makes me think his Instagram is exactly what he says it is: a diary of sorts. No master marketing plan is powering it to make more people listen to his music. (Consider that a delightful benefit.) This is just Wonho as he always has been — just more fully on display — and so much more is yet to be uncovered.
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