If you were on X (formerly and fondly remembered as Twitter) in the late 2010s, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen the phrase “Stan LOONA” attached with a LOONA music video under any pop culture tweet, imploring them to discover the 12–member girl group. Translating to “Girl of the Month” in Korean, LOONA immediately captivated audiences with their detailed storytelling, diligent work ethic, and dedication to their loyal fans, Orbits.

A unique aspect of the LOONA lineup is that their parent company, Blockberry Creative, opted for an unconventional debut format, giving each member a dedicated solo project before formally debuting the entire group. Each member released an entire album, a massively produced music video, and full–blown promotions—all the rounds of a normal K–Pop comeback. In addition, the group formed subunits that each had unique concepts and musical styles that expanded the overall group’s artistry. As a result, the LOONA–verse is wide–ranging and full of lore, and it’s no wonder that the group has attracted such a cult following.

But a darker reality lies behind the smiles on tour and the colorful music video visuals. Through the past seven years, allegations of mistreatment, overworking, and restrictive diets (among others) have surfaced from both fan concern and revelations from the members themselves. Plus, the expulsion of the group’s most popular member, Chuu, and subsequent lawsuits to terminate the group’s contracts highlight the dark K–Pop industry practices that hide beneath an image of flamboyance and joy.

The trouble started in the early days of the LOONA–verse, when members of the group occasionally let information slip about their tough conditions working in the company. Through either V Live, a direct–to–fans live streaming platform, or other behind–the–scenes content, the girls revealed that they were subjected to strict dieting to the point of extreme hunger: Members would sometimes sneak snacks in trash cans or neck pillows for sustenance. The girls also reportedly lacked any sort of creative freedom, from limits on artistic style to even forced hairstyle changes. While concerning, these stories aren’t uncommon in an industry full of strict standards for outward appearance and branding. They are also unlikely to be addressed by the company and more likely to be passed off as rumors.

Conjecture soon turned into reality, however, on Nov. 25, 2022, when member Chuu was abruptly expelled from the group. The group had been winding down from a successful run on the reality show Queendom 2 and their best–selling album yet with the summer comeback Flip That, and they had just begun their world tour, “Loonatheworld Tour.” In a statement, Blockberry alleged that "Chuu's violent language and misuse of power toward our staff" were the reason for her expulsion, but fans were already suspicious. For months prior to the removal, fans noticed that Chuu was inexplicably absent from many of the group’s promotional activities. Chuu was also absent from the tour due to “scheduled activities” with her solo promotional activities. The circumstances surrounding the expulsion were certainly dubious, but what followed was a chain of events that shocked the core of the K–Pop world.

An exclusive report from Dispatch revealed that all LOONA members were under unfair contractual conditions. As it turned out, the LOONA debut project didn’t come cheap, and Blockberry designed specific terms that disadvantaged the girls. Under each member’s contract, Blockberry stated that any expenses the organization incurred during promotional activities would be split 50:50. Fifty percent would be paid by the company, and 50 percent would be paid by the individual member. However, the profit margin was actually widely disproportionate and split 70:30, respectively. This percentage discrepancy meant that after each comeback, members would accumulate more debt. This point was corroborated by member YeoJin, who mentioned in August 2022 that she made no money from any of the comebacks since Loona’s debut.

It is this report that suggests Blockberry's true reason for expelling Chuu. The exposé revealed that in January 2022, Chuu discovered the disproportionate money distribution the company had set her and her members up with. Though she was the most popular member of the group, with a diverse range of solo activities, she didn’t see much of the money made from all her work. Leveraging her influence, Chuu was able to change the terms of her own individual contract to split profits 30:70, with Chuu getting 70% of all profit. While not formally confirmed, Dispatch speculated that this power move was unfavorable to the company, which then opted to kick her out ten months later.

Enraged fans of LOONA banded together and staged an international boycott of all LOONA music, promotional materials, merchandise, etc. starting December 2022, a month after Chuu’s expulsion. This revelation also inspired the remaining 11 members, who all had existing vendettas against their company, to file individual lawsuits to get out of their contracts. In a last–ditch effort, Blockberry attempted to fund a comeback with The Origin Album [0], which was indefinitely delayed due to the success of the boycott.

The K–Pop industry has its share of unfair contractual clauses, but LOONA’s circumstances were unique in that they had such broad outcry and support. The Korean general public was shocked at such an unfair system that condemned LOONA members to perpetual debt, and, save for a few stragglers, supported the boycott. Prior to its cancellation, The Origin Album [0] only managed to gather around 100 sales on the Ktown4u platform within its first 24 hours, a sharp decline from the 5,000+ for Flip That. Fans started putting LOONA songs as podcast episodes or uploading unofficial audios to avoid giving Blockberry any additional money. Never had the public been so supportive of the idea of a group disbanding, and in June 2023, all of the remaining LOONA members were freed from their contracts with Blockberry. 

LOONA’s Cinderella story, filled with both hope and caution, is one of a kind in the competitive K–Pop world. On one hand, it’s heart–warming to see the strong bonds between the 12 girls and the support of fans who wanted the girls to have a better chance in the industry. On the other, it reveals the cunning nature of the K–Pop machine, capable of trapping young boys and girls into a system that is superficial yet jarring by nature. While no immediate changes have occurred, groups like Twice and BTS, who recently renewed their contracts with their respective companies, all likely had more leverage in negotiations when resigning their contracts. 

While the 12 members of LOONA are no longer explicitly together, many of the members decided to join the same companies. Kim Lip, Choerry, JinSoul, HeeJin, and HaSeul all joined MODHAUS to form ARTMS (pronounced “Artemis,” fitting for the group’s lunar motif); HyeJu, HyunJin, ViVi, YeoJin, and Go Won joined CTDENM and formed the new subunit, Loossemble; and lastly, Chuu and Yves decided to pursue solo activities. Free from the media restrictions of their former company, they don’t shy away from meeting each other and revealing more details about their time on Blockberry. 

Now, we are finally able to get new music from the 12 Moon girls, this time on their own terms. The original Odd Eye Circle subunit reunited to release a brand new EP, <Version Up>, that emulates the unit’s initial identity. Loossemble created a self–titled mini–album that stylistically offered a sound and lore LOONA fans are familiar with and adore. Member Yves, in fact, served as a producer for one of Loosemble’s album tracks and worked behind the scenes to continue developing her producing skills. Finally, Chuu, the girl who started it all, will be releasing her first solo album in mid–October, titled Howl. With all the members free from their contracts and their companies continuously teasing a possible reunion, LOONA can fulfill the dreams from their signature song, “Butterfly,” and fly like they were all meant to.