China's 'plus-size' boy band makes impact

Chinese group Produce Pandas are hoping to break down boy band stereotypes in the music industry.
Chinese group Produce Pandas are hoping to break down boy band stereotypes in the music industry.

Gathered in a practice room, five generously proportioned young men in baggy black sweaters are patting their bellies and waggling their arms.

Bearded with double chins, they shout "Hoo-Ha!" in time to upbeat African drums.

The choreography is for the new song Good Belly by Produce Pandas, whose members proudly call themselves "the first plus-sized boy band in China".

DING, Cass, Husky, Otter and Mr 17 weigh an average of 100kg, a radical departure from the industry standard seen in South Korean super groups such as BTS, whose lanky young members are sometimes referred to in China as "little fresh meat".

Yet, it seems to be working for Produce Pandas, who rose to fame after making it about halfway through an idol talent competition hosted by iQiyi, one of the largest video platforms in China.

"The five of us may not have the standard look and shape of a boy band but we hope to use the term "plus-sized band" to break the aesthetic stereotypes," Cass said.

The five, two of whom formerly sang in bars, are also unusual for their relatively advanced ages in an industry that worships youth and stamina. Most of their fellow contestants began South Korean-style training while in their teens.

Mr 17, the band's main dancer, was the oldest contestant in the competition at age 31. Husky, who worked in IT, thought he would fit in perfectly because he has been chubby since primary school and has failed repeatedly to lose weight.

"I often work out one day then take a rest for the next three days, so the result is clear that I gained some weight instead," he said.

Vocalist Otter never thought he could be in a band that lives and performs together, and more importantly, inspires ordinary people.

"I hope people will feel encouraged when watching our performance," he said. "They can think, 'if Produce Pandas can make a breakthrough and perform on a bigger stage, then why can't I?'"

Australian Associated Press