Boyish all-girl pop band crushes teenagers' hearts
A little less than a year ago, Min Junqian was an unknown art student in Shandong province, dreaming of becoming a star and hitting the big time.
Fast-forward to now: The 23-year-old is a member of Acrush, China's first boyish all-girl band, which released its debut single last week. The boyish band already has hundreds of thousands of fans - more than 749,000 followers on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like service.
"Our fathers' generation still holds the idea that girls should dress in a feminine manner, something I was never comfortable with," Min said. "I just like to dress in a unisex way."
Min didn't expect to be picked for the band when she auditioned last year. But her boyish outlook and androgynous style were exactly what Tencent-backed entertainment startup Zhejiang Huati Culture Communication was looking for.
Marketed as a pop band that encourages girls to pursue their own identities and shake up female conventions, Acrush cuts against the grain in China's music industry, where girl bands are marketed as sweet young things to appeal to males.
"I left home when I was young," said Acrush lead singer Peng Xichen, 21. "To comfort my parents, I told them my boyish outlook would keep me safe."
From day one, Zhejiang Huati created individual identities for the women. Min is supposed to be the band's comedian, while Peng is a "gentle romantic". The 21-year-old Lu is styled as an energetic dancer with a sunny disposition.
Lu wears long-sleeved outfits to prevent the public from seeing a dragon tattoo on her arm. She says only: "I did it when I was an ignorant girl."
But she did admit to sometimes dressing in pink and behaving like a child.
The Chinese blogosphere is ablaze with questions about Acrush's leanings. Asked if they support feminism and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, band members claim they have no idea what LGBT means.
"We're just handsome girls," Min said.
Members of Acrush, a Chinese all-girl band, pose for pictures before a rehearsal at a dance studio in Beijing last month. Thomas Peter / Reuters