Credit: Acrush's Weibo

There’s a new Chinese boy band on the scene and its called FFC-Acrush. They premiered earlier this month at a music showcase called Husband Exhibition, during which lucky female college students get their first look at the heartthrobs they’ll soon affectionately refer to as “husband” on social media. Although they aren’t set to release their first single until the end of April, Acrush has already garnered nearly 900,000 followers on Weibo, China’s Twitter-equivalent, priming them to be one of the country’s biggest homegrown acts.

Oh, also, Acrush is made up of five women.

The individual members, all in their late teens or early 20s, rock short-haired androgynous styles and loose-fitting men’s clothes, which is a look that has become more common and accepted recently among women in Chinese culture. When being introduced, they avoid using the words “boy” or “girl” and instead opt for meishaonian— a gender-free Chinese phrase meaning “handsome youths.” Recently, Zheping Huang at Quartz spoke with the group’s 28-year-old manager, Zhou Xiaobai, who said Acrush is “a group advocating freedom, not bound by frames.”

While all of this sounds incredibly progressive, subversive, and generally fucking rad, because Acrush is an aspect of mass-produced pop culture, the reality is a bit more complicated.

Like many pop groups aimed at teenage audiences, Acrush was formed out of the brains of marketing agents. Last year, an entertainment start-up called Zhejiang Huati Culture Communication Co. Ltd was founded in a business incubator and began scouring the country for young, attractive entertainers they could throw into their training program. This system—the pop star puppy mill, if you will—has been incredibly successful in Japan and Korea, where groups’ music, style, and personas are meticulously crafted and spoon-fed to their teenage fans.

While Acrush’s signature look may actually be the way its members have always presented themselves, it’s also clearly capitalizing on an increasingly popular androgynous style that was popularized by fellow short-haired Chinese pop star Li Yuchun. And considering the group is being bundled with three other girl groups under the umbrella brand Fantasy Football Confederation, all of whom must learn to play soccer and do so on stage, it’s difficult to tell which part of their brand is sincere and which is simply affectation.

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