When is the formation of a boy band featuring impossibly cute, perfectly coiffed and impeccably dressed young stars wooing the young girls who come to see them particularly notable? When those males are actually female.
Traditional gender roles are not what they used to be, and amen to that. Evidence of this seems to be surfacing almost daily, and while progress is being made in much of the Western world, anyway, there is still plenty of resistance and, at times, hatred, toward those who challenge what have long been gender norms.
Perhaps nowhere else on the planet is as full of examples of this as Asia. From China to Thailand and Japan to the Philippines, males and females are embracing their natural beauty and true identity like never before, and that sometimes means that things are not exactly what they seem. They are still fighting typically conservative, old-fashioned social thinking, but the changes are happening in the public eye, most notably in the pop-music world there, it seems.
And while the boy band craze seems to have come and gone in the U.S., it, along with girl bands, is thriving in Asia, particularly in Korea, where K-pop rules. Perhaps nowhere is gleaming, swaying, synchronized, youthful beauty (and really, prettiness) been so celebrated than in these mirror-image genres.
Sometimes, though, you get all of that wrapped up in one package.
Enter FFC Acrush, China’s hottest new boy band, which, although seemingly comprised of five adorable, perfectly coiffed young-adult males, is actually a group of androgynous cisgender women.
Lu Ke Ran, Peng Xi Chen, Lin Fan, An Jun Xi and Min Jun Qian are Acrush’s stars, but don’t call them misses. Instead, they all use the term “meishaonian” to refer to themselves, which means “handsome youth” in Chinese and is decidedly unassociated with any gender. However, fans in China refer to attractive males as “husbands,” and, consequently, so are the “handsome youths” of Acrush. Not surprisingly, then, the “A” in the band’s name refers to Adonis, the god of male beauty in ancient Greece.
The idea for the band came about after one of China’s biggest pop stars, Li Yuchun, rocked her own androgynous style to great success. A lightbulb went off, and Acrush’s manager found five androgynous young ladies to capitalize on the phenomenon.
After releasing its first video in April, the band started making a few public appearances to great fanfare. Rumor has it that Acrush will begin recording soon, unleashing its first music therwafter, expected to be a cross between K-pop and C-pop.
And if you think Acrush is a passing fad, consider that the band now has about a million followers on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
The Genderless Kei Movement in Japan
The genderless kei (“style” in Japanese) movement has gripped Japan over the past couple years, and it’s particularly popular among males, including some well-known pop stars and models.
J-pop star and model Toman of XOX (Kiss Hug Kiss) is one of the most famous devotees of the genderless kei style. He and his mates in the band, as well as many other Japanese, bleach their hair, wear makeup and do their nails. Their conversion to the style was in large part thanks to Japanese model Genking’s appearance on the Tokyo runways in 2015 in genderless attire and makeup. Genking has continued to own that style and inspired other models to follow suit. Along with the Kawaii style and a history of manga and anime, Japan has spawned a culture that embraces this complete blending of the masculine and feminine.
At the same time, there is no mention of sexuality in this fashion style, only a focus on beauty, makeup and cute clothes. Toman, Genking and many others have all of those things in abundance, and their fans, which include many, many young girls, lovingly approve.
The Trans Revolution
In Korea, as mentioned, K-pop rules, and in fact it has fueled pop music movements across Asia. Best known for its almost equally pretty girl bands and boy bands, significant headlines recently have gone to Mercury, a new three-member girl group that includes one transgender female. Model, actress and performer Choi Han-bit is getting lots of attention even though she transitioned in 2006.
Meanwhile, way down on the other side of the East China Sea, Thailand is putting its distinct cultural take on the music scene with Gurlz?, a six-member group of beautiful women who have voices to match. However, these beautiful women are actually all transgender beauties (or ladyboys, as they are known in the Land of Smiles). While their recording momentum has stalled a bit since their initial 2015 album release, the story of the making of the band has just debuted in a four-episode series on British television.
A decade before Gurlz?, the ladyboy group Papillon formed and recorded after spinning off from another Thai transgender female group, Venus Flytrap, in 2005. At about the same time, Lady, credited as the first transgender girl group in the world, emerged in South Korea and had a run from 2005 to 2007.
Ultimately, there are two truths to draw from all this. One, that it is a beautiful thing to see people being true to their identity and letting their natural beauty shine through. And two, that people will embrace those who share their artistic offerings with the world in a real way.
The truth is, people are people, and they come in all shapes, sizes, sensibilities, genders and sexualities. And isn’t that beautiful?
Yes, progress can be slow, but it is also a beautiful thing when it actually starts to occur.