As Korean boy groups composed of slender, handsome Oppas continue to corner fandoms worldwide, one Chinese plus-sized male group is trying to have a different splash.
Meet Produce Pandas, the country’s first “XXL boy band” determined to break beauty stereotypes with their catchy upbeat songs and slick dance moves.
Its members—Mr. 17, DING, Otter, Husky, and Cass—were all enlisted in the group because they go beyond the standard physique displayed by Backstreet Boys to BTS members.
“This is a plus-sized, all-singing, all-dancing idol band, which has never been seen before in the whole world,” Mr. 17 told The Guardian. “We just look like a group of pandas: huggable, chubby shape, relaxed and happy attitude.”
In an interview with the South China Morning Post (SCMP), DING said that their heavy built is a mere representation of their immeasurable talent.
“We are called the ‘XXL boy band.’ The XXL not only represents our body size, but it also reflects our limitless possibilities,” he said.
While the quintet is busy charming fans with their chill and bubbly disposition, they had also been doing intense training ala K-pop idols since May last year.
“We work almost 20 hours a day when we are shooting a video. We’re used to it, but the first shoot felt very tiring,” DING told SCMP.
“We usually only get one day off a week,” Otter added. “We come to the gym every morning, and we train different parts of our bodies every day. We basically work for more than one hour each day.”
Although these men are fairly young (they are aged 22 to 31 years old), each of them has to put in extra effort during dance rehearsals because of their weight.
“For bigger people like us, we need more energy to dance. We are also asked to dance at the same pace as other dancers. But since we are heavier, we exert nearly twice the amount of energy to achieve the same energy as other dancers. So our daily practice is very hard,” explained Mr. 17.
To maintain their panda-ish physique, the members would cap off their training with a hearty feast. “This can answer the doubts of many why we haven’t lost weight after we dance so hard,” Otter said. “It’s because we put the weight back on. We dance a lot, but we also eat a lot.”
“An idol group of ordinary people”
To join the band, each Produce Panda member had to quit their day jobs—ranging from Amazon customer service representative to pub singer and project manager of an internet company.
Their families, however, mostly disapproved of their sudden career shift. It was hardest for Mr. 17, who risked being disinherited after leaving his career in a petroleum refinery. “[My family] knows I love dancing and singing, but they doubt at my age, and with my overweight body shape, that I can ever succeed,” he told The Guardian.
In fact, it was not the first time that people dearest to Mr. 17 doubted his abilities. “When I was a junior in college, I asked my dance teacher if I could become a dancer or a dance teacher. But he didn’t think much of me. It was a big blow when he told me there was no hope. He shook his head and said it was not possible,” he recounted to SCMP.
But the all-around performer knew better than to look down on himself.
He continued, “I felt a bit lost at that moment, but I didn’t give up. I thought I must still follow my heart, and I felt like anything was possible. So I learned to dance at a studio outside college.”
“My hip hop dancer said I was talented. Then he taught me many new dance moves, and he inspired me to create my own moves, too,” he said.
Mr. 17 kept that same never-say-die attitude when he signed up for Produce Panda.
“I thought that if I joined a boy band, even if we weren’t successful, it would be a good experience anyway. If I didn’t try, I might have been more secure. But I would have regretted it for the rest of my life,” he stated,
Product Pandas debuted on July 28, 2020, with the song “La La La” and released their first album titled “A.S.I.A.” on Oct. 15 that same year.
“I think this is the biggest achievement of my life. I had never thought this would be possible,” Otter said to SCMP.
Produce Panda’s rise to stardom is a stark manifestation of the band's belief that “ordinary people can achieve ordinary dreams on stage.”
“We are practicing very hard. I hope people don’t see us as just something that makes them laugh, or that we are just five happy chubby boys,” Otto said. “I hope that when people see us, they see five chubby boys at first, but then they grow to like us because we dance and sing very well.”