They were hoping to be the next big thing, but China’s Panda Boys, a group with seven members that ranged in age 7 to 11, have broken up only days after being introduced.
Trying to follow in the idol industry that’s prevalent in Korean and Japanese pop music, the young Chinese boy band debuted on August 21 with their first song and music video. However, only days later, they disbanded after an outcry on social media over their young age and concerns of exploitation.
After the Panda Boys made their debut, the group's agency Asia Starry Sky Group wrote on Chinese social media that they "have officially embarked on a new journey." It said that the members had spent their summer holiday "with sweat and tears" to "stand on the stage of dreams."
The news of the formation of the group soon stirred heated debate online, with the majority saying that the children should be in school focusing on their education rather than looking to make money as members of a boy band.
In response to the mounting backlash, the company explained the next day on Weibo that it was "not using the children as a tool to make money, but incubating a new generation of teenage role models with 'epochal significance'."
After continued outcry, the agency agreed to a rebranding. Although the band's English name would remain Panda Boys, their Chinese name would change to become "Panda Children's Art Troupe."
There is "no capital [gain]. We are doing something meaningful with a group of children who love singing and dancing,” said the agency.
However, pressure continued to mount with state-run media CCTV also chiming in on the controversy. In an online commentary, it wrote that the entertainment industry could be harming the “physical and mental health development” of underaged talents by pushing them too hard.
"At the same time, it will also pass on the wrong value of 'early fame' to the society, misleading young people," said CCTV.
A day later, Asia Starry Sky Group announced the disbandment of the group. "We will seriously and properly handle the follow-up work," it said. "Thanks for the supervision and criticism from society and online."
The story is reminiscent of another former young Chinese group called TFBoys which debuted in 2013. With three members, all aged 12 or 13, they went on to become one of the most popular groups in China thanks to their hit song Manual of Youth and gained widespread popularity throughout Asia.