BEIJING • In a small dance studio in Beijing, the members of China's newest entry in the national pop-music pageant ran through a sequence of pulsing pelvic thrusts and choreographed crotch grabs.
After a three-minute workout, the group's leader, Lu Keran, breathlessly asked the band's manager: "Now can I go to the bathroom?"
It has been a hard and fast ascent for Lu and her bandmates in Acrush - five young women who want nothing more than to show the world they can become their country's biggest boyband.
Acrush, which stands for "Adonis crush", after the Greek god, are the creation of Zhejiang Huati Culture Media, one of China's pop-music factories and a supergroup incubator aiming to saturate the market with ensemble acts that can rack up Weibo fans and flood Tencent video streams.
Since China's unofficial ban last year on popular South Korean cultural imports, Chinese promoters have tried to satisfy pop music fans with home-grown talent. There are slick boybands and foxy girl groups, but Acrush aim for a growing segment of Chinese youth culture: androgynous urban trendsetters who reject traditional gender norms.
"People have been curious," said Peng Xichen, 21, the newest member of Acrush. "They're used to seeing either cutesy or sexy girl groups, or boybands. But I guess they're not used to seeing a totally androgynous girl band."
The group were formed late last year after a nationwide search for members for a new girl band. During auditions, promoters found "many natural, handsome girls", said Mr Wang Tianhai, chief executive of Zhejiang Huati, which is based in Hangzhou. "There are so many androgynous-looking girls these days, we thought they would be more relatable," he said.
Acrush member An Junxi's father wanted a son. "But I was born a girl, so my dad just thought, 'Well, she's young, so we'll just dress her up like a boy,'" she said, straddling a lounge chair during a break in rehearsal.
"I've dressed like this since I was young," she explained. Wearing dresses "just felt weird". Like many Chinese of her generation, An, 22, became enamoured of K-pop, especially rapper G-Dragon.
Min is the band's most macho member. On Sina Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, she recently posted a photo of herself dressed in a black tank top to show off her biceps.
The band's management forbids members to talk openly about their sexual orientation and Min plays it coy: "What do you think I am? You can't tell, right?"
But she confesses a fan-girl crush on Taiwanese pop idol Wang Leehom. "Wang Leehom is so handsome and talented. I want to marry him." She added: "I'm still a typical girl."