Panthepack - The Latest All-Chinese Musical Collective
Esquire Singapore|November 2021
Four distinct individuals gamely signed up to form Panthepack, the latest all-Chinese musical collective. Their mission: to be the next wave of music while showcasing their heritage and roots. As they converge, Esquire finds out their plans and driving force to achieve their vision.
Derrick Tan
Panda diplomacy has proven to be an effective soft power instrument of culture and goodwill. To think that China presents these vulnerable and near-extinct herbivores as a way to bridge differences, that is one hell of a negotiation in diplomacy.

But recently, another Chinese ‘import’ is set to promote and showcase the country’s talent pool and Chinese culture. Named Panthepack, this supergroup comprises musicians Jackson Wang, Karencici, J.Sheon and ICE.

The name Jackson Wang immediately jumps out at you. Besides being part of the renowned K-pop boy band Got7, he founded his own record label Team Wang in 2017 that manages his solo releases. He also assembled the rest of Panthepack (its members aged between 23 and 36).

The group name is based off China’s epochal animals. “Pandas are iconic for the Chinese,” Wang explains. “For us, we’re exploring and going on this music journey to deliver a new sound.”

Wang flexes his multi-hyphenate talents to steer the group, being attributed as writer, director, actor and editor at the end credits of Panthepack’s first music video ‘Buzz’, which amassed over 8.6 million streams on YouTube in less than two weeks since its release.

Before he arrived for our scheduled Zoom interview, the rest of Panthepack were enlivening the mood with peppy banters. Casual talk was volleyed among the three members. As no one turned on their cameras, trying to discern who said what among the chatter, apart from Panthepack’s only female and also youngest member Karencici, proved to be a challenge.

The Chinese-American and bilingual R&B singer-songwriter's real name is Lin Kailun, or Cici as the group addressed her affectionately during the Zoom interview. She has penned tunes for Taiwan’s Jolin Tsai, Hebe Tien and Rainie Yang while snagging herself the Best Newcomer nomination at the 30th Golden Melody Awards. The way she speaks exudes confidence; she commands the room.

Her comrade, singer-songwriter/producer J.Sheon also made his mark in Taiwan and was nominated Best Male Artist for the same ceremony a year after her. The eight years that J.Sheon spent in New York since he was 19 exposed him to different genres of western music that had shaped his musical sensibility with a unique style. This comprehension has led him to carve out a niche to flourish in the music industry.

Rounding up the quartet is rap prodigy ICE, or Yang Changqing. Contrary to his frosty moniker, ICE was cordial and forthcoming during the interview. As Wang describes him, “hotter and warmer than the sun”. Having finished third place in the second season of The Rap of China, a mainland China rap competition, ICE also bagged the Asian Music Festival’s Annual Popularity Rapper Award in 2018 and previously worked with Wang on the single ‘Red’.

You’d think that building a supergroup of this calibre would be a convoluted affair but it was as simple as sending a direct message. J.Sheon recalls, “Jackson [Wang] hit me up on Instagram randomly with good vibes. ‘Yo, bro, do you wanna talk? I’ve a fun project going on that’s [sick].’” The same applied to Karencici and ICE.

“And then we’re done,” Wang says. “We’re here.”

KARENCICI: For me, before I joined this project, I was already a big fan of [Wang] because I’ve seen him on variety shows and other television programmes. So I was a little bit starstruck.

JACKSON WANG: No waaaaaay. Get out of here. [Howls in jest.]

KARENCICI: I’m your fan, bro.

WANG: I was already a fan of Cici, J.Sheonand ICE even before I invited them.

To say that the camaraderie is strong within Panthepack is an understatement. Wang praises J.Sheon for being the big brother in the group and compliments Karencici on her ‘warrior-like’ energy on stage but still being able to chill and be the princess of the quartet.

For ICE, he looks up to J.Sheon who doubles as a mentor and an English teacher. “He always teaches me something new every time, so I appreciate that,” the rapper says. At this moment, Karencici playfully fishes for compliments from ICE. Without missing a beat, ICE cheekily replies that although she exudes a cool aura initially, she also nurtures him while being cute and having a positive character.

Comparing this experience to a summer camp, J.Sheon says the group members “are likeminded individuals who connect via music”. “Basically, everyone starts as strangers. Then you get to know each other and become friends. Throughout the process, there’ll be a bond formed with everyone. Eventually, it turns out that we’re going to become a ‘family’ and everyone got each other’s back.”

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