Meet This Bitch: Amber Liu

The Taiwanese American, Southern California Korean Pop Star extraordinaire

Who’s this bitch?
Amber Liu is a Korean pop (K-pop) star in the girl group f(x).

What does this bitch do?
Amber’s the rapper of f(x), on top of her solo career, web series, and other TV show appearences.

Where did this bitch come from?
Los Angeles, California. Now she lives in Seoul.

What makes her a bitch?
The K-pop industry is a brutal machine, especially for female idols. Amber somehow manages to stay above it, keeping her style, personality, and creativity as a part of herself and not a mass-produced image. K-pop also amps up super femme girls, and Amber’s tomboy style sets her a part.

Who’re some bitches like her?
There are a few Asian Americans in K-pop, like Ailee and Amber’s bandmate Krystal. But I suggest looking up my other favorite female K-pop rappers: 2NE1’s CL, Brown Eyed Girl’s Miryo, and Mamamoo’s Moonbyul.

In 2012, a Korean man in a blue suit doing a silly dance broke the internet. This was the first time most of America realized that K-pop existed, even though it makes sense that South Korea would have its own pop music industry. Psy has since receded from the American mainstream, but the impact of K-pop is just now starting to show its grip as a subculutre in pop culutre. The newfound mainstream interest launched a global curiosity into the Hallyu wave (interest in Korean pop culutre). What does this have to do with Amber? Amber Liu stands out in the K-pop craze because of her international popularity, down-to-earth originality, and how she seems to be the exception to the system.

First off, she’s not Korean American. Other American (sometimes Canadian) singers, dancers, and actors go to Korea to become K-pop idols, but most are Korean American. Coming from Taiwanese parents, Amber already had to learn a new language on top of the regular demands of an SM trainee — singing classes, dance practices, specialty diets, workout regiments, and more. But most notable is her style. NPR recently ran a story looking at the ways K-pop labels expect its girl idols to “look alike and embody a girlish, doe-eyed innocence.” The article discusses the ways this could harm Korean girl’s self image, telling audiences that self worth comes from their appearance and discourages individual identity. In more ways than the obvious, the more masculine way Amber presents herself makes a stark point in the K-pop landscape.

“More than anything, though, it’s her look. While her chic counterparts wear matching skirts and dresses, Liu sticks to shorts, muscle shirts and T-bird–style men’s jackets. Her hair is short, boyish. She does pushups with her fans and plays basketball with male K-pop stars. She wears baseball caps, and raps.” from LA Weekly in 2013

Because Amber established herself as different from the get go, she’s had the freedom to be different for the rest of her career — something most other K-pop idols, especially girls, don’t get to express. SM Entertainment is infamous for how it treats its idols with 13-year “slave” contracts, high beauty standards, little artistic freedom, and rigid control of idol’s lives. The fact that Amber has kept her tomboy style as a part of f(x) and looks like she avoided any major plastic surgery is noteworthy on its own. Of course it’s a gimmick for SM to work international fans, but it’s a lot more freedom than most others at her label get. She’s one of the most popular idols at the label because of her originality, and an obvious move to change that would alienate fans, aka consumers.

With her freedom, Amber uses her voice to advocate self-love and K-pop as more than a shallow pop genre. Her solo 2015 album “Beautiful” features a number of songs she wrote herself or with songwriting team Noizebank, and the title song “Beautiful” honestly looks at her struggles in the industry and expressing herself as a tomboy. Telling her story aside, being able to write most of her album is rare for SM, who has a team of hit-makers in house who usually do all the writing to maximize profit for the company, not the idols performing the song. She’s since followed up with 3 more self-written singles including the very personal “Borders” that also explains what it was like for her to puruse her dream abroad in a very different culture.

Amber has posted on her various social media about the double standards she’s faced because of how she dresses and acts, reacts to world events, and briefly mentioned struggling with depression (a taboo subject in Korea.) Interviews always address what it’s like for her to be a tomboy in K-pop, and she’s said it’s always been her style and has been bullied for it. Through her international influence and marketability, she’s able to be honest in a business that pushes incessant happiness.

Amber hasn’t single handedly changed K-pop, it’s still very much a machine where she plays a small part. But she’s enough of a game changer that maybe more labels will allow their idols to express themselves (doubtful, but it’s still a hope.) Even though not many people outside of K-pop will know Amber Liu, or what she represents within the business, it’s a business that’s becoming a major factor in the world of pop culutre. If the movers and shakers of K-pop really want to grab the world’s attention — and money — it’s going to need to really look at what’s succeeding. Individuality, creative freedom, and really catchy songs — Amber.

To see more of super chill Amber, check out her day with Buzzfeed:

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