Amber Liu describes herself as an “ambitious little fireball,” which couldn’t be more accurate. From singing to songwriting to creating videos, the K-pop star-turned-solo recording artist has earned success in her career by staying true to her unapologetic nature.
What people may not know is that the former member of K-pop girl group f(x) was actually born in Southern California, leaving the States to go to Korea when she was 15 years old. Now at 26, she’s focused on debuting herself as an individual, an artist in her own right.
Earlier this year, a vulnerable Amber unleashed her Rogue Rouge mixtape, addressing everything from heartbreak to her stance on the LGBT community to fame. With 5.2 million followers on Instagram alone, Amber Liu is a walking testimony of someone who took a chance, worked hard, and turned her dreams into a reality.
Check out our Q&A with her, below.
I recently found out you’re from Cali?
I was born and raised in West Hills. I moved to Korea when I was 15. I’ve been back-and-forth since. I’m all over the place.
Are you based in South Korea now?
L.A. and South Korea, depending on where work takes me.
I'd love to talk with you about your Chinese heritage.
I recently had a big connect with my culture. My grandpa just passed away, so I’ve been trying to really connect back with my family. I haven’t seen them in a long time. Just listening to how much they went through for me to be where I am now… my grandparents immigrated from Taiwan to L.A. when my dad was in middle school… My mom came here when she was 25, and they met here. Going back and just being an American in Asia is very eye-opening. I had this whole side of me that I didn’t know about. Obviously, the majority of my life growing up in the States has always been a blessing, but just to be a part of the culture that’s in my blood is amazing.
Do your parents know your stature in music?
My parents are really supportive of everything I do. My dad just worries about me—typical dad. [laughs] My mom was a house mom when we were growing up, and that’s all I knew about her. I had a really big disconnect with her because she only spoke Chinese. Her English isn’t good at all. Being a typical second-generation, you have the basic stuff, but I never had a deep conversation with her.
Me being in Korea a long time, I definitely got really depressed at certain points. I always avoided calling my parents. The moment I called my mom this one time, she spent two hours on the phone just talking with me. I feel so crappy that I’m only barely learning about my mom now, so that’s why I’m really trying to learn Chinese. It’s getting better. She’s been someone who’s always supported me. She’s never thought twice about saying, “If this is what you want to do, work hard at it, have fun, and enjoy the process.” Being able to speak to her on deeper levels now, it’s like, “Wow. Who are you?” [laughs] My parents are very supportive of what I do, and I thank them every day for it.
How does your fan base here compare to overseas?
There are definitely some differences in cultural gestures. In Asia, they have the older and younger sister titles used in common conversations. People always call me the older sister, like 언니 (Korean) or 姐姐 (Chinese). But here, age doesn’t really matter. My fans are always awesome, always really supportive. I’m not sure what country they’re technically from, but the ones who speak to me in English are a lot more savage. They talk to me like a friend. I remember one time, I didn’t upload a certain photo. They were all like, “Amber’s quaking, she’s a coward!” I posted it and responded, “Well, I’m not a coward now!” I’m savage right back, so it’s a lot of fun.
I remember interviewing Kris Wu, and he told he couldn’t even walk on the streets back home. Are you able to walk freely overseas?
Yeah. Generally, everybody is very, very courteous to me. Sometimes there’s bad timing, where I’m in a meeting or with friends. There’s a time and place for everything, but I do try to always put aside time for my fans, so they can see me in that time. Everyone is really respectful of my time and where I am, it’s really chill.
You recently released your Rogue Rouge mixtape. Talk about the creative process and how long it took you.
I’ve always wanted to do a mixtape. It was always like, Should I do it? Should I not? I called a couple friends—who are the producers on the mixtape—and asked if they were down. Everyone was like, “Fuck yeah, let’s do it.” Originally, it was only supposed to be the audio. Nothing crazy. As we were pretty much done with everything, I was like, “I should at least do one video.” Then that turned into two videos, which turned into: “Let’s do the whole album!” Everyone was pitching in, we were doing things as homies. I really appreciated all my friends for supporting me in my vision. It took about two to three months, we were just figuring it out. I was simultaneously planning the first video at the same time. As video production started, it took almost a year to do all six videos. I have a seventh, but I don't think I’m releasing that one. [laughs] Because at the time, it was a good idea, but now it’s not.
What is it you want fans to get from your story?
A lot of people still see me as a kid who doesn’t know a lot of things. Not that I’m saying I know a lot, but because I did start so young, I’m kind of in that phase where I’m trying to be like, “I’m an adult, take me seriously!” Which is honestly the opposite of what I’m trying to do. There’s a lot of things that happened behind the scenes, and even personally, that made me grow up.
As any human does, I have my happy times and sad times. I’m not oblivious to the darkness that happens in the world. That’s something I will never ignore. There are things that happen in this world that are totally screwed up, that need justice. There are things we need to talk about or debate over. Even when I’m writing songs, I was never really vocal about my feelings, or never able to really express through words how I’m feeling. Now, I’m trying to learn the process of how to help someone understand where I’m coming from, even if we disagree. With my songwriting, I’m just giving another perspective. With my songwriting, I’m not saying I’m totally right or you’re right, I’m just saying this is one perspective, in a pool of many.
What is your take on the music industry?
I think it’s changing. Regionally, it’s all very different. One thing I want to tell people—especially because I hear this from people very close to me—but the entertainment industry is not all ponies and butterflies. It’s a lot of weird stuff happening, and a lot of things people wouldn’t be able to imagine. There’s a lot of things that happened behind closed doors, that people don’t know about. I’m extremely thankful to be where I am. I hope that whatever I do, I can use for a greater cause to help people.
There are people in the industry that are amazing people, but people have to understand there is a flip side. You hear all these tabloids about how much this person got, or this person signed this five-year contract for billions of dollars, but people don't understand what goes into why they get that type of money. The expenses that go out to maintain the type of skill they have. For example, this is my opinion on athletes. Do you know how much money goes into them taking care of their body? Their training, their nutrition—that’s probably why they make that much or have that type of money. Or with artists: concerts, small parties, a lot of expenses go in and out. A lot of people see it exists, but people don't understand there’s a bunch of people scrambling to make this one thing happen, and that money gets divided. In the end, the artist might be pocketing only about 10 percent of it. It’s not always what we expect.
Speaking of, what did you do with your first advance?
I never got an advance, I actually just got paid. [laughs] Which is nice. I saved it. My dad was always big on financials, he said I should save it. This was like 10 to 15 years ago, when I was 16. These days, I’m trying to invest in myself: afford video production, more things to help the quality of my content.
You didn’t go shopping or anything?
This is a Louis Vuitton bracelet I bought recently. [raises right wrist] This is the first luxury brand item I bought for myself, I’m actually kind of proud of it. A lot of other things were gifts from friends, just for working hard. I have so many people rooting for me. I remember for two of my birthdays, my fans got me this Louis Vuitton passport case and wallet. I still use them to this day. The only thing I splurge on is shoes, but I’m calming down on that. If anything, I just buy people food. [laughs] Sometimes, I’ll spend like $3,000 on food. For the whole month, I go through my expenses, and I’m like, “Wow, we ate out a lot.”
What’s your favorite food spot in L.A.?
Recently, I’ve been on the açai bowl craze. I literally just had one. Boba, obviously. Any boba spot or açai bowl place, you’ll probably see me there.
I know one of your goals was to tour in the States. What are some more immediate goals you have for yourself?
I need to learn my accounting. As an artist, one thing we always overlook is our expenses. Because we want to do every project, anything that motivates us to create or be artistic. I have a lot of videos I’m working on at the moment. I’m learning to push those out slowly.
Why is it so important for you to stand up for the LGBTQ community?
People are always misunderstood, just because they are a certain way. Growing up and people always assuming I’m gay, which is totally fine, but being mistreated for that, is wrong. Whether it’s race, sexual orientation, the way you look, you should not be mistreated for those reasons. If you’re a crappy person, yes. That’s when we go into a debate. Even me having tattoos.
I love your tats, I was going to ask about them.
Thank you. Well, there are people who have the complete opposite opinions. I’ve been grabbed, I’ve been touched like this before. [grabs her own arm]
Everywhere I go. In general, there are people out there that think they can handle you a certain way just because you make a certain choice, which doesn’t relate to them at all. If someone was gay, that’s totally their business. Are you dating me? No. If you’re happy, go ahead. If you’re in a toxic relationship, that’s a different story. I just don't like seeing people being mistreated because of something that doesn’t relate to the person they’re “hurting.”
How is my religion upsetting you, when it’s just me and my religion? I’m Asian. How is that affecting you? [laughs] Especially in the LGBTQ community. I have a lot of friends that are gay, bi, and so on. They are the most amazing people ever. Or people with face tattoos, people will assume things, but they are some of the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s something that we learn since we’re young, I just don’t understand why we don't get it until now.
How important is social media for your career?
It’s my direct connection to my fans. Before social media was used a lot, there was never a way to directly see the fans, unless it was a meet-and-greet or face-to-face events. Even then, there’s a disconnect. Depending on events, you have to do certain things. Social media, I’m able to be who I am, post the stupid stuff I want to post. It’s also a way to connect with fans that might not be able to see you in their lifetime.
What are three things you need in the studio?
I need space, because I’m constantly pacing back-and-forth. Sometimes with a smaller room, I go outside and pace. I’m always like, “I need to think, I need to write.” Sometimes, the producers are doing things. There’s an art in being together and working, but then also those five to 10 minutes when you’re away from each other, and coming back. In session, people are dictating and immediately responding to something you just suggested. Sometimes, your ideas need to mature in your head, then you can bring it back to the studio. There was this one song where we had 45 minutes left in the studio. I said, “Let’s just pump one out. Give me this genre, this vibe, these chords.” I heard them, went outside for 30 minutes, came back in, recorded it, and we were done. [snaps] Every process is always different. It’s nerve-racking but exciting.
Two more things?
Boba and Hot Cheetos.
Favorite song to perform in a set?
My new song, “White Noise,” is coming out. I performed it as a preview for a couple shows. It's by far my favorite right now. For the stuff that’s coming out, I’m going to definitely change favorites. Every new song I perform, I just have so much fun.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
I always wanted to be an environmental scientist or [do] bioengineering. If I had a ton of funding, I’d do puppy rescue. I have a dog, his name’s Jack Jack. So puppy rescue or some type of animal rescue. [sighs] I love puppies.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
Tori Kelly. Always Tori Kelly.
Tori Kelly. [laughs] It can be Tori Kelly featuring Amber, Tori Kelly & Amber, or the other way around, it doesn't matter. All I need to do is have her sing the whole song, I’d sit and just say, “Yeah!” I don't even have to be credited. I just want to be in the room with her. She doesn’t even have to talk to me. I don’t need to do anything. She doesn’t even have to sing, I just want to appreciate her.
Your team mentioned you were in the studio with some dope producers. Could you tell us who you worked with?
I have a couple of tracks with LDN Noise, who’s been a very constant collaborator with SM. I did something with Sam Barsh. He’s worked with Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak. That’s going to be dope, he’s awesome. He’s a crazy keyboardist, oh my gosh.
What advice do you have for an aspiring Amber Liu?
Trial and error. No idea is dumb. There are obviously dumb ideas, but dumb ideas can become awesome. Keep trying, and never give up.
Anything else you want to let us know?