“What is success to you?” This was the question posed by Amber Liu, a Taiwanese-American rapper and member of K-pop group f(x), when she spoke on her experiences and life lessons during her nearly nine-year-long music career to over 650 students at the ASPB-hosted event, “Function of Amber,” held Wednesday, Jan. 17 inside HUB 302.
During her brief speech, Liu explained that, for a long period of time, even though her thriving career would be considered by most to be success, she felt that something was missing. Liu went on to introduce seven key components which she felt helped her find herself and a feeling of success: Having the knowledge that pleasing everyone was impossible, limiting ambition and competition when it became unhealthy, finding the positives in a negative situation, using power and influence wisely, working efficiently instead of just effectively, helping others and, finally, actively listening to and communicating with others. She expressed a hope that her sharing this would help others find that same feeling.
If Liu showed herself as anything Wednesday night, it was sincere — slight nervousness was apparent at times but her speaking came across as very natural. She also kept the audience engaged by directing questions their way during her speech and maintained the same energy and charm while answering questions from the audience during a Q&A segment.
Liu debuted as a member of f(x) in 2009, where she quickly made waves in the K-pop scene for her distinct tomboy style, which deviated away from the expectations of femininity from women in the genre. One look at any of f(x)’s music videos and Liu’s singularity in the K-pop scene is very apparent: While beside her fellow group members who don mini-skirts and high heels, Liu sports baggy shorts, large fitting t-shirts, snapback hats and sneakers. Liu also raps on several tracks, a practice more commonly attributed to men in the music industry. In 2013, LA Weekly went as far as to call her an “Androgynous K-pop star” and praised her for finding success in a genre that produces “carbon-copy pop stars” and pushes back against non-conformity.
Liu has operated as both a member of f(x) and a solo artist, and also managed her own YouTube channel with over 650,000 subscribers for more than two years. She has also collaborated with very well-established YouTube channels such as Buzzfeed and SUPERFRUIT. One particular video on her channel, titled “Where is my chest? (Responding to hate comments),” was particularly successful by reaching 2.4 million views, far more than the average view count for one of her videos. In it, she reads and sarcastically responds to various negative YouTube comments regarding her appearance and her channel’s quality (specifically the lack thereof), in order to promote a message of self-confidence and self-respect. It was very well-received by her audience, with the entire video’s comment section flooded with viewers from around the world, especially young women, who found the video motivational and inspiring.
During the audience Q&A, Liu expressed that she was surprised at the success of the video, but was glad that it happened. She felt that the video represented a lot of her sentiments toward internet culture, as well an example as to how negative people and issues of self-esteem should be handled.
Her impact on women’s empowerment is especially tangible in countries such as South Korea, where Liu is not only more well-known, but traditional gender roles and stereotypes, as well as very clear-cut beauty standards, such as big eyes and pale skin, are heavily integrated into the culture. As Liu stated in response to an audience member’s question regarding gender, “Gender roles are definitely more black and white there (South Korea) … and that’s part of the culture, which I try to respect.”
She went on to explain that while forming her celebrity persona, androgynous girls were definitely a target audience, since they were not really represented in the culture at the time. And while South Korean culture is still very much one that pushes traditional gender roles, Liu insists that change is slowly happening. “As the years went by, there started to be a lot more girls out there (South Korea) with things like shorter hair,” Liu explained. “There’s also a growing feminist movement out there now, so things are definitely changing.”
After the event, a select few audience members who correctly answered trivia questions about Liu were able to attend a special meet and greet. The event left students in the audience overjoyed to have been able to interact with Liu in person and inspired by her unapologetic individuality.