Last night, What The Kpop was able to chat with popular K-pop idol Amber Liu of f(x). In the roundtable style interview with two other news outlets besides What The Kpop, the friendly idol took her time to answer questions in a detailed manner, paying attention to the questions and making an effort to put thought into her answers. With some idols, interviews seemed rushed. At times, artists can seem uninterested in your questions. But with Amber, however, she was just as gracious, funny, adorable, intelligent, and friendly as fans have come to view her over the years. In fact, we were smiling during the interview to discover that she is genuinely as down-to-earth and charming as we expected.
Currently 26 years old in Western years, Amber first debuted in 2009 as a member of f(x)— making her an experienced senior in the industry with ten years under her belt. After debuting as a solo artist in 2015, the Taiwanese-American returned part-time to the U.S. to take on work back home.
Just recently, she collaborated with creative content team Wong Fu Productions and her friend and fellow YouTuber Mike Bow for a commercial for McDonald’s as part of their “Classics with Bacon” campaign (click here to watch the video). The ad shows real progress in the U.S. concerning Asian Representation, as well as the growing demand for K-pop idols in Western media and TV. However, the company’s choice to cast Amber in a commercial should come as no surprise since the star isn’t just popular for her music or her hilarious YouTube channel. The singer is a role model and inspiration for many K-pop fans today due to her example of self-acceptance, confidence, kindness, and being true to yourself.
Check out what she has to say about her work with McDonald’s, her future music, who she wants to collaborate with, and so much more!
Q: What interested you in getting involved in the commercial for McDonald’s?
A: Well, McDonald’s is, I think, extremely nostalgic for me. I think that goes for many people and just to be working with something that’s a huge part of my childhood like that… it’s like, why not? On top of that, Mike is one of my best friends. So, definitely being in such a big project with one of my best friends is amazing. And I’ve always been a big fan of Wong Fu. I’ve never met them, which was really weird. I’ve always kind of hovered around them for some reason, [but] I’ve never gotten the opportunity to meet them. So, having a childhood nostalgic factor, and then [working with] my best friend and also, “Oh my gosh! It’s Wong Fu!” It’s like, like what the h*ll? This is crazy! This is an amazing project that I really wanted to be on.
Q: Did the partnership stem directly from your “Bacon Love” parody of BTS’s song “Fake Love”? (Which was amazing by the way!)
A: Aw, thanks! Actually, from what I hear, what happened was a representative or one of the agents saw the “Bacon Love” video and contacted Mike or someone. It was just somebody in the circle and then that’s how it came about. So yeah, it’s pretty much from the “Bacon Love” video… which the “Bacon Love” video stemmed from Mike and his inability to understand Korean (laughs).
Q: As far as we could tell in our research, you’re the first female K-pop artist to film a mainstream commercial in the U.S. What was the experience like for you or what did it mean to you?
A: Oh. (pauses) I did not know I was the first K-pop, female person to do that.
Q: Yes, as far as we can tell. We researched and couldn’t find anyone else.
A: Aw, man. Like for me, I feel like I’ve just been doing this kind of stuff for so long that is just like another day at work. But it was like… Um, oh man. Like…see! I didn’t even know until now! So, it feels weird! (laughs) Like, wow, I’m the first person. That’s pretty cool.
Q: It is definitely cool!
A: Uh, like, I know that, the other version of my uh… what do you call it? I mean… whoa, sorry. (still surprised at the news; laughter). [The other version of] me and Mike’s commercial had Ken Jeong and JB Smoove. (makes reference to the McDonald’s Classics with Bacon commercial that was shown during the Superbowl). It’s cool just to be another counterpart of that commercial. Mike was like “You realize I’m Ken Jeong, and I’m like, “Oh good, I’m JB then!” (more laughter) So, to kind of just play with that… it’s pretty fun. And you get a lot of bragging rights and a rep with your friends.
Q: Speaking of the commercial, what is your favorite “Classics with Bacon” item from McDonald’s?
A: Oh, my fries. I’m like a fry person. Like cray, cray! I love fries.
Q: We really enjoyed the dancing part that’s towards the end of the ad. What was the work process there?
A: Oh, just a lot of spontaneous spazzing. Mike and I, just in case, came in with maybe three repeated choreographed moves, and I think there’s one part, like one split second, [that] it came out in the commercial. But [mainly], it was just like we heard it and then we just decided to be extremely weird and extremely random. We just moved randomly and spontaneously and just tried to make it as outrageous as possible for shooting the commercial.
Q; Was there a winner chosen for the dance-off or was that just left up to the audience?
A: I think it’s left up to the audience. Everybody likes different types of dancing, everybody has their opinion on bacon on the classics. So, we’re going to see who joins the team in “Classics vs Bacon.” So, we’re leaving that up to the people now.
Q: With the success of movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” and even the commercial that you did before with Nike, as well as this new commercial with McDonald’s, we’re really thrilled to see more Asian representation in Western media. As an Asian American, how do you feel about the progress that we’ve made so far? What else do you hope to see change in the future?
A: It’s honestly kind of crazy. It’s extremely crazy. Because a couple of years ago, you wouldn’t really have seen that happening. The whole reason why I’m working in the States again, just really trying to do stuff there, is because I really do want to represent my community, And I guess if Nike and McDonald’s are part of the first steps [to do that], then why not? Most companies are now so open to using Asian people as their models. I just hope that as time goes on, the industry gets a lot more diverse and a lot more people will be represented. So, I’m excited for that.
Q: You said that even a few years ago that you wouldn’t have seen this all happening, but is the difference even bigger from today versus what you saw on TV and film as you were growing up as a kid in the LA area ?
A: Even back then on TV, you would either see… like one type of people. Or if there were more groups of people or if there were two or more races on it, it would be more segregated. It would be very rare to me and it would honestly just be like so normal. So, that when you do see someone of color mixed in with somebody else— with another race or something— it just feels like, “Oh, whoa! Oh, oh… there’s an Asian guy!” You know? Even back then, Asians were always like the Kung Fu person or the nerdy person, [but] now it’s getting a lot more diverse. Like in “Crazy Rich Asians,” there’s the lover guy. You know, like there’s the hometown girl. Our cast pool is becoming bigger, which is really great. So, I’m excited about that.
Q: K-pop is already a huge international brand everywhere, but among Western Asians here, in some ways it is still seen as K-pop/Asia/Korea. Do you feel that by being in both worlds (as someone from the West but someone who is also part of such a big brand) that you have more relevancy for the Asians who were born and raised in the West?
A: I don’t know how everybody internalizes what K-pop is to them. So, I think everybody’s own relationship or approach with K-pop is very different. If I were to define it in extremely simple terms— just Korean pop music and because a lot of my friends are Korean— I got into music and it has been a huge part of my life. But in the end, it’s another type of music. Again, to put it in extremely simple terms, I just think it’s more like: if you vibe with that, you vibe with it; If you don’t, then it’s totally fine. It’s like a lot of people don’t vibe with country music, but some do. I don’t really process it as this huge branding, like “Oh my gosh— BTS and PSY!” It’s like, no, it’s just a genre of music and I think people really, really like it. If people think I represent K-pop, then great. I’m really glad to represent that. All I hope for in the future, in the end, as an Asian American is just to be another one of the little people to be added into the diversity pool. That’s my goal. If people want to say that it’s “K-pop” or it’s “Asian American” or it’s “Chinese,” I’m cool with anything as long as I am representing my community.
Q: What has your experience been like transitioning from being a K-pop idol to American pop star and internet personality?
A: I think me becoming an Internet personality [affects] the other aspects of my career, like directing or something. There’s a very natural interest in it, and I do it. But I’m transitioning [from a K-pop idol] to more of an American artist… people are a lot more interested in my journey through things, which is great. So, I’m answering a lot of questions for the first time.
One big, huge difference that I do feel is that I guess vulnerability is extremely in demand. I don’t know [why] but people like it went I’m very vulnerable. I’m not going to say that people don’t appreciate vulnerability in the K-pop idol world [but] more like, there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities [to show it] until it very recently. So, those are the big things that I’ve been feeling going back and forth the past couple of years… it’s weird.
Q: After you filmed with Mike Bow and Wong Fu Productions, what other YouTubers would you like to collaborate with?
A: I’m a huge fan of a Miranda Sings. Colleen… she’s so amazing. And Binging with Babish. I love those channels. It’s not like “Oh, I really would want to collab with them!” It’s [more] like, “I want to be in the same room with them.” (laughs) That’d be pretty cool.
Q: Is there a Korean celebrity that you would like to work with? Whether in a collaboration or just through advertising or commercials?
A: I would love to work with BoA. When we run into each other, she’s always having all these ideas for me. And um… she’s just the freaking Queen! So, I would love to work with her one day. She’s always like, “Amber, let’s do this!” And I’m like, “Okay, well when we both have time for each other, because it seems like we don’t have time.” (laughs) But you know, we’ll figure it out. She’s totally cool!
Q: Are there going to be any future projects with you and Wong Fu Productions?
A: Not at the moment, but we did like do a little fun video together a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure if it’s even out yet. I don’t even know. But uh, yeah, we’re talking. Because it [really] was my first time meeting them at the commercials.. So, there’s always a huge possibility. Their writing is always really great for all their skits. So yeah, I would think it’s very possible in the near future to be doing one.
Q: Can you give any spoilers about any future music you might be working on or about your platform in general?
A: Music wise, I’m releasing something with one of my best friends and his band FYKE on the 8th of March… I guess if I were to encompass all my music and just kind of give spoilers, it’s going to be a lot more personal. One of my upcoming projects that I’m working on right now is going to come out in the next couple of months. I guess if I were to just spoil it, I would say that I want to be doing things that I should have been doing a long time ago and now I just… I’m just going to do it.
Q: Speaking of collaborations, I won’t ask you about f(x) because I know that you guys have all said that when the time is right and the songs are right, you will release some new stuff. But will we at least be able to see more collaborations between you and Luna?
A: Not at the moment. Everything’s always an open book and when the time is right, [it will happen.] I think that way with any collaboration or with any projects that I work on. But at the moment, nothing is really on the table. But me and the girls met up a while ago where we talked for, like, hours. So you know, we’re just always trying to see when is the right time to do things.
Q: Is there an artist that you would like to collaborate with, whether it’s an American artist or Korean artist, etc?
A: I would love to bring back the SUPERFRUIT and Amber collab. That was amazing. That [was with] Scott and Mitch from Pentatonix. They were sweethearts. They’re so fun. So, that’s something that I would like to revisit— maybe sometime soon.
Q: As a Taiwanese-American, how did you mentally prepare yourself for all the rigorous training in K-pop, adapting to Korean society, dealing with the competitive spirit within Korea or even just with gossip and things like that?
A: My Dad really had a huge talk with me and was all like, “You know in your case it’s not going to be all bubble gum and rainbows…” He told me all that, but I think it really didn’t hit me until later on when I started dealing with all the stress and all the mental battles that I had. Because when I first went in, it was more like “I’m just so excited to do something new!” that I think that adrenaline really numbed any problems that I had. Or it’s like, “Oh… okay. But I can [still] sing and dance all day. It’s gonna be great!” So, I was more focused on that. But as I was getting deeper into the whole industry and the actual negative effects it can have on somebody, um, honestly, I think I really owe it to my friends. My friends, I think, are my life savers… they really stuck behind me and they really had my back. And it’s not only like, you know, comforting me, but yelling at me when I’m clearly going down a path that was negative to not only to my career, but my life. They keep me in check, they keep me sane. So, yeah, I really made family-like friends here and…my friends are the best. Oh! And my sister… and my family too. (laughs)
Q: How do you deal with all the extreme body image expectations? Did that have an impact on you?
A: Oh, extremely. Because not only the whole “girls have to weigh less” or like “we all have to be a certain weight or extremely thin” (that was really big for me), but it was the whole being … not typical [or] very feminine. Like the long, long hair, very pretty, and fragile type of girl was, you know, it’s not me. However, as I was starting out, I did try to have the mindset [to] be open to it though. And I remember at the beginning I debuted as a Tomboy, which was cool. But even with that, it didn’t feel like me. Because I felt like a lot of the people around me wanted me to be this like really hardcore, tough girl. And I’m like… I wear pants a lot and I don’t like wearing skirts and I have short hair, but I’m also extremely scared of stuff. (laughs) I’m very, very…I’m very fragile. I’m sad. I’m sad that’s the way that you want me to be, you know?
So, it’s so complex to explain my image and stuff. Right now, how I deal with it is just like— I don’t care anymore. I’m trying not to care. I tried to learn how to be comfortable with myself. And again, that’s very much due to my friends being very supportive and kind of being my outside opinion. How do I approach this and how would I do this? Then, you know, I would always keep these thoughts to myself before, like I couldn’t go to my friends. But now, I’m very open with my thoughts to my friends.
And my friends are extremely unbiased when they talk to me. I’m able to have a spectrum of opinions to kind of mesh together and then make a decision— like “this is how I should maybe do things and if it doesn’t work, then I have this option.” So, it’s kind of boring to say, but it is kind of calculated. But then again, even though the way that I do things might be different, my intention is always coming from, hopefully, a place of love and compassion and positivity at least. And I think that’s where my friends really check me, making sure, like… “You’re not doing it for love.” And I’m like, “Very true. I should not be doing that.” I’m not perfect as well. So, there’s all that and I’m, again, learning not to care. Right now, what’s really important to me is I’ve been doing this for 11 years. I’m a lot older than I was before. So, I need to be healthy and I need to make sure that my body and my mental [state] are somewhat on the ball so that I can do this for a very long time.
I remember that Jet Li once posted something on Twitter that said “You’re killing yourself for a job that would replace you within a week if you dropped dead. Take care of yourself.” I took that very much to heart. So, that’s one of my standby mottos.
With a positive outlook on life, a will to make herself a better person and the world better place, an intelligent mind, and a great sense of music artistry, it’s no wonder that fans— including us here at What The Kpop— look up to Amber and what she stands for. No matter what she takes on in the future, whether it’s K-pop solo work, collaborations, American pop, acting, or more, we know that even after ten years in the business, her career is just beginning! The world is truly Amber Liu’s stage, and we’re just glad to be able to witness the experience.
Thank you so much to Amber, her team, McDonald’s, and the others involved for arranging this interview.
Media: Stefanie Michova/SMTOWN
*Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity and brevity.