Cover Amber Liu talks about her new solo album (Photo: Sampson Clark/Steel Wool Entertainment)

K-pop girl group f(x)’s Amber Liu talks about the inspirations behind her brand new solo album, Z!; keeping up with her bandmates; and what she really thinks of the scrutiny surrounding her appearance

Chinese American singer-songwriter Amber Liu—who just celebrated the launch of her third solo EP, Z!—made her name as the lead rapper of K-pop girl group f(x). 

Liu relocated to the US in 2018 and continues to have a huge fanbase in South Korea, where f(x) was active from 2009 to 2016. She’s also garnered attention for her androgynous style—unusual for a female K-pop idol, whose looks tend to come out of the same mould. 

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You described Z! as one of your most playful but also serious albums to date. Can you tell us why?

I’ve gotten more comfortable in the studio. I love keeping my sessions small and intimate and with the [playful] atmosphere. We have therapy sessions where we talk about everything. Some topics are really fun where we run with our imagination, but some [topics are] really heavy. In songs like Bad Decisions, I joke about myself a lot, and the track itself is “jumpy” and lighthearted. In contrast, the song Easier was just me going through all my insecurities and writing down all my internal struggles.

Where did you find inspiration for it?

I wanted to focus more on the simple moments. In the track Paradise, I was imagining being in a car with people I loved and driving to Malibu. Done Thinking was when I was drunk because I just broke up with someone and was feeling hopeless. Easier is the moment where I want to quit everything but know I can’t give up. It’s these small moments that helped me grow and understand my emotions.

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How does Z! differ from your other EPs, X and y?

Each EP is like a more simplified “era” of my life. Every record was chaotic in its own way but I’m trying to be okay with the chaos. With X and y?, I felt like I was trying so hard to prove a point but with Z!, I really just let things flow. I opened myself up more and allowed myself to try more new things.

What lessons did you learn while making this album?

Working on Z! helped me accept that I can’t control everything—only myself and what I do. I feel like the music I’ve been releasing the past couple of years was a total 180-degree change from what people thought of me before. I’ve been going through a lot of changes in my life and there’s been a lot of unpacking, both physically and mentally.

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The title track Easier features singer Jackson Wang [from K-pop boy band GoT7]. How did that come about?

Jackson and I had been talking about working on something together but didn’t know which record. When Easier came around, we felt it was a match. It’s pretty surreal that we finally have a track together. In the past, I never thought it was possible.

Among the tracks in your EP, do you have one that you feel particularly close to?

Lately is one of my most treasured songs. My best friend took his life when I was 18, and I never really grieved. I had been so busy, and it was just such a shock that I just buried it. It took me so long to write this song because I just didn’t know what to say—I honestly still don’t. But it’s the best as of now.

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f(x) hasn’t disbanded, though you all have solo projects. How are you all doing?

The girls are good! We’re just all doing our thing, and I’m really proud of them. We’ve been through so much together, so we catch up from time to time. I’m glad we’re all thriving in our passions.

You returned to California in 2018 after years in South Korea. What has life been like for you?

There was definitely culture shock. Even now, I still feel out of place being back. Slowly, I’m still adjusting. Being with my friends has helped a lot. They help me understand a lot of confusing things—because adulting is hard.

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What was it like to be a mentor on the Chinese boy band survival show CHUANG 2021?

I’d never really mentored so many people. I tried my best to give them my perspective and ideas. With the time crunch they had, they worked really hard. I feel like a lot of people think becoming an idol is just being good at singing, dancing, or rapping—but it’s really [managing your] mental [health], too. And you can’t really be mentally prepared until you’re in the heat of things. In real-time, I helped them improve and stay focused while also figuring out what their goals are—which has also helped me grow as well. 

What are your thoughts on the attention that surrounds your looks?

Being androgynous is a way to describe me. I’m just me. Even now, people still say horrible things about the way I look. But at the same time, many people thank me for being brave and being myself. I’m very appreciative of that. 

I’m still insecure about myself and scared sometimes, but I’m learning that it’s okay.

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Amber Liu’s Z! is out now, visit this page to listen.

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