No More Sad Songs: Amber Liu Is Embracing Her Authentic Self

Riffing on creativity with the K-Pop icon...

Since debuting as a solo artist, Amber Liu has embraced her individuality and showcased her love for music through her artistry, and now at 30 years old, she maintains her passion for music while highlighting a side most authentic to her true self.

Amber Liu is a renowned pop artist who gained recognition as a member of SM Entertainment’s popular girl group fx, known for their electro-pop sounds and experimental tracks. Originally from California, she moved to Korea as a teenager to become a trainee at SM Entertainment before joining fx and debuting as a K-pop idol in 2009. Amber utilises her many years of experience within the industry and continues to channel her creative expression through her solo work.

CLASH had the opportunity to speak to Amber to discuss her transition from being a member of the prevalent K-pop girl group fx to pursuing a solo career. She spoke about how her music has helped her express herself, the important role it plays in her life, her dedicated fanbase, and her plans and projects.

Have you observed any particular differences between working as a solo artist versus being a member of a group?

There’s teamwork on both sides because even as a solo artist, you have your producers, you have your writers, and you have your music directors, so a lot of teamwork goes on. But, I feel like with being in a group versus as a solo artist, I really tried to take in everybody’s ideas and try to compromise, and then I tried to get everybody’s creative input because it’s about having all of us shine the best we can and also together as a group. Being a solo artist is heavily reliant on what I think, and I have to spearhead a lot of things, but I do sometimes give the reins to my team just to give me different perspectives because sometimes I’m so in my head that I might come up with the same things and I might write the same type of song five times.

I feel a lot more pressure working by myself, to be really honest, because I feel like when I’m in a group, there’s a sense of comradery because we are all trying to perform the best that we can together, versus me being alone. But in the end, when I’m with my band and I’m with my dancers, I feel that comradery the same way. I want my dancers to dance and be the best that they can, and I still try to match their energy, and they motivate me to be better, and the same thing with my band too; they’ll play something, and I’ll be like, ‘Wait, can you play that one more time?’ and I’ll kind of riff off their creativity, so in a lot of ways it’s still very similar.

Is that where a lot of your inspiration comes from then, from your band, and people around you or is there anything else that inspires your music?

I was watching this video about this really famous director. He was just critiquing music videos and talking about his experience as a music video director, and he was saying that – and this really spoke to me – you can have the most technically advanced stuff, you can be really good with all your graphics, and all these things, but he feels like – and I applied this to my songwriting – the people that go out and live life that draw inspiration from just even ordinary things, the storytelling aspect of it is the most important, and I agree with that a lot. It’s like you can have the best-sounding kit and the best-sounding synths, but if the story isn’t told or the progression of the song isn’t in a way where it’s very true to your feelings, then it might not be the best work. So I’ve been trying to take my art and my music in that direction. Like, I’ll be in the shower just thinking about stuff. I’ll even go on drives now with no music. I’ll just be looking at the road and like what’s around, and I’m thinking about different things just in complete silence. But yeah, definitely people around me inspire me, hearing their stories. I’ve definitely written songs about my friends’ stories and like my take on their stories, so yeah, it really comes from everywhere from anything.

Are there any genres of music you’d like to experiment with or artists you’d like to collaborate with?

My childhood dream was to be in a band. I don’t know what type of band yet; it could be indie-rock, pop-punk, it could be something else, but I just love the band vibe. I’m completely clueless when it comes to the musical aspect of things like chords – like sing a fifth, I’m like, “I don’t know what that means” because I just go off my ear. I know some basic technicalities, but when I’m with my band and the guy that I play with when we go out and they’re just like jamming on their stuff, that’s just kinda how I got into music. I was around people that played the guitar a lot, and I played the drums as a kid. So being able to be around them really gives me a sense that my creative limitations just went away and that anything could happen because, usually, with the way that I think I learnt music and how I trained my ear, I guess is really just based on feeling.

You mentioned that you played the drums when you were younger, was that when your love for music arose and when did you realise music would be your career path?

I got into music because of church. I started playing at church first, and no one played the drums or the guitar, so I just tried to go on or something like that, something super like 2005 internet days, and then I would just look up shapes and I would just play them, and drums was actually a thing I picked up because my sister is a really, really talented flautist; she plays like picallo flute and any type of wood instrument, so it was my turn to start learning an instrument, and my parents were like, “What do you want to learn?” and I’m like, “drums” because it seems the easiest when actually it’s one of the hardest instruments in the world. So I was glad I was exposed to music at an early age. When I was a kid, I didn’t have very many friends, and I felt like music was the way I really connected with people and talked about what I liked. I remember having Lincoln Park’s ‘Hybrid Theory’ on my CD player, and I remember there’s this one headphone that I got, and the headphones like turned outwards and we would use that to listen with each other, and that’s just how I got deeper into music with just the connection I could have with people. It made me feel like I wasn’t so lonely, and I had music and everything kind of just made sense.

Can you tell us more about any upcoming projects you have?

No more sad songs was kind of the kickoff, and yeah, there’s a lot more music coming soon. I feel like this upcoming I guess I would call it an album is very different from the things I’ve released before. It’s something I try to do with every release, is that you know, in this era of my life, I was experiencing this, and this is what I want to express. I feel that the songs that are on this album are closer to who I am, and as I’m in the studio, I’m always trying to find myself. My team and I really try to push where we can go with this, like with no more sad songs. I heard the demo, and I was like, “How about we put this in and then take this out, add these sections in, harmonise here, here, and here, and for this sound for this story, let’s make it anthemic,” and I want to say this to the world right now.

Other songs [in the album] are a lot more like a sprinkle of, I think, different types of music. It’s still pop definitely still pop. I love pop music, so I can’t escape that, that’s just ingrained in me. I feel like there are a lot more topics that I talk about, so I try to write from the perspective of moments rather than like this is the story of everything, it’s more about right now, this moment, what am I feeling?

How would you describe your journey as a solo artist and what have been some of your most memorable moments as an artist?

I had this moment where I was like, maybe I should just quit [music], maybe I should do something else or do stuff behind the scenes, but I had this epiphany where I felt like I needed to sing for my younger self. My younger self felt really, you know, lonely, and I was full of doubt back then and like I questioned a lot of things, and if I at 30 now could be one of those people that my younger self sees and thinks, “If Amber’s doing it, I could do it too,” then yeah, it is really just for that. 

The last tour that I had was right before the pandemic, but I’ve been playing a couple of shows here and there. When I am able to run into fans and talk with them when I have a minute, they’re always like, ‘Thank you so much for what you do,” and I’m just like, “Whoah, like it is a very surreal feeling since I was writing music to give myself some release; music was therapy for me.

There’s a song that I have called ‘3 Million Years’, which I despise. My fans know how much I despise that song. I wrote that song because I wanted like a cheesy, cute, and innocent love song, and I just wrote it out and I was like, ‘This feels right,’ and the moment I released it, I was like, ‘Wow, I regret writing that song.’ There’s this fan, I remember this conversation, she was like, ‘ I went to your concert with my then-boyfriend, and now we are married, and we used your song [‘3 Million Years’] for our wedding song.’ I’m just really touched by those things, and that’s why I keep going, and I just want to keep doing music. I feel the gratefulness of how powerful music is to make people vulnerable in that way, and you know, just like bringing that human nature back to the crazy world this is now.

Any messages to fans and supporters?

I’m excited to put out this next set of songs, this next album. Keep on listening to ‘No More Sad Songs’, don’t give up, and carpe diem!

[Text has been slightly edited for clarity and consistency]

Words: Sharifa Charles
Photo Credit: Artie Tamayo

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