by Raizel Liebler
This discussion of Amber is part of a series of posts about gender and sexuality in K-pop.
The response of many after watching the Funny or Die video where Anna Kendrick from Pitch Perfect joins f(x), the Kpop group.
“What is that boy doing in that girl group?”
“That isn’t a boy! That’s Amber!”
Amber, the rapper in the group, is by far the most popular member of f(x) and the fandom lost its collective mind when Amber went on hiatus a couple of years ago (the fandom is still divided about whether it was a real recovery period after an injury or whether the label was trying to remove her from the group). Additionally, Amber is Taiwanese American in an industry that has been traditionally averse to those who are not of Korean origin (and we will leave whether she should have worn a “nega please” – ‘you’ please – shirt for another day).
Having a crush on Amber is totally normal and common for female kpop fans, and as to not call out any tween and teen squee, I’m not going to link to their online conversations here.
Amber is striking — not only within the world of kpop, but music generally, considering how much she stands out from the norm. We don’t know how Amber defines herself — but how she is perceived is very obvious — start typing “Amber (f)x” into Google and the first suggestion is to add the word gay. At minimum, her look leads her to be read as a tomboy, if not a boi or baby dyke.
But peeling back the layers further — it is not that she is so out of the ordinary; after all, she basically looks, dresses, and sounds like Justin Bieber, One Direction, and many of the kpop boy bands. But what makes her different is that this type of androgyny is in the body of a girl this time rather than a boy.
In an industry where every choice is carefully made — to sell music and image — f(x)’s label decided to include Amber in a group. With a much more masculine look than any other woman in Korean pop. Other members of f(x) and other all girl kpop groups do wear pants and cute suits when it suits the look needed, but I have never seen Amber in a skirt. Watch any f(x) video, and there she is — in shorts or pants, short hair, and frequently a hat.
The confusion about her gender has been a frequent joke — but not at her expense — on Korean reality shows.
And nowhere does her lack of conformity with gender norms stick out more than in the video for Chocolate Love, a video that TLF has previously written about, considering it has the young members of f(x) practically drape themselves in … a phone to make it appear sexy. With lady pairings for the gentleman’s gaze and lingers on their bodies. And Amber is only present to rap, considering how she is considered to be outside of the attractiveness bubble (for hetero men).
Within an industry that has definite gender roles for women, to be hyper-feminized, to be cute, to be attractively flirty, and to fit a very precise mold, Amber’s presence gives hope to those that do not fit within gender perception binaries. At least if they want to join a kpop group.
[Corrections: Amber’s ethnicity has been corrected to Taiwanese American from Chinese American. Amber has worn a skirt, over pants, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it part of Nu Abo starting at 2:02 and has also worn skirts on reality shows.]