Electric Shock: Amber from f(x): Gender and Sexuality in Kpop

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.]

 

 

  1. Hi Maly! Thanks for your comment! Only a real fan would notice that skirt, considering it is over pants and only one of her outfits. But you are right, she has worn a skirt — and has also done so on a reality show.

  2. I like watching the videos of live performances, and I’ve noticed that Amber’s outfits have gotten progressively worse and more masculine. Now, I know her style is her own, but don’t think for a second that the agency doesn’t have people who pick out her performance outfits for her. When you look at how she’s dressed in NU ABO or Chocolate Love or any of the earlier songs, her clothes are both tomboy-ish but also stylish. Look at the live videos for one of f(x)’s more recent songs, “Rum Pum Pum Pum.” Essentially, the girls wear the “female” outfit (for example, a performance where they’re all wearing school outfits), and Amber wears the “male” outfit. I had read a blog post somewhere else that said this, and I agree: Amber’s outfits are looking more and more like SM ran out of clothes and they’re just throwing whatever looks masculine on her. Also, watch some of the videos of the girls performing while she was injured. Compare the sexy outfits SM tried on them, compared to what they wear with Amber. Big difference.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that in a hyper-feminized world such as K-Pop that someone like Amber has been given a chance, and has gotten so popular with the fans. But the company still controls a huge part of her image, and I think they’re going overkill with emphasizing her tomboyishness. Like this article suggests, they’re putting her outside of the “attractiveness bubble” when she’s actually a very beautiful woman.

    • I agree that her “tomboyishness” is a big much, but it’s also such a statement that if she were to dress like the other girls, the group as a whole may lose some fan. Maybe?

      • I’m not trying to say her tomboyishness shouldn’t be there, that wasn’t my point at all. I love that about her. What I’m saying is that the clothes that get chosen for her to perform in have slowly become just dressing her like a total guy, and not a very stylish one either. There’s a performance where she’s wearing these extremely baggy orange sports clothes that just look terrible on her. SM chooses those outfits, just like they do for every K-Pop group they manage (Hyoyeon from Girls Generation has also expressed feeling like her stage outfits didn’t make her look very good, and for a long time many fans felt Hyoyeon was the most under-appreciated member of the group. See what I mean?)

        I guess my point was, that SM still controls Amber’s image to an extent. They allow her to be her, but at the same time, I personally feel that they try to make her less physically appealing compared to the other girls, and people will eventually equate that with tomboyish=unattractive, despite the fact that Amber is very beautiful

        • I actually find all kpop clothing to look eccentric and ugly. Remember nu abo sulli with that mushroom hair yuck
          At the end of the day it is an industry. Theres no such thing as being totally yourself unless ur at home. Whats nice is that amber is able to express her individuality within an industry that wants to appeal. I also applaud her courage for putting herself in this image. Its not so much her being a product for sm so much that this is a different project they are exploring and it was a bold move but one that wrked. I also disagree that shes not attractive to men. She is the only member that has been proposed to three times. Men are able to see her inside beauty rather than physical and her talents are highlighted.
          Most men say they think the other girls say they are pretty but when they meet amber they actually like her and want to be around her. The real men in her life versus some perverted male fans she may never meet in real life.

  3. I’m West Indian. I have no idea what these people are singing about, but what ever it is I believe every word. I do know this, I Absolutly love F(x). At first I thought Amber was a little gay guy picked to give the group an interesting angle, forgetting to open the book before judgement. Fnding out Amber was actually a girl was a little disappointing, but made me appricate them more. As beautiful and talented as the young ladies are, Amber by far to the breakout star of F (x). And judging by how the crowd screams when she starts to do her thing, I’m not the only one who thinks so. The publics preception of Amber speaks to where we are as a society. Our younger generation will not be prejudice. They will accept, love, and protect those who may not be common figures. Please keep up the good work f(x).

  4. eu nao gostei do visual dela ,a primeira vez que vi o video rum pum pum eu achei que eles tinham criado um grupo misto o que um garoto tava fazendo ali,ai fui pesquisar e vi que era uma garota,eu acho que uma como diz no brasil uma lesbica,so que na coreia e muito dificil assumir,o meu namorado gostou da musica mas do grupoi nao..ele disse que ficaria melhor so com 4 meninas…

  5. No matter the gender, she’s still Amber, she make f(x) more rare, electric & versatile. And well, at least, she’s honest to herself. Just because she see how she sings not by what she wears.

  6. I’m so glad I ran across this article. It had all kinds of clips I never found. It’s hard going through all the videos to find legitimate interviews and behind the scenes. Not to mention a funny or die skit. Amber is my favorite member if the group and I just wanted to read about her more. Hopefully I’ll get to meet her one day. Anything beyond that is really icing on the cake, but I’d at least like to have a conversation with her to see what’s up. Thanks for the article and I really appreciate it. Stuff like this is hard to find.