Singer Amber Liu has decided it’s time to learn to take care of herself, more than a decade after she first got her start in K-pop girl group f(x) in 2009. “I’m actually trying to sleep these days,” she tells the Post. “I put my phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode now.”
Taiwanese-American Liu, who turned 28 in September, says she’s happy being called a “celebrity, entertainer, whatever”, as long as she’s able to make people laugh and smile – whether it’s through a song or funny video.
Her latest venture? Educational forms of entertainment, including providing the Korean voice on the language learning app Drops, and hosting an explainer web series titled I’ll Ask the Stupid Questions, which airs on audience-participation-focused streaming service Ficto.
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Speaking after the launch of her Drops feature, Liu reflects on how she learned Korean. She went to South Korea as a teenager and became a member of what many consider to be one of the most artistically outstanding K-pop girl groups of all time. f(x) went on a hiatus in 2016 and officially disbanded in 2019.
Liu decided to work with Drops because of the way it had “gamified” language learning. She says the app offers a low-pressure way to learning vocabulary in comparison to her own years of study.
She’s now using the app to study Mandarin Chinese, and says it’s heart-warming to hear her friends’ reactions to studying Korean on Drops with her voice, as if they’re taking part in the lessons.
“It’s not like I’m teaching people but you’re studying with me,” she says, before adding with a laugh: “My brain is mumble-jumbled with English, Chinese, and Korean at the same time. There are so many words I can’t express in English that I can express in Korean and Chinese. So I’m always confused about how I can express certain things.”
Liu says she took care to ensure her recordings for Drops were done correctly, as she knew how important and nuanced pronunciation could be when learning to converse in a new language.
Although she worked professionally in Korea as a singer who recorded music in the language and appeared regularly on South Korean television, she says she felt a jolt of pride when she didn’t have to re-record much for Drops. “I’m a true Virgo. Everything has to be perfect.”
When asked if she is concerned about being criticised, as she is not a native speaker, Liu says this is another way to connect people to different cultures – just as she has tried to do her entire life.
“I always kind of felt like a fish out of water – because even when I was in Korea, not only was I born in the States but I’m also Chinese. People mistake me for Korean and many other Asian (ethnicities). All I want to do is build bridges.
“I think I’ve had a lot of unique experiences and all I want to do is connect with people.”
Although 2020 has been a tailspin of a year for many people, Liu has used the year to improve herself. Not only is she working out and gaming (“I play this (video) game called Valorant and it has a character called Jett. I fell in love with her character design and I was like, ‘I want Jett’s arms’, so I started working out a lot more”), but she’s also made herself accountable for taking care of herself.
She’s sleeping more, and taking more care to regulate her workout and eating cycles. Liu says she often doesn’t eat when working, but now has an arrangement with a friend to check in daily to hold each other accountable for eating healthily.
Apart from engaging with learning-based forms of entertainment, she’s also improving her own understanding and ways of engaging with the world. She’s faced a backlash on social media over the past few years when she has spoken out on issues including race relations in the United States, and admitted publicly via social media that she has room to grow.
“There are a lot of things I don’t know about different cultures, about different things going on in the world. I’m in no way a genius – all I can do is humble myself in situations where I might be frustrated or something,” she says.
“I want to constantly motivate and encourage people, and while doing that challenge myself to learn something new and take on new challenges, even if they’re scary or hard.
“Even though I view myself as one person, if I can take the initiative, ‘I’m going to make this change.’ If every person in the world does that individually, the sand can form into a rock to form into a hill into a big mountain, and we can make change.”
Although she doesn’t make any direct reference to the times she’s been called out on social media, Liu says she’s taken a step back from the internet to focus more on living in the moment.
Right now she’s focused on bettering herself while boosting other people, and is working on a follow-up to her previous release, “X”, an EP released earlier this year.
“I’ll probably put something out early next year,” she says. “Just grinding and taking it day by day.”
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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