Taiwanese-American star Amber Liu’s been in the k-pop game for 10 years as a member of SM super group F(x) and Korea’s ultimate girl crush–but recently, her creative journey’s taken her back stateside, where she’s been releasing new bops and breaking into the Youtube comedy community with truly iconic bits like ‘Where Is My Chest’ and BTS parody ‘Bacon Love.” Her most recent foray into American media, however, is arguably her biggest yet: a national McDonald’s commercial for the franchises Bacon on Classics. Along with fellow Youtube star Mike Bow, Amber debates whether McDonald’s Classics burgers are #blessed to have bacon, or whether bacon is the lucky one to even be included in the Classics lineup. The results of the ensuing dance-off were inconclusive, but one thing’s for sure: Amber’s back and bringing Asian representation to the forefront of the music and media scene. And, by the grace of the PR gods, we were able to land a roundtable interview with her (along with AsAmNews and What The K-Pop) to talk about her juicy new ad campaign.
What interested you in getting involved in the commercial for McDonald’s?
Amber Liu: Well, you know, McDonald’s is very nostalgic for me–I think that goes for very many people. Just to be working with something that’s a huge part of my childhood like that, it’s like, why not? On top of that, Mike is like one of my best friends. So definitely being in such a big project with one of my best friends is amazing. And I’ve always been a big fan of Wong Fu! I’ve never met them, which was really weird. I’ve always kind of hovered around them for some reason, but I’ve never got the opportunity to meet them. So having, you know, a childlike nostalgia–and you factor my best friend–and also, oh my gosh, it’s Wong Fu! It’s like, like what the hell? This is crazy. This is an amazing project that I really wanted to do.
How did McDonalds approach you for the commercial–was it the Bacon Love video that got their attention?
From what what I hear, what happened was, a representative or one of the agents, saw the “Bacon Love” video and I believe contacted Mike or something? It was just somebody in the circle, and then that’s how it just came about! So yeah, it’s pretty much from the “Bacon Love” video, which itself stemmed from Mike’s inability to understand Korean.
You’re the first female k-pop artist to film a mainstream commercial in the US. What the experience was like for you and what did it mean to you?
I did not know that I was the first person to do that. Um, oh man. Like, for me, I feel like I’ve just been doing this kind of stuff for so long that it’s just like another day at work? But it was like I’m with my best friend at work, so that’s pretty cool. Like see, I didn’t even know! So
it feels weird! Like, well, I’m the, well, I’m the first person. That’s pretty cool. [laughs] Like, I know that, uh, the other version of me and Mike’s commercial had Ken Jong and JB in it, I believe. And it’s cool just to kind of be like another counterpart of that commercial. I was bragging about that because,–Michael was like “when you realize you’re Ken Jeong,” and I’m like, “oh good, I’m JB then.” So it’s pretty funny to play with that and you get a lot of bragging rights.
With the success of movies like CRAZY RICH ASIANS and even your commercial that you did before with Nike, and now this commercial with Mcdonald’s, we’re really thrilled to see more Asian representation in western media. How do you feel as an Asian American about the progress that we’ve made so far? And what else do you hope to see change in the future?
It’s, it’s honestly kind of crazy. It’s extremely crazy because like a couple of years ago, you wouldn’t really see that happening. And the whole reason why I’m why I’m working in the states again, just really trying to do stuff there, is because, you know, I really do want to represent my community. I guess if Nike and Mcdonald are the part of the first steps that I know and I’m so glad that, you know both those companies were open to using Asian people as their models, and I just hope that as as time goes on, the industry gets a lot more diverse in a lot more people that would be represented I did more often. […] In the past, you know, Asians [in media] were always like, the Kung Fu person or the the nerd person, you know, now it’s getting a lot more diverse. In Crazy Rich Asians, there’s [an Asian as] the lover guy. There was Constance Wu, as, like, the hometown girl. Our cast pool is becoming bigger, which is really great. So I’m excited for that.
Do you think K-pop is helping push more relevancy of Asian culture in the west in general?
Everybody internalizes what k-pop is to them. So I think everybody’s against relationship or approach with k-pop is very different, like with other music. But you know, k pop is just another is to me, if I were to define it in extremely simple terms, is just Korean pop music. And because, um, my, a lot of my friends are Korean, and I got into music and cast, it’s like yeah, it’s been a huge part of my life. But in the end it’s another type of music. And I just think it’s more like if you vibe with that, you vibe with it. If you don’t, then it’s totally fine. It’s like a lot of people don’t vibe with country music. I don’t really process it as this huge branding–ike, oh my gosh, BTS! Psy! It’s like, no, it’s just like genre of music and people really, really like it. They really like it. So that’s just, again, really open, oversimplifying it. If people think I represent k pop, then great. I’m really glad to represent whatever I’ve represent, you know. All I hope for the future is in the end, like as an Asian American is to be another one of the people to be added into the diversity pool. If people want to say it’s k-pop, or if you want to say want to say it’s Asian-Americans, or it’s Chinese people. Like I’m cool with anything as long as you know, I’m representing my community.
What has the transition been like, going from K-pop star to American artist and internet personality?
I think me becoming an Internet personality–and all other aspects of my career, like directing or something–it’s all very natural, because I have an interest in it, and I do it. Transitioning from k-pop idol to an American artist- honestly through work, I guess people just ask different questions? Like, people are a lot more interested in my, my journey through things, which is great. So I’m like answering a lot of questions for the first time. Oh, and like, the financial business setup, that’s all technical, but it’s extremely different. Yeah, that’s a huge headache, but luckily my team is so thing that I really don’t really have to be too anxious about that. One big, huge difference I do feel is that my, I guess, vulnerability? is extremely in demand. I don’t know, people like it when I’m very vulnerable. I’m not going to say that people don’t appreciate vulnerability in the k-pop world, it’s more like there’s not a lot of opportunities to say it, until very recently. So, um, those are the big things that I’ve been feeling. I’m going back and forth the past couple of years. Yeah, it’s weird.
Are there other Youtubers/fellow k-pop stars/Korean celebrities you would like to collaborate with?
I’m a huge fan of a Miranda Sings. Colleen, she’s so amazing. And Binging with Babish. I love those channels. It’s not that I’d want to collab with them or do something with it, it’s more like I want to be in the same room with them. [laughs] That’d be pretty cool. For Korean artists, I would love to work with BoA. Whenever we run into each other, she’s always like having all these ideas for me and, she’s just the freaking queen. So I would love to work with her one day. She’s always like, “Amber, let’s do this.” I’m like, “Okay, well when we both have time for each other, we’ll figure it out!” But she’s like, totally cool.
Any future productions with Wong Fu productions in the works?
Not at the moment, but we did do a little fun video together, um, a couple weeks ago. Is it even out yet? I’m not sure. This commercial was my first time meeting not only Wes but Phil, and me and Phil had this whole debate on our own,during the break times–so when we filmed our little fun video, we had some stuff. Mike’s always like, “Oh, I’m about to go shoot something [with Wong Fu,] wanna come along?” And I’m like, “Yeah, nice plans, man. Tell me earlier next time!” [laughs] So there’s, there’s always a a huge possibility. Their writing is always really great–I stalk their skits. It’s really good. So yeah, I would, I would think it’s very possible in the near future.
Can you give us any spoilers about future music?
Music-wise, I’m releasing something with one of my best friends and his band on the 8th of March. If I were to be encompass all my music and just kind of give a spoiler, it’s going to be a lot more persona. One of my upcoming projects that I’m working on right now is going to come out in the next couple months. I guess if I were to just spoil it, I would say that I’m going to be doing things that I should have been doing a long time ago…and now I’m just able to do it.
I don’t want to ask about F(x) because you all have always said when the time is right, the song is right, you guys will release new stuff. But will we maybe be able to see some new collaborations with Luna? Because the fans really loved that and would love to see more.
Not at the moment, but everything’s always an open book. I think that again, with any collaboration or with any projects that I work on, it’s always, if the song is good, the time is right. And not only that, the business behind it is backed up, you know, like then we move forward with it. But at the moment, nothing really on the table. But me and the girls met up a while ago and we talked for like hours. So you know, we’re just always trying to, see when, when’s the right time to do things right.
Is there an artist that you would like to collaborate with if you were given the chance, whether it’s American or Korean?
I would love to bring back the Super Fruit and Amber collab. That was amazing. Scott and Mitch from the Pentatonix, they were sweethearts. They’re so fun. So, uh, that, that’s something that I would like to revisit maybe sometime soon.
As a Taiwanese-American going into the whole k pop scene in Korea, how did you mentally prepare yourself for all the rigorous training and to adapting to Korean society? How did you deal with old, the competitive spirit within Korea as well as dealing with celebrity gossip and things like that?
My dad really had a huge talk with me and he was like, you know, it’s not going to be all like bubble gum and in rainbows in this industry, and in a different country. He told me all that, but I think it really didn’t hit me till later on. When I started like dealing with all like, like the stress and all this and all the mental battles that I had. When I first went in, it was more like, I’m just so excited to just do something new that I think that adrenaline really like numbed any problems that I had ? It’s like, “oh, okay, but I can sing and dance all day. It’s gonna be great.” So I was more focused on that. But as I was getting deeper into the whole actual industry and the actual negative effects it can have on somebody, honestly, I think I really owe it to my friends. My friends I think are my life saver and they are like my therapists, if I had to put it into words. They really stuck behind me and they’d really had my back. And it’s not only like, you know, comforting me, but like, you know, yelling at me when I’m clearly going down a path that was negative to not only like not only my career but my life–or even if it was positive for my career, bad for my life. You know, they keep me in check, they keep me sane, I guess for the better term. I really made family-like friends here and you know, I will forever call them my family. So yeah, my friends were the best. Oh, and my sister and my family too!
How did you deal with all the kind of the extreme body image expectations in Korea? DId that have an impact on you personally?
Oh, extremely. Not only like the whole ‘girls have to weigh less,’ like we’ll have to be a certain weight or if extremely thin was really big for me, but it was the whole, um, you know, like, like being a typical–I’m sorry, not typical–very feminine, long, like long hair, very pretty and fragile type of girl was very, you know–it’s not me. However, like starting out, like I did try to have the mindset that, I should be open to it though. I remember us the beginning that, you know, I was a debut as a “tomboy,” which was cool–but even with that, it didn’t feel like me, becauseI felt like a lot of the people around me wanted me to be this like really hardcore, tough girl. And I’m like–I wear pants a lot, and I don’t like wearing skirts, and I have short hair, but I’m also extremely scared of stuff. I’m very, very, very fragile [laughs] I’m sad. I’m sad the way I’m not that you want me to be, you know? So it’s, it’s so complex how to explain my image and stuff. Right now how I deal with, it’s just like I don’t care anymore. I’m trying not to care. I tried to learn how to be comfortable with myself. And again, that’s very much due to my friends being very supportive and kind of being my outside opinion and like, how do I approach this? How would I do this? I would always keep these thoughts to myself before, but now that I’m very open with my thoughts to my friends, and they very unbiased when they, um, talk to me. I’m able to have a spectrum of opinions to kind of mesh together and then make a decision, like this is how I should maybe do things and if it doesn’t work then I have this option. So like, it’s kind of boring to say, but it is sort of calculated. But then again, my intention is always mine. Even though the way that I do things might be different, my intention is always coming from hopefully a place of love and compassion and positive at least. And I think that’s where my friends really check me, making sure, like while you’re doing this for the right reason, you’re not doing for love. And I’m like, very true. I should not be doing that. I’m not perfect as well. Right now what’s really important to me is–I’ve been doing this for 11 years. I’m a lot older than I was before. So I need to be healthy and I need to make sure that my body and my mental are somewhat on the ball, so that I can do this for a very long time. And I remember Jen, Jen, who was it? I think it was Jesse, he put out a tweet that said like youwork, you work yourself to death for industry that would replace you in a heartbeat if you are hurt. So take care of yourself. And I took that very much to heart. So that’s one of my like, like standby mottoes.
Basically, Amber’s a McDonald’s-loving inspiration. Keep on doing your thing, llama!