When you consider the term ‘female K-Pop idol’, what sort of image comes to mind? A very, slim, long-haired, pretty woman in a sparkly short dress and some ‘killer’ high heels, perhaps? That’s what I see, at least. The majority of female idols do indeed conform somewhat to this imagery – forced to reveal their ridiculous dietary and beauty tips to the world every time they are promoting and often portraying a very glamourous, yet timid and cute persona.
Of course, I am generalising an awful lot here, as not all the women of K-Pop fit into this box, However, after prolonged exposure to these sorts of themes as a long-time K-Pop fan, you begin to see the similarities and over-compartmentalise things a bit. That’s why f(x) member Amber Liu makes me glad.
You probably do not need me to tell you all about Amber, aside from the fact that you are most likely a K-Pop fan if you are reading this, Amber’s unique style in K-Pop has always made her a huge talking point of the genre. She is boyish, often sporting a very short hairstyle and shunning the dresses, skirts and heels.
Amber has maintained the basis of her image since f(x)’s debut in 2009, throughout the multiple concept changes K-Pop groups go through, only occasionally sporting slightly longer hair or a more feminine outfit. This consistency subverted many people’s expectations, including my own. I can remember watching their music video for ‘La Cha Ta’ and thinking that Amber’s boyish style would not last long, that she would soon bend to the pressure of traditional femininity and sadly, probably become a lot less noticeable as a result.
The f(x) member has also often made her friendships with many of her fellow male idols quite well-known. This is not to say that female idols are never friends with male idols, but it is much less common for platonic relationships between Korean celebrities to be known publicly without rumours of dating springing up. Amber is also known for apparently looking a lot like her male SM Entertainment label mate, Super Junior’s Donghae. This is a fact that she has always embraced fully and joked about seemingly very easily.
Amber’s recent activities as a soloist have helped to compound her unique image. She has, as expected, been asked about her masculine style (and her sexuality by stereotypical association). Her answers to these questions have shown her open-minded nature and the difficulties she has faced as a result of the way she chooses to look and dress. She has also frequently mentioned the importance of staying true to yourself no matter what and striving to accept yourself for who you are. A factor which I believe makes her a great role model for younger generations.
I am by no means suggesting that being girly, shy and sweet is a bad thing, just that it is so commonplace in the world of K-Pop that you cannot help but think that at least a few of the female idols are holding themselves back in order to fit into that South Korean ‘ideal type’ female mould. Thankfully, more female K-Pop idols are now pushing the boundaries of what is expected of them, Amber was perhaps just slightly ahead of the curve in that respect.
There is also an important point to be made about Amber’s upbringing, as her being raised in the USA (where the social norms are different and, arguably, more relaxed than in South Korea) might well have contributed to her willingness to show a different kind of femininity. However, as aforementioned, this willingness to embrace alternative images from the norm is also hopefully a sign of things to come for the females (and males) in K-Pop.
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