Onstage and as a member of f(x), Amber has been known as the spunky, always-smiling rapper for the multinational girl group. Offstage, she's still spunky and rarely breaks from a smile when meeting with Fuse backstage at the final day of KCON 2016 Los Angeles, telling me about how she's taking advantage of having Pokémon Go in America and already hit Level 12 during her trip. But get her talking about her ambitions as a musician and you suddenly see a more collected side to 23-year-old, revealing deeper depth to the artist as she refuses to label herself and is instead focused on learning how far her creative ambition can take her.
Rocking a '90s-inspired T-shirt with Kurt Cobain's likeness, Amber reflected on what her KCON performance represented (including nailing a difficult belt note in "Borders"), her latest artist ventures (video directing and a web series), what's next for f(x) and more.
FUSE: Your official solo debut was with "Shake That Brass," but I feel like people are connecting with songs like "Borders" and "Beautiful" in really special ways. Who are you speaking to on these songs?
Amber: Whoever's willing to listen. Don't get me wrong, I love doing all types of music for whatever type of message, but I think the reason why I connected with music so much was that the artists I listened to, they talked about something that touched my heart and that's the reason that music changed my life. I listen to everything: Rap talks about the struggle, rock questions power, there's so much to talk about. I think for the generation that I "need to influence," I owe it to them to carry on that message. Like Nas' "I Can," something like that saying, "I know I can" and then you go do it! So, maybe it's time for me to tell my audience you can do it.
“I'm not going to say 'I'm a singer' or 'I'm a rapper.' I just like music.”
What's next for your solo career?
I'm at a part of my career where I'm bringing everything together that I've learned. I took that whole f(x) period, and even now, as a learning experience to figure out what I want to do. Now that I'm slowly able to release it, I don't even know what to expect. I just go into the studio, the song comes out, and people are like, "You wrote this?" and I'm like, "I did!" I think that's what's so fun about art in general, you never know what to expect.
I think a lot of people didn't expect you to hit that big belt at the end of "Borders" last night.
I was like, "Can I hit it?!" There's humidity in Korea, so LA is like a desert. [Laughs] I guess it would surprise a lot of people because they don't see that side of me; they always think, "Oh, Amber's the rapper of f(x)." I'm not going to say, "I'm a singer" or "I'm a rapper." I just like music and I want to use my voice in any way to convey a message to the people who want to listen.
And looking to f(x), what's the latest with the group? Do you have a comeback planned soon?
We just did "All Mine," which is such a fun song. We're still touring, doing an encore tour in Japan, our Bangkok concert just got announced and we have to tour a lot more. Lots of cool stuff. As of now, I can't say if we have a group comeback planned, but we're always preparing stuff.
Speaking of showing new sides of yourself, you directed the "All Mine" video. How did you make that happen?
It was a really spur of the moment decision. We had a couple cuts, we actually shot a lot, but I was like, 'Hey, um...can I...try...an idea?" and that was when we went to Tokyo. Mind you, the video was going to be released in less than a week, but I was like, "No, don't worry! I just want to make this one video and if you don't like it, you don't like it." We're doing a concert, shooting the video, doing all these things, but I was staying up working on this music video and they liked my cut and asked to make it the music video. Instead of that typical, dolled-up, big video—which isn't a bad thing—I heard the song and thought, "It has to be like this: Just us being stupid, having fun, in our own zone."
I loved the intro, when Krystal barks into your ear.
Oh my gosh, my eardrum was ringing after that. We have a very interesting relationship. She likes to bug me and I like to bug her. But I also wanted to show, a lot of people have that perception that we're all these "serious celebrities," but there's definitely that fun side and we owe it to the fans to show them that.
You also have a new show on KCON.tv, Ranting Monkey. What's the No. 1 reason to tune in?
It's just me in my zone. Personally, I'm very camera shy and hyper aware of things—even though it doesn't seem like that—I'm very careful. Especially in Korea, where my Korean isn't 100 percent perfect...Me and the producer, we were just friends and we met up and he was like, "Yo, I want to do something" and I was like, "How about we just do something with us just being stupid?" and he's like "I love that!" He was really supportive of all my ideas. I wanted to just be me; nothing dolled-up, no script or following the plan of the day.
Do you have a parting message to share with your fans?
Honestly, I love them. I mean it from the bottom of my heart, my job is a blessing. I sing and dance and play with other people as a job. To live every day being able to bring happiness to someone else's life is something that's so unbelievable. They want to see me and I want to see them too. I'm so humbled by the support that people show to me and hopefully I can keep making cool stuff that people will enjoy.
Watch 2016 KCON performers share their picks for the song of the summer: