Gender norms are pretty narrowly defined, especially in the Korean media industry. It is only recently (since the turn of the century) that we are seeing more and more public figures in television, music, and film who deviate from the traditional dichotomous gender roles. Today, I will specifically examine Amber of f(x) and her non-traditional expression of gender.
Who is Amber?
Amber is the main rapper of f(x). f(x) is a girl group from SM Entertainment that debuted in 2009. Their hit songs include NU ABO, Pinnoccio, Hot Summer, Red Light, and 4 Walls.
Amber is Taiwanese American hailing from Los Angeles, California. She was noticeably different than an average girl group member ever since her debut six and a half years ago. Amber embraces androgynous features, which was socially controversial at first, but now one acts as one of her unique characteristic that sets her apart.
What does it mean that Amber doesn’t conform to traditional gender?
Unlike the body fitting, skin revealing clothes that make up most Kpop girl groups clothing, Amber’s stage clothes as well as everyday fashion are mainly made up of baggy sweaters, loose pants, and minimal accessories. Amber has always kept a short haircut that never touches her shoulders.
Amber’s lack of girly features extend beyond her physical appearance, all the way to her personality and mannerism. She speaks and sings with a deep, charismatic voice – quite opposite of the infantile cuteness that most female idols take on -.
Amber’s tomboy personality is exemplified in her unfiltered body language, gestures, and reactions. She is comfortable occupying physical space in the way she sits. She does not bother to cover her mouth when she laughs, as opposed to the cute ways that most girl members do when they giggle.
What effect does Amber’s femininity and masculinity have on her professional career?
Despite recent efforts to embrace diversity and open mindedness in the media, stereotypes of gender strongly persist. This has had both positive and negative consequences on her career.
Back in 2011 when Amber and other female members visited a senior center during a variety show ‘Invincible Youth 2’, one of the grandmas asked very straightforwardly, “So, are you a boy or a girl?” The ambiguity in her gender force her to encounter awkward moments like this one.
Yet on the other hand, Amber’s androgyny has benefited her professional career in several ways. Amber is very popular among Korean middle school girls specifically because of her masculine features. Girl groups generally have a harder time attracting a female fan base, but Amber’s ambiguous expression of gender actually give f(x) an advantage.
By Hajin Lily Yi