Amber Opens Up About 'Rogue Rouge' Mixtape, Heartbreak & Why 'Love Is Love'

Amber Three Million Years
Courtesy Photo

Amber, "Three Million Years"

In this exclusive chat, the K-pop star shares why after a decade in the business, people are just now seeing the real her.

Going "rogue" is not something you hear a K-pop star doing, especially one of the scene's biggest. But on April 16, Amber Liu released her Rogue Rouge mixtape with a music video to accompany every track. The completely independent project has earned nearly half a million listens on SoundCloud, with its music videos earning nearly one million views combined.

But this project isn't about breaking records -- like Amber and her f(x) bandmates have done multiple times on the Billboard charts. In fact, the project is streaming completely free with all its music videos demonetized on the 25-year-old's personal YouTube channel. Why? Amber says it's finally time to introduce herself to the world on her terms. "I think people still don't know who I am," the star tells Billboard in the only interview she set up -- on her own -- about her new project. "I wanted to be like, 'Guys, I'm not who you think I am.' I want to show a very humane side of me."

Billboard went through the entire Rogue Rouge mixtape and its videos with Amber just ahead of the tape's release, with its "Three Million Years" and "Get Over It" music videos still to be unveiled. Tackling everything from the heartbreak and anger that inspired certain songs to her LGBTQ allyship and past relationships, read through the winding chat below and get to know Amber as she wants you know to her.

Musically, the first thing that really caught my ear about Rogue Rouge was that there's no rapping in this and you've always been known as "the rapper."

It's always been in me, but I'm not a rapper. I'm a singer. I rap, but I don’t consider myself a rapper. I love songwriting and rap is part of my songwriting, but I'm not a rapper. I just love singing, I love narrations, I love using my voice. It's been nearly 10 years being in this industry and I still get people who say, "She's hard, she's strong, she's so brave." No! I'm really scared of everything, I'm very, very emotional, I'm extremely soft! If you say something to me I'll be thinking about that until I go home. I wanted to be like, "Guys, I'm not who you think I am." I wanted the ability to be me.

The first song is "Get Over It," which has a laid-back vibe but pretty spunky lyrics. In your own words, how do you describe it?

That whole song was basically, "We're people, we all have opinions, we'll agree to disagree, we'll disagree to agree," so instead of being so focused on our differences, let's just get over it. A lot of people don't know what goes on behind the scenes, whether it's the public or whether it's family, friends, co-workers or whatnot, everybody has their opinion and in the end, no one's right and no one's wrong. I think that's pretty cool…an array of people who have been with me on this journey. I'm so thankful to everyone who was with me, they really believed in me and made me work harder. It was really fun, but I want to sleep a bit more. [Laughs] But I chose it to be the opening song because that song is me right now. I'm all sorts of things: I'm cool, I'm a brat, but you're a brat too! But I wanted the video to tie the journey together and spotlight those people.

There's a lyric about "the cookie-cutter flavored bullshit." That sounds like a jab at the industry.

It does take jabs at an array of people and the public. I think what sucks is the unnecessary pressure that society and we put on each other and that's where the expectation of me "being a tomboy" or expecting me to be this or that. I just kept everything in. I wasn't a vocal person. I'm 25 now, I'm not going to act like teenager. I think that's what a lot of child stars and people that grow up in the industry have to deal with: This is a business too. There are a lot of really good and bad things that happen in this world, and we can't ignore it because we're in entertainment, which is a fantasy world. It happens in the States too. I think this is my way of saying, "C'mon guys, you can't treat me like I'm 16 anymore. I'm not dumb."

What is "Closed Doors" talking about? 

If I had to sum it up, it'd be "respect my privacy." I have the privilege and the honor of sharing my life with people, [but] sometimes I was really overwhelmed because there's an expectation for you to share every part of your life now. I'm sorry, but I like to have my time with my people. There's a blessing that you're in a spotlight, but people follow you and want to keep asking you questions -- it's just overwhelming sometimes. At times in my career, it's really affected my relationships with people. I think what sucks is that in this industry, it's a lot of gossip and rumors -- rumors can ruin people's lives. Why go into someone's business when it's totally not yours? Luckily, my fans are very respectful of that, but there were definitely times it was mentally draining or I wouldn't leave my house for weeks or months. I was paranoid, people were following me. It's what kind of comes with the job, but it was when people expect things of you and interrogate you for information.

Have there been any rumors that really got to you?

This wasn't a rumor, but there were reports like "Your family's so rich!" And it's like, "Yo, keep my family out of this." They worked hard? If you want to share your story, then share it. Don't demand it from someone.

Take us through "High Hopes," a very euphoric and EDM-focused track.

As children, we did what we did because we loved it. I think five, six years ago, I was at a point where I was just starting off, but I was thinking, "I trained night and day for this, why am I not happy? Why is it empty?" I think that I lost that childlike faith in me, that's when I thought, "If I can re-learn to love things and take in every moment, I think I could change my perspective."

With work, it's a routine, it's a demand, there's a quota, there's all these numbers. But you know what? That's when it hit me. I fell in love with music because it gave me an escape, it gave me strength and it gave me confidence. It's all about that journey and never losing that hope in your heart. There's that one lyric, "Distant echoes calling my name to come back home," that was literally people at home telling me, "Come back! What the hell are you doing prancing around?" I'm just like, "No, I'm going to do what I love and that's not a bad thing." The music video is about following your instincts too. I'm sure when you were writing, you weren't saying "I'm going to write for Billboard!" No, you're like, "I'm going to write whatever. Whoever will take me, I'll write for you!" It's like that for me, I was reaching out to producers and I was like, "Hey! I'll write anything!" and that's what I did. I wrote everywhere and I learned. I'm not running towards any product, I'm running towards my overall journey. Luckily, I get to do it for the rest of my life -- hopefully. [Laughs]

"Right Now" has your lovelorn R&B side coming out.

Yeaaah, love sucks!!! [Laughs] That song's been sitting with me for five years. Funny story about that song, the producer Gen [Neo], who is my singing coach and basically my mentor for everything, he actually wrote this song in 2011 or 2012 and he said he was going to trash it. We actually had to change the song three to four times before it is what it is today. He didn't want to be on it, but I said, "You have to be on it! Everyone thinks we sound so good together." We originally recorded the demo to [f(x) song] "Goodbye Summer" together.

But me and Gen both suck at relationships, and I'm very cautious when it comes to relationships. I'll say, I'm picky. [Laughs] I'm a very all-in personality, and that's the reason I am picky because if I date you that means I want to marry you, I want to spend my life with you. I remember it took me five years to get over one of my exes. It's not something we talk about a lot in the industry and it's not something people see, but I've been an emotional wreck. I'm a softie. But when I get broken up with, I learn a lot about myself.

How old were you when you first fell in love?

Hm, let's see. Define "love"? The reason why I ask is because after one of my relationships, I was like "This is it" and I held onto it for a very long time until I found the next contestant -- or I should say next victim, that's a fun way to say it. But I think, every time I'm in a relationship the definition of love changes. The first time I said "I love you" to someone, I was 16. Um, yeah, it sucked. But the definition of love changes and it changes from 16 to 25.

I want to ask you about one my favorites, "Life Line." The song's sound is so unexpected.

You like "Life Line"?!? Wow, that was the hardest song for me. I heard the beat and I was like, "I have nothing to write." Usually when I songwrite, it usually starts off with the topic or a vision rather than the melodies. I rewrote this one four or five times, completely, and the idea of "Life Line" didn't come till the third or fourth time. I was very hesitant to put this on the mixtape. But I was talking to [the music video director/producer] Kyle [Pham] about the song and how I've been getting tough love my whole life, but sometimes I need some encouragement. And he got it and went with it.

I love the video and how beautiful that visual is with the two men dancing together. I feel like we don't see two male dancers working in that way. And it was also so cool to show representation in that way.

My friend Stephanie [Michova] who directed "Closed Doors," Kyle and I were all talking. We discussed a love story, dancers and at one point said, "Dude, how about we do two guys?" and I'm like, "Hell yeah!" It was a very organic, idea-throwing session. Whether it's love, brotherhood, friendships, sisterhood, whatnot, relationships are all different. We thought having some representation for the LGBTQ community would be really awesome as well. But I wanted something about tension, about two people being so close but so far at the same time. That song is about someone saying they're going to be there for you and they are there for you, but why aren't you? 

You know after you say that, fans are going to have their theories about thinking it's about a member in your group or something more salacious.

[Gives a shocked laugh] My songs can be about multiple situations in my life. What you assume might be the story, but this song, I will say, is about multiple situations. There's going to be so many people who say, "I got you, I got you!" but you hit them up when you're in deep shit, and they don't pick up the phone. I think that happens a lot in life: People who turn their backs on you, people who stab you, and in the end you admit "I guess I'm alone." But after that song, after this project, I realized how thankful I am to have the people I have around me.

All leading to the big finale on the mixtape, "Three Million Years."

I wanted to write a song, expectations aside, just so true and honest. I wanted a song that I could sing to somebody that I love. Something so cheesy and great, but it means the world and it's 100 percent true for every single line. There are parts of me I don't like showing, but to the person I love, I can open up and I wanted to embody that happiness. Because as a whole, this mixtape is pretty angry and sad [Laughs] but I wanted to also show there is that dumb side of me too. The music video shows that too -- if you were going to film something for someone you love, you'll include all your friends and do the stupidest things and it's going to be cheesy but so great! And that's what I wanted to do.

In the opening moments of the video, you're wearing two pins on your jacket: one with a red heart and one with a rainbow peace sign. What do the pins mean to you?

It's just love. Love is eternal. Love takes on many shapes and forms and this song is for whoever you want to sing it. Gay, straight, bi, whatever, it doesn't matter. Love is love. The pins were actually included from the brand that made the jacket. 

I saw that and thought it was a really amazing moment of inclusion that we don't really see in the K-pop world yet.

I have a lot of LGBTQ friends, and when you love someone so much, why would anyone take that away from somebody? Just like I say on "Closed Doors," that's their privacy, that's their relationship. Are you in a relationship with them too? No, you're not! [Laughs] When I hang out with one of my trans friends, he's so happy to be who he is now. And seeing him transition through that process, it's amazing. And you know, love is love. Again, it's their privacy.

Do you consider yourself an ally of the LGBTQ community?

Of course, of course. Love is love, dude. Just go with it! Like Scott [Hoying] and Mitch [Grassi] from Pentatonix, some of my best friends are gay, and they're the most beautiful people I know. I'm an androgynous tomboy with tattoos, piercings, a very conservative Asian cultural [background] and I'm in entertainment. I want people just to be the best them. People are like "You're a girl, why do you have tattoos?" and I say, "Well, I got even more! Here you go!" You just can't judge people if you don't know them. I'm all for equality.

Amber's "Three Million Years" video will be released at midnight PT on April 27 with the video for "Get Over It" dropping at midnight on April 30.