I only managed to read one paper in these last days, but I am excited to share this one with you for two reasons. Last time, I bemoaned the lack of female idols in my research, this week we are going to talk about Amber Liu. I also didn’t find any instances of queerbaiting with celebrities, but what this paper describes looks to me exactly as the queerbaiting TV shows do.
The paper also starts out by talking about Liu’s appearance, which it describes as tomboyish or androgynous. It is even more noticeable as the singer is part of a girl group where the other members dress like a stereotypical female idol. There are examples from music videos, public performances and even talk shows or social media posts where Liu appears. Analysing these, it is not only Liu’s appearance that’s shown in contrast with the other bandmembers or other idols but the singer’s gestures or behaviour.
Nonetheless, while Amber’s style is different to that of her female counterparts, she is not recognized by her fans as particularly out of the ordinary. We deduce that the reason for this is because she looks not dissimilar to many of the K-Pop’s male stars. (…) If we take this into consideration, then the image Amber portrays is less revolutionary than it first appears; she does rebel against the standard imposed on girls, but only by embracing the standard that in recent years has been imposed on boys.LAFORGIA, Paola; HOWARD, Keith 2017. ‘Amber Liu, K-Pop tomboy – Reshaping femininity in mainstream K-Pop.’ Kritika Kultura 29. 220.
Further, the paper sees this pattern continue in the lyrics of their songs (both written by Liu and by others):
In many songs, but unlike many other girl group hits, Amber does not refer directly to an ‘oppa’ (that is an older boy), – examples would include the song Danger (Pinocchio), which in its indeterminacy could be addressed at both or either a boy or a girl, and the hit Nu Abo. In the latter, (Amber and her group) directly sings to an ‘ennoi’ (that is an older girl), encouraging queer readings of the lyrics.LAFORGIA, Paola; HOWARD, Keith 2017. ‘Amber Liu, K-Pop tomboy – Reshaping femininity in mainstream K-Pop.’ Kritika Kultura 29. 222.
We can see now the constant presence on all platforms this ambiguity that doesn’t leave space to be confirmed as one thing or the other. As the authors say about Liu’s reaction to the rumors of dating girls, there is neither denial nor confirmation.
She does not say she disapproves of the rumors because she is straight, but rather she fosters the idea that she might be queer, although she never says it explicitly. She neither confirms nor denies the rumors, but neither does she stigmatize same-sex relationships.LAFORGIA, Paola; HOWARD, Keith 2017. ‘Amber Liu, K-Pop tomboy – Reshaping femininity in mainstream K-Pop.’ Kritika Kultura 29. 226.
Therefore, as much as this ambiguity remains, it can never became something explicitly different.
However, if we delve more deeply, S.M. Entertainment trade on Amber’s ambiguous sexual and gender identity, and this means she is not free to identify herself as either as straight or gay.LAFORGIA, Paola; HOWARD, Keith 2017. ‘Amber Liu, K-Pop tomboy – Reshaping femininity in mainstream K-Pop.’ Kritika Kultura 29. 226.
It must not be forgotten that Amber belongs to the mainstream, in an industry fueled by capitalism, where any supposedly new type or breed of pop woman can only emerge if the industry is convinced that they can be marketed.LAFORGIA, Paola; HOWARD, Keith 2017. ‘Amber Liu, K-Pop tomboy – Reshaping femininity in mainstream K-Pop.’ Kritika Kultura 29. 227.
What the authors showed us here is familiar from TV shows where the writers keep up some ambiguity about the relationship between two (usually male lead) characters, but never confirming it, so it can be marketed as a queer or straight relationship. Yet, in this case, we are not talking about fictional characters but the public presentation of a person. Still, it’s no wonder that just as the studio wants to keep the marketability of the show, the music industry does the same about their idol.
The question, then, is whether resistance is actually possible in the culture industry.LAFORGIA, Paola; HOWARD, Keith 2017. ‘Amber Liu, K-Pop tomboy – Reshaping femininity in mainstream K-Pop.’ Kritika Kultura 29. 228.