Amber Liu challenges herself with every music release. In her latest solo effort, y?, the global superstar gets more experimental than ever by not only including a mix of pop and R&B, but also songs in English and Mandarin. Liu, who performed with the highly successful K-pop group f(x) from 2009 to 2016, decided to make a bilingual album to further connect with her mother, whose native tongue is Mandarin. Besides wanting to pay tribute to the woman who has always been her biggest fan, Liu used y? to tell her story of self-love. She drew inspiration from her real-life experiences to fuel her songwriting process, which is why everyone can relate to the themes on the album.
y? hit streaming services on Friday, May 7, just over a year after Liu dropped her debut solo album, X, in January 2020. Liu says she was nervous about releasing her follow-up record because, as the title implies, she gets honest with fans by questioning herself and her relationships throughout it. "Through this album, I was just learning about myself and the ways I was thinking about me and the reason why I thought certain ways and why I did certain things," Liu tells Elite Daily. "I was actually quite scared at first because it's one of my more vulnerable albums. A lot of the songs are more personal to me than the ones I've written in the past.” For example, Liu shares her experience with anxiety on "blue," while she reminisces about her trips alone to Sin City on "vegas."
Liu says opening up not only challenged her as an artist, but the songwriting process was therapeutic. “As someone who's just been in the industry since she was 15, I'm always trying to learn and become better not only to achieve the things that I want to, but to try to be better for myself,” she says.
The first half of Liu's album is in English. She starts with “neon,” the feel-good anthem featuring PENIEL of the K-pop group BtoB, which she describes as a fun, one-sided love story. Meanwhile, in “complicated," Liu opens up about a relationship that didn't work out because of circumstances out of her control. "'Complicated' was written about many people," Liu says. "Whether there was bad blood or not, I just wanted to thank them for the good memories and the lessons they've taught me. I'm learning to also forgive them and forgive myself as well."
Liu finishes her album with Mandarin versions of three songs: "neon," featuring Chinese rapper Blow Fever, "blue," featuring Masiwei of the Chinese hip hop group Higher Brothers, and "complicated." After releasing a Mandarin version of her X single "Curiosity" in November 2019, Liu wanted to continue recording songs in the language so her mother could understand them. "Growing up, I always felt that I wasn't really good to my mom because I couldn't speak Mandarin very well, and she didn't know how to speak English very well. [That's why] I always had this disconnect with her," Liu says.
Although she was scared of singing in Mandarin because her "pronunciation isn't the best," Liu did it to give back to her mother. "Singing in another language is really hard... but I wanted to do it for my mom because she's my mom and she's the best. She's always believed in me more than I believed in myself," Liu says, adding the experience ended up helping her improve her skills in the language. "I'm starting to talk to my mom more in Mandarin and have longer conversations with her without being flustered and not knowing what to say. It's baby steps, and hopefully, later on, I'll make more songs in Mandarin.”
Liu has also been improving at Mandarin while spending time in China, where she mentors contestants on the singing reality competition show CHUANG 2021. The star says one way she's been helping the hopefuls on the show is by reminding them to continue challenging themselves. "The sad truth about the industry is you get burnt out. You become unmotivated and uninspired, and you don't want to do anything," Liu says. "I wanted them to see that there are so many things that are out there that they can learn and try."
Liu picked up this lesson from her f(x) days. "[My time in the group] taught me a lot of new things. We had a very distinct and unique color to our music, and ... we had to change our tones a little bit or just try to experiment with our voices more. I think doing that for many years, it opened up my voice [in ways] that I didn't even know existed," Liu says. "I still hold really true to our message that we want to be a group that does things that are different, especially in my solo career. In my y? album and even in my last album, all the genres are very different. I always just want to experiment and try new things."
Fans can listen to Liu's latest solo album, y?, below.