Effie Liu (FKA Bebe Panthere) On Spaghetti Westerns, Paving Her Own Path, and Crushing Stereotypes
Say goodbye to Bebe Panthere. The California-born (now Williamsburg-based) pink-haired singer-songwriter has stripped down her Kill Bill-inspired persona to Effie Liu, the phonetic spelling of her first and middle initials (F.E.) and her new artist name as of 2015. We talked to Effie about Tarantino films, her brief foray in the fashion industry, and how she’s paving the way for more Asian-American pop stars.
Briefly describe your music
Pop-Tarts, dancing jelly bellies, hip hop sprinkles, spaghetti western vibes, and fun!
What made you decide to change your artist name?
I had [the name] Bebe Panthere because I love Tarantino films and I wanted to give myself a name from Kill Bill. I love Kill Bill and how all the girls have aliases, so I thought, I’m a Leo, maybe I should do something with felines. And it’s French, so it’s kind of fun; I think Brigitte Bardot is real fabulous. I thought people would understand it, but they had a little bit of a hard time. I was like, ‘there are so many bands that have crazy names; I still don’t know how to pronounce them, but they’re poppin’ and they’re fine!’ But it just got to the point where I realized one morning, I opened my eyes and was like, ‘oh my god, I need to change my name!’ Because no one could pronounce it, no one could understand it, even my friends would be like, ‘huh? what?’ No one could spell it correctly, no one could remember it. So it was a real barrier between me and my potential audience.
You’ve talked about how your parents aren’t totally supportive of your career in music. Have their opinions changed?
It’s definitely an ongoing tug of war. I think a lot of children of immigrants, not only from Asia, but all my immigrant friends’ parents generally want them to go into something that’s considered ‘normal.’ A doctor, a lawyer, whatever. I could swear even less than a year ago, my parents said, ‘well, you could still go to medical school!’ But there are times they’re more supportive—they came out for a show and were like, ‘okay, we get it.’ My dad actually called me out on [my desire to be a musician]. He was like, ‘you want to be one of those people on stage all crazy every night?’ And I was like, ‘yes!’ and started crying. I really think I broke his heart. He gave me a big hug and it was a bizarre moment. It was bittersweet because I was being really honest, but at the same time he was like, ‘dammit my kid wants to be a musician.’
How do you deal with their opposition?
It drives me a little crazy. In a sense I’ve accepted it because I get it, they love me, and ultimately they want me to have a good life. Of course there will be heated conversations and it gets frustrating and I want to tear my hair out, but I just try to understand that they just want me to have a good life. But it’s not all about achieving success in a ‘regular’ field. I think ultimately, their advice is really about how whatever you go into, you have to be the best at it. You have to put in those hours. You have to have the same kind of work ethic, where maybe instead of studying a textbook or spending eight hours in a lab, it’s about dedicating your time and energy to being the best performer, spending the time working out that song. So I try to apply [their advice] in a different way to show them that this is a thing, it’s happening.
Growing up, I always wished there were more Asian pop-stars I could look up to. How has your background (i.e. growing up with immigrant parents, your ethnicity) influenced your music?
I live for this question. I wouldn’t say so far in my journey that my ethnicity has been an issue. But it is something that I keep in mind because just like you, I thought there were no Asian-American figures in pop culture in general. I knew [becoming an Asian-American figure in pop culture] was a challenge, and I’ve wanted to take it on since I was a child. I saw there was nothing there, and I wanted to rise up to the challenge. There are so many of us growing up with parents who are like, ‘don’t be creative!” yet all the extracurricular activities are instruments, dance, and art. You have to excel at your extracurriculars and then it’s like, ‘okay, I’ve developed a passion for something creative because you pushed me to do this extracurricular stuff,’ but then it’s like god forbid you go into that for a profession. I want to encourage younger kids to embrace who they really are. If you have a knack for something that is off the beaten path from what your family wants, if you’re great at it, and if you put in the time and energy into it, then absolutely. Do it. School is four years, then medical school is four years, and you don’t become a poppin’ off doctor until you’re 35, right? It’s the same thing—your rise to success [in entertainment] is very similar to medical school and that entire journey. It’s just a different path. And my path is covered in sprinkles and sequins and lamé fabric!
Have you ever been treated differently in the music industry because of your ethnicity?
So far, no. But is it a challenge that I anticipate? I mean, yeah. There are so many Asians in fashion, especially bloggers, also beauty, and there are a few Asians in television and movies now. Honestly, I think being a girl is a bigger challenge so far than my ethnicity. [People] don’t think I write my own songs. They will be like, ‘when you work with so-and-so, they write the songs, right?’ What, you can’t create just because you’re a girl? It’s probably the most offensive when someone questions the authenticity of your work because you’re a girl. There are so few [Asian-Americans in entertainment] out there right now, chipping way at creating a space for others to come. Race is such a sensitive topic these days and there are so many negative Asian stereotypes that I feel aren’t addressed as frequently as they should be. It’s important for me as an artist to keep those things in mind while expressing myself in my creative process, because I also want to show that we aren’t just a bunch of nerds or scantily clad girls laying across cars or villains or ninjas.
Any big projects coming up?
Yes! I have some new songs and I’m filming a video for one of them. It’s very girly, it’s gonna be really fun. I don’t want to give away too much! But I’m definitely working on a bunch of new things for this year and in terms of the near future, I’m really excited for the new video we’re putting together.
Favorite places to shop in NYC?
What made you decide to move to NYC?
I moved here four years ago. Without giving any names, I was a muse to a shoe designer when I lived in L.A. So I was like, “oh, I kind of want to move to New York,” because that’s where fashion is. My whole life I was really in love with fashion and dressing fun and expressing oneself through clothing. Instead of going into finance or being a doctor, I thought maybe [my parents and I] could settle with fashion. Because that’s in an office, and it’s a little less crazy than being a musician. So I was the muse to this lady and I was like, ‘I’m kind of interested in going to New York because that’s where the fashion capital is.’ And she was like, ‘well, I’m setting up my business, maybe I should bring you on.’ I did the phone interview, sent the cover letter, got the job. I worked there for a brief period of time, and realized I wasn’t happy. So I ended up going back to music because that’s what was really making me happy. I love fashion to this day, but I just don’t think that career path was for me, at least within that company. [My boss] told me when I left, ‘you’re never going to succeed! Whatever you go into, you’re never going to succeed!’
Favorite bands/artists you’re listening to at the moment?
The only time I listen to other people’s music is when I’m cooking or baking. I like a lot of girl artists. I really like the band Made In Heights, they’re sick. I thought Tove Lo had a nice album. And I think Becky G is adorable. Her songs are so cute and fun. I often have Sleighbells in rotation. They’re so tough and fun.
Young Thug would be a fun one!
Music industry crush?
I feel like everyone has a crush on Nick Jonas right now, but he’s not my style. How about girl crush? Debbie Harry from Blondie’s ‘Rapture‘ music video moment. She’s so glam, badass and timeless.
Follow Effie on Instagram and Twitter: @trueffieliu