One of Indonesia’s biggest musical exports, Agnez Mo, has been booked and busy lately. The US-based singer just released a single titled Nanana last week, attended American Music Awards on Sunday (or Monday, Indonesian time), and performed in front of adoring fans in LA and New York.
Agnez recently sat down with host Kevan Kenney for an interview in Yahoo’s BUILD Series to talk about her single Diamond (which features rapper French Montana), the story behind Nanana (which was actually written seven years ago when Agnez first arrived in LA), and other aspects of her life and career.
When Kenney asked the 33-year-old singer about the diversity of Indonesian culture and commented on how she’s “a little different from everybody else” in the country, Agnez responded by saying that she has no traces of Indonesian origins.
“I actually don’t have Indonesian blood whatsoever. I’m actually German, Japanese, Chinese — I was just born in Indonesia. And I’m also Christian, which is in Indonesia the majority there are Muslims.
“So I’ve always been kind of, you know, like, I’m not gonna say that I’ve felt that I don’t belong there, because I always felt like the people accepted me for who I was. But there’s always that sense of, ‘ugh… I’m not like everybody else’,” Agnez told Kenney.
“That’s a unique perspective,” Kenney replied.
“Yeah, for sure, and I think it really taught me how to embrace my vulnerability, differences, quirkiness,” Agnez continued.
The original interview was uploaded to Youtube on Friday, but this particular part has especially been making its rounds on Twitter over the weekend. As expected, many Indonesians felt Agnez appeared to have forgotten her roots, which many considered ironic because she also mentioned that she has always tried to represent Indonesian culture in her works.
Several netizens also pointed out her alleged appropriation of black culture, which she tried to pass on as “Papuan,” as seen in her behind the scenes photos on Instagram from the music video for Diamonds (which is not yet released).
sis when using cornrows refusing she ain’t trying to be black: listen, this hair is 😍 from papua indonesia 😍 IN MY culture these braids are called anyam rambut 😍
also sis: i acTuAllY don’t have indonesian blood whatsoever 🌝
— Fine Line will be released on Dec 13th! 🍉 (@eclairse) November 26, 2019
Sis trying so hard to be black and appropriating black culture in US but defended herself by saying “it’s actually Papuan culture.” But now she’s out here saying she doesn’t have Indonesian blood? So what’s the truth sis?
— Keisha Karina (@keishakarina) November 26, 2019
— Winner J Bakara (@umaleao) November 25, 2019
While Agnez Mo’s statement might have rubbed some people the wrong way, other users suggested that she should’ve offered more nuanced takes on Indonesian identity or culture.
I watched the whole interview, and yes Agnez—whatever she’s called now—need more perspectives. Particularly about Indonesia and her own culture. Sometimes it’s just not shallow, but also dangerous. https://t.co/U95V47tYgV
— Aulia Adam (@auliadam) November 25, 2019
rasis banget kalian semua di komen, kalo mau kita bangga menjadi orang indonesia ya lindungi kita pas ada yg teriak2 ganyang cina lah. sok benci kami pdhl diem tok pas kami diancem mati https://t.co/A4zwiFoqg1
— theodora sarah abigail (ebi) (@HELLOHONEBI) November 26, 2019
“You’re all so racist in the comment section, if you want us to be proud of being Indonesians, please protect us when there were people who screamed ‘down with the Chinese.’ You all pretend to [love] us but you’re all silent when we receive death threats.”
Di saat temen2 Tionghoa gw hrs mati2an meyakinkan mayoritas bhw mereka pun orang Indonesia, malah figur sebesar Agnez Mo menafikan keindonesiaannya.
Her PR is doing a HORRIBLE job in coaching her on how to talk to media.
Agnez, you did a disservice to your fellow Tionghoa. https://t.co/U3hS6ZPMt9
— Lynda Ibrahim (@lyndaibrahim) November 26, 2019
“At the time when my Chinese friends must desperately convince the majority that they are indeed Indonesians, a public figure of Agnez Mo’s calibre denies her Indonesianness. Her PR team is doing a HORRIBLE job in coaching her on how to talk to the media. Agnez, you did a disservice to your fellow Chinese-Indonesians.”
In the midst of the backlash against her, some netizens defended Agnez for speaking up about her experience as a minority in Indonesia.
Agnez Mo gak ada darah suku asli Indonesia = fakta
Agnez Mo lahir & tenar di Indonesia = fakta
Agnez Mo Kristen = fakta
Kesenjangan antara kaum minoritas & mayoritas di Indonesia = fakta
Jadi sebelah mana yang salah? https://t.co/VRBvq8ZOub
— rioaditomo (@rioaditomo) November 25, 2019
“Agnez Mo has no native Indonesian blood: fact. Agnez Mo born and became popular in Indonesia: fact. Agnez Mo is Christian: fact. The gap between minorities and majority in Indonesia: fact. So which part is wrong?”
unpopular opinion: i think Agnez Mo’s current controversial statement is a result of decades-long growing career frustration that includes rejections and irrational judgments everywhere she came, including her own homeland
— Dimas (@almakna_) November 26, 2019
Earlier today, Agnez took to social media to express that she was happy to share something about Indonesia, but that she also wanted to be honest about her life as a minority.
View this post on Instagram
I grew up in such diverse culture. Culture inclusivity is what i stand for. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika means Unity in Diversity. Love it when i can share something about my roots n my country. I will always be honest and testify to the world how a minority like me was given a chance to have dreams and pursue our dreams. ❤️ my heart is full. . . #indonesia represents
Agnez Mo debuted as a child singer in 1992 under her birth name, Agnes Monica, through an album titled Si Meong (Meow). After several successful albums, she branched out to be a host of children’s programs on television. At 13, Agnez started her acting career in sinetron (Indonesian soap opera). During her transition from child to teenage artist, she received wider recognition as an actress and singer, notably through a sinetron titled, Pernikahan Dini (Young Marriage).
Agnez went on to release successful albums, adopting a more mature persona and leaning towards R&B and hip hop in her 20s. Some of her most successful albums include And The Story Goes (2003), Whaddup A.. ‘?! (2005), and Sacredly Agnezious (2009).
In 2013, she changed her stage name to Agnez Mo and released an eponymous album — her first in English. Agnez released X, her debut international studio album, in 2017 after the success of her singles Boy Magnet and Coke Bottle, the latter of which featured American rappers Timbaland and T.I.. Since then, Agnez has released non-album singles, such as Overdose featuring controversial R&B singer Chris Brown in 2018.
Agnez currently spends more time in the US rather than her home country. One of her most recent notable appearances was in a music video by up-and-coming rapper Megan Thee Stallion, the summer anthem Hot Girl Summer featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign.
Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong every Friday!