Pop Culture and the Competing Identities in Indonesia 

Table of Content

It comes to no surprise that technology today has been a vital part of everyday life. Especially with the aid of lifestyle apps such as Go-Jek, Grab, Halodoc easing the accessibility from transportation, delivery, to even health services at your fingertips—it seems to be that having a smartphone becomes essential to survive in today’s era.

In 2015, about 93.4 million people (or 47.9%) of the Indonesian population are Internet users and it is predicted to increase up to 140 million in the next five years. According to a recent study by Polling Indonesia that was conducted in collaboration with the Indonesian Internet Providers Association (APIJI) involving 5,900 samples spread across the country, the number of Internet users in Indonesia already increased by 10% since 2018 with the majority of them aging from 15 to 19. A survey conducted by the IDN Research Institute and the Alva Research Center also reported that this year, 94.4% of the millennial generation (born between 1981-2000) is addicted and dependent on the Internet. To appraise the big numbers in regards to Indonesia’s active internet users, Deloitte, one of the ‘big four’ accounting organizations stated that the main force of Indonesia’s economic strength lies in the rise of e-commerce.

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The side effect of a highly progressing digital era causes millennials and younger generations to have a much shorter attention span in contrast to the previous generations. Being used to the ease of getting everything in a single click, one easily expresses inconvenience when something does not suit their preference. With the wide range of options for online shopping (such as Blibli, Bukalapak, Tokopedia, Shoppee, JD.id, and Lazada), it is much more possible to compare one price to another in one sitting and rely on the reviews of other customers before purchasing an item. Moreover, people also tend to be interested more in things that they are in control of. Instead of waiting for a program that would only be available at certain times, YouTube, for instance, provides a creative platform in which people can create and watch what they like at any time, all while still making room for financial opportunities such as advertisements.

The spectrum of YouTube content in Indonesia has grown from challenges, reviews, covers, and skits, to high-quality production series and short movies. Big companies such as Toyota, Tropicana Slim, JD.id created web series that were entitled respectively ‘Mengakhiri Cinta dalam 3 Episode’ (2018), ‘Janji’ (2019), and ‘Kenapa belum Nikah?’ (2018) with 500 thousand to 5.4 million views. These web series’ were made to implicitly advertise their product by incorporating drama and romance. Unlike the traditional soap operas on cable television, these series had a cinema-production feel with weighted acting.

President Joko Widodo explicitly stated that “The role of the creative industry is very important, therefore, the creative name in the future will have a bright future in the lifestyle era,’ In 2015, the average creative industry sector contributed to 6.03% of the country’s GDP, with 0.16% of it being the film industry.

Movies in Indonesia were first produced in the 1920s. The Japanese banned film production during World War 2 and has made improvements for the next couple of years in which only films that were approved by the government were allowed to be on screen. The development of Indonesia’s film industry fluctuated with only one or two hits such as “Pintar Pintar Bodoh” and “Tjoet Nja’Dhien” in the 1980s before it went downhill again between the 1990s and early 2000s. As an avid Indonesian observer, local blockbuster films tend to revolve around the genre of horror, comedy, or romance. Hence, in the history of Indonesian film, ‘DKI Warkop Reborn: Jangkrik BOS! Part 1’ (2016), which is a comedy, remains as the film with the highest number of viewers. In 2017, research has shown that 35 million tickets of Indonesian movies were sold across the country and increased up to 50 million the tickets on next year.

The government established moderately high ambitions for the industry. Despite targeting the film national market share to be 37%, Cinema 21 projected this year to be lower due to it being only 35% in 2017. According to the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf), one of the causes behind the issue in increasing the national film market share is due to the lack of screens. However, it was predicted that in the next decade, the number of cinemas across Indonesia would significantly increase from 1,700 to 7,500. The Ministry of Education and Culture aimed to sponsor local actors to collaborate with international actors, targeting local films to control 50% of the domestic film market. Another effort by the government includes opening a Negative Investment List (DNI) to attract foreign investors in Indonesian film.

Despite the numbers, unlike Hollywood, there are still very few Indonesian producers and directors who are brave enough to tell controversial or taboo topics such as sex and the LGBTQ+ community. ‘Dua Garis Biru’ (2019), for example, was the first modern local film that told the consequences of a pre-marital pregnancy among teenagers. With Indonesia being a semi-religious country, Gina S. Noer, the director, said that most parents called her the ‘world’s biggest sinner’ while the Generation Z gave a more positive response as to how they were never exposed to sex education. Gina also mentioned how many actors and actresses feared that playing the role in a sensitive movie would damage their reputation due to how taboo the subject is. Speaking from personal experience, most preteens from conservative communities gave a negative judgment before even dissecting the true message behind the movie. It’s a shame that those negative perceptions became the barriers for teens to learn the ‘why-not’ instead of solely accepting that you’re not encouraged to have sex before marriage without truly understanding the consequences.

Another controversial movie would be ‘Pria’ (2017), an LGBTQ+ Indonesian independent film directed by Yudho Aditya. The story depicts a teen that is struggling as a gay man. Due to the lack of socialization and education about LGBTQ+, his parents assumed that he was cursed, and preceded to give him food based on Javanese traditions to ‘lift of the curse’. He was attracted to his English teacher, but his parents forced him to marry a girl, as it was believed that an early marriage would prevent teenagers from ‘rebelling’. With around 1.7 million views, 35,000 likes and 11,000 dislikes, this movie opened conversations and gave Indonesians another perspective of the LGBTQ+ community.

It’s a shame that teenagers nowadays tend to be big on being a fan of attractive and young actors and actresses who simply play overdramatized and meaningless soap operas. Even though the movie industry experienced a 28% increase in the last four years, although horror, comedy, and romance are great for entertainment purposes, the Indonesian film industry still has to work on creating more educational content, opening more doors for local directors, producers, actors and actresses to express their creativity.

Where there are movies, there is music. In the 1990s, the Indonesian music charts were overpowered with artists that were signed to major record labels while independent artists remained under the shadow. Fast-forward to the 2018 Asian Games, Indonesia was substantially appreciated for phenomenal world-class performances by incorporating technology. Then, in March 2019, Indonesia’s first National Music Conference was held to gather stakeholders and the government to discuss on the music Industry. Adam Kidron, the CEO of Yonder Music, a music streaming service in Asia, mentioned how he perceived Indonesia as having high potential in the music market. Indonesians are apparently known as having a wide range of listeners, artists, and labels, which became a unique factor in contradictory to other countries. Although K-Pop has major influence internationally, its image is highly molded by the label they’re signed to. While Indonesian artists, on the other hand, ware greatly praised by having the power to control their original brand and image. By using social media, they can directly interact with fans. Kidron also added how Indonesians respect and appreciate their artists that they often share new music with their friends, wanting their artists to be known.

Today, there is a rise in the popularity of local independent or indie music. With the aid of streaming digital platforms such as Spotify, Bandcamp, and Apple Music, it is no longer obligatory to be signed to a record label. All an artist needs would be a microphone, social media, and an Internet connection. Agus Sebia, the Chairman of Indonesia’s Independent Musician Community Association said that there was a shift in listeners who saw mainstream music as ‘monotonous and dominated by the pop genre’, they look for various options of Indonesian independent artists and discover which artist interests them. Even most artists no longer use additional promotional tools other than social media because of how impactful it is. However, the competition remains as more and more indie artists are emerging, there would be more options to choose from and more difficult to survive without loyal listeners.

Furthermore, young Indonesian artists such as Rich Brian and NIKI are now known internationally after being signed to 88rising, an American mass media company. Rich Brain’s career started with him uploading a video with his friends on his first original, ‘Dat $tick’, which caught the attention of famous rappers such as Cam’ron and Ghostface Killah. Whereas NIKI was active on YouTube, posting covers and some original songs until she gave Brian a listen of one of her originals. Out of friendship, Brian enjoyed her song and gave it to his agent to see what he could do about it. Not long after, NIKI was signed to 88rising as well and their careers have been skyrocketing ever since.

It is believed that most Indonesians have a culture of glorifying the works of foreign media. It’s ironic how these young artists were able to go international in such a fast-pace after being signed into an American record label, while legendary Indonesian artists who have been in the industry for most of their life still struggle to do so. There also seem to be limitations when being signed into an Indonesian record label. The local producers often tweak an artist’s work to fit the label’s image and appeal to their market, while 88rising emphasized the freedom of creativity and allowed the artists to create any type of music without constraining into a specific theme. It’s time for the country’s music industry to learn from other industries and allow artists to bloom.

Nonetheless, this ‘freedom’ contradicts to the draft bill on music law (RUU Permusikan), in which more than 200 Indonesian musicians have started a movement against it. It was claimed that this draft bill was made to limit the negative influence of foreign culture, which in fact, also limits an artist’s freedom of expression. Article 32 states how musicians are obligated to take a competency test before being recognized as a ‘musician’ by the state to eliminate those who aim to ‘critic the government’ through music.

Taking everything into account, despite President Joko Widodo aims to support the creative industry, efforts by the government often hold a love-hate relationship. On one side they recognize the need to give Indonesian films more international exposure, yet on one side they limit the creative freedom for Indonesian musicians. Perhaps, in the end, this dilemma will be resolved for the country’s creative industry to be a step ahead.

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Pop Culture and the Competing Identities in Indonesia . (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from


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