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Desire and Dangdut Koplo: Women’s Aspirations and Mobility in Indonesia’s Most Popular Music

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While twenty years ago dangdut koplo was a regional music on the margins, today this sub-genre of dangdut has grown to become the most popular music in Indonesia. Only a few studies have discussed dangdut koplo (Weintraub 2013; Raditya 2013; Riyanto and Dewi 2021), and none have given sustained ethnographic attention to women’s experience. Based on long-term ethnographic engagement and participant observation among dangdut koplo professionals, I show that women shape dangdut industries as producers, managers, MCs, radio hosts, fans, and instrumentalists as well as singers. I frame women in dangdut industries through the lens of performance practice, as neither “voiceless victims [nor] powerful agents” (Niessen, Leshkowich, and Jones 2003:31), focusing on their lived experience, desires, and voices. Dangdut singers and other women who break molds mitigate their desires [I. nafsu] to avoid shame [I. malu] and protect their reputations [I. nama]. Similarly, industry decision-makers like producers and music directors temper the desires present in off-air dangdut practice to protect the reputation of dangdut itself and by extension the nation of Indonesia. Drawing on ethnomusicology, dance studies, voice studies, gender studies, and media and cultural studies, I show how dangdut koplo practice is affected by other performance forms and gender ideologies. By using hybrid methods (Przybylski 2021) to explore their daily lives, interactions with new media, and onstage personas, I show how singers perform (or refuse to perform) the identity expectations set for them. I consider gender and space in dangdut koplo through the lens of the roads. Through ethnography of social media and backstage at television studios and radio stations, as well as close reading of television, I contribute to scholarship about women in music industries and women’s fandom. I also reframe concepts of the Indonesian rakyat by showing how women’s fandom on social media becomes a public sphere for debating desires for the nation, a theme also present in government and industry projects targeted at helping dangdut “go global.” Dangdut koplo is a realm of argument about social class and women’s bodies in which women use mass and social media to argue multiple sides of each issue.

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