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Performing Gender to Dangdut’s Drum: Place, Space, and Infrastructure in Indonesian Popular Music

  • Author(s): Decker, Andrea Louise
  • Advisor(s): Lysloff, Rene
  • et al.
Abstract

Few genres of popular music around the world are more infamous for objectification of women’s bodies than dangdut, a popular dance music of Indonesia, which has thrived among audiences of lower classes for more than forty years. In Dangdut Stories: A Social and Musical History of Indonesia’s Most Popular Music, Andrew Weintraub credits dangdut’s popularity in part to its easy danceability. The steps are simple: back and forth, in duple meter, a basic step anyone can join or elaborate upon. But not all choreographies of dangdut are so simple to perform. Dangdut artists try to make a living as musicians in an industry that sees them as expendable and devalues their skills. They innovate new dances, deliberately sexualize themselves, and sensationalize their acts to draw crowds and get the attention of record companies and television stations. In the rare case that they attract industry attention, however, the tastes of the middle-class and national laws regarding television require them to clean up, to de-sexualize, to reframe their identities. For women aspiring to careers as dangdut performers, the choreography is complex, coded, and competitive, and involves a careful balance of perceived femininity, sexuality, and morality. Focusing on three case studies of singers signed to the Indonesian recording label Nagaswara, Indonesia’s largest producer of dangdut, I follow the steps dangdut singers take to craft their public identities in the face of fierce competition. I begin by analyzing the constructions of gender demonstrated in two music videos by singer Devy Berlian, a dangdut performer with a K-pop background now famous for incorporating hip-hop elements. Next, I will discuss Fitri Carlina, a musician from East Java who, through the use of Instagram and Twitter accounts, distances herself from her sexual musical videos and her controversial past to present a conservative, Islamic, persona. Finally, I will examine public responses to Zaskia Gotik, a highly popular and successful dangdut musician who belittled the Indonesian creed Pancasila on a gameshow and as a result was interrogated by Indonesian police, threatened with a prison sentence, and publically shamed on social media.

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