Starting her career in entertainment at three, Agnes Monica has been through a long journey in the industry. She began her career as a child singer, then TV presenter, an actress and finally a girl not-yet-a-woman singer.
The 19-year-old performer is always in the public eye. People love gossiping about her dress sense from head to toe. The media loves to brag about her. And still, we're looking for some more.
She's young, smart and talented, yet her performances always draw public attention. Some perceive her as an arrogant and highly demanding artist. Funnily enough, she has never taken those comments to heart.
Born in Jakarta on July 1, 1986, Agnes' ambitious spirit, determination and quest for perfection have made her such a professional artist. She starred in several Indonesian soaps like Pernikahan Dini (Premature Marriage), Ciuman Pertama (First Kiss) and Cewekku Jutek (My Unfriendly Girl). In 2001, she won favorite drama actress at Panasonic Awards 2001. Her star continues to rise in her singing career.
In 2003, Agnes released her debut album titled “...and the story goes”. She left the cute, kiddie look and created a new image. Her transformation has drawn public attention.
Once again, Agnes' star rose as the album brought her several awards, AMI Awards 2004 for the best female solo pop artist, AMI Awards 2004 for the best duo/group pop artist (with Ahmad Dhani from Dewa band) and AMI Awards 2004 for The best dance pop artist.
In December 2005 she released her second album titled “Whaddup A?” with single “Bukan Milikmu” (Not Yours).
The Japanese haircut and pink-brown highlights is surprising. She says it is just her way of expressing herself, of being honest about everything.
Apart from her busy schedule, Agnes is still studying at the University of Pelita Harapan (UPH,) majoring in Law.
"I love studying. It's just something weird about me. If my career weren't this big, I'd probably study all the time."
Supported by her management, Agnes is ready to hit the new winding road in 2006 especially going international. Agnes shared her thoughts with The Jakarta Post at a sports studio in Senayan, Jakarta Selatan. What makes you appear so confident?
Confidence is something that can be built with well managed preparation. I put in a lot of preparation for each show. I'm always working things out.
The more prepared you are, your confidence will automatically grow stronger. And I've experienced different kinds of audience and environments, so I have the ability to control problems, you know like techniques or crowds.
Indonesian artists/musicians are not known for their professionalism. But you seem to be so professional. What motivates you?
I think Indonesian artists/musicians are quite strong about being professional, however there are still many who don't have a professional attitude toward their work.
I deal with a lot of problems in being professional, like being labeled as an arrogant or very demanding artist. The fact is it's not about that; it's about negotiating with people.
For example, I ask for a flat stage or one, which is not bumpy because I have dancers. It's not about what I asked for, it's about security.
I can't perform without thinking of my dancers' security. It all makes sense. I can't think of my own problems, I have to think about my dancers too.
Another thing is that I ask for one hour of preparation before each show. I request this because I have reasons. It takes a while for my dancers to do some blocking, especially on a big stage.
Now everyone is used to it. You know, it's so hard to be that way. So, my management and I have to work things out before signing a contract.
I'd prefer to discuss the arrangements before signing the contract so that people won't complain about it later. What is your biggest problem as a singer, teenager, actress and college student?
I'm a perfectionist. I have to do my best in everything I do. And hopefully, the result is the best too, as a singer, teenager, actress and college student.
The most difficult thing is to determine my first priority. I want everything to be at the first level; meanwhile, I know that my body can't cope with that.
In college I earned a high GPA, in singing I have high expectations. So, at one stage I really lacked sleep, because after shooting I went back home and did all my assignments or read some books.
And I have to get up so early to go to college. My mom said, I couldn’t go on like that because I have to decide on my priorities. So now to be honest my career is my priority. Are you going to go international?
My biggest passion about my singing career is that I want to be at a point where my idealism and the market can walk the same path.
I can find it in America or Hollywood, but I can't do it here, as in the market here they don't listen to different references.
I think they listen to R&B, I don't think they even know there's this thing called R&B. So, it's something that makes things harder. I have to go international.
I think our creativity is repressed here because we have fewer references compared to others.
Overseas, people can mix different types of music, and they have their own market. So, that's the hardest thing in the singing business or career in Indonesia. You have good English so you have the potential to go international. Many Indonesian artists are not fluent in English. What do you think about this?
Well, it's not fair because English is not the medium of instruction in our schools. And sometimes, if you speak English too much, people say you're not a nationalist.
The fact is if you have good English, you can promote your country overseas, because, our language is not used as an international language. What did you like most about recording your latest album?
I was more involved in this album, following my desires almost 100 percent. Like “Bukan Milikmu”. I chose that song, although it's pop, it's not cheesy pop.
I discussed it a lot with my brother and the musicians. I wrote the lyrics in the album and also the spoken parts, because the spoken lyrics give a different ambience.
I did the vocal arrangement and the backing vocal arrangement too. I realize that I can give a different ambience with the vocal arrangement. Have you ever thought of composing different kinds of pop music?
In my latest album I couldn't experiment too much because I had to see the market, but if you're listening to “Bukan Milikmu” and “Tak Ada Logika” (No Logic), I'm trying to do the best I can to suit the pop R&B market.
I have different ornaments, but there's a lot of difference between Indonesia and overseas. Your voice shows such serious progression. Your comment?
Actually, it depends on the type of music. My first album is kind of cheesy pop. Anyone can sing it even if they don't know how to sing, it's totally composed for the market while this one demanded more technique. Tell us, what's with your fashion statement?
Stop the fashion system! It's one thing that is hard to accept in Indonesia. Because, people here think that the right fashion statement is jeans and T-shirt, the rest is just weird. Who make these rules?
So, this is something that I want to change, so that people can be more creative in expressing their style. I don't think everyone can be identical.
I'm not trying to prove anything by changing my costume and hairstyle. I'm just being honest with myself. For references, I look at Japanese magazines, you know J-style. What is your biggest fear?
To be honest, I'm afraid of failure, because I'm a perfectionist. On the positive side it is good. But looking at the negative side, the burden actually comes from myself, not from others. And I think how we handle it is important, that's the only way to face it.
Once, my GPA was not even 3.5, and I got really disappointed. All my friends said it was OK since my schedule was very tight.
But I was sad, because I want to get cum laude. You always look totally involved in whatever you do. Who has influenced your life the most?
My parents, especially my mom.
I'm not saying my dad is not involved, but my mom has always been around since I joined the entertainment business. She makes me strong. What makes me so happy about her is, she never blocked me from seeing the real world.
But she keeps watching me from a distance. So, when I encounter a problem, I handle it with my own principles. So you're very close to your mom?
I'm very close to my mom. She is my best friend and the best critic ever. We have a very open relationship.
She never complained about my style, instead she would say, "Nes, I don't want that dress".
Apart from that, she's not authoritarian, she would show me the negative and positive side. If you were given the opportunity to promote Indonesia, what would you promote?
Many people question why Agnes does not show an Indonesian style. I get confused by that. I'm singing R&B, do I have to wear kebaya?
Once, I tried to promote Indonesian traditional dancing. I got a big salute from one side and complaints from others. I get really tired of that. I just don't understand it.
I think, if I want to promote Indonesia I want everyone to give their support. If you look at India, many musicians use Indian elements, even Destiny's Child.
India is becoming very well known around the world. What's your opinion about our entertainment industry? What are the biggest challenges you have faced?
The Indonesian market is hard to predict. It always has a different trend. Actually, it is a big challenge. It's hard to predict the current market.
But I want to change our music references. We should not just listen to pop or dangdut but also listen to jazz, blues, pop-rock; any kind of music that will break the barriers, and finally create its own market. Do you still hang out with friends?
I still hang out a lot but not as much as other teenagers. I think it's the risk that I take. I don't mind. Looking at what I have now, I don't think there are many people in my position, so it's balanced.
I'm not the basa-basi (chit chat) type. My best friends are those with quality talk. So, I'm close to those who are older than me, and those who don't gossip a lot.
I don't like non-quality chit chat, at least the conversation I have should bring something meaningful. I don't like talking about others, because I think if you're pointing your finger at others, you'd better look at yourself first. And what do you do in your leisure time?
Just hang out or go to the movies with my friends. Is there anything you'd like to say to support people your age?
The most important thing is you are able to achieve something without using drugs. There are many people who use drugs and die. How come people don't see that?
To be honest, I am so against smoking and drugs. And the other thing is you have to be open-minded, you have to have a lot of knowledge.
So it's a guarded freedom, it's not just being as free as you want to be. You also must have principles, for example no drugs or casual sex. These are nonnegotiable principles. And also, you have to go to school and read a lot of books.