anggun is not your typical girl
With an illustrious career that spans decades and crosses generations, Anggun Cipta Sasmi is easily one of the unsung heroes in modern popular music. Twenty full years since her English debut, the Indonesian songstress is back with another one - her eighth - that not only looks back on some of her most notable outings but also looks forward to the long overdue recognition that someone of her stature rightfully deserves.
words by: Fajar Zakhri
From Madonna to Rihanna or Sade to Shakira, we revere our single-named superstars and iconoclasts and make legends out of them. With this propensity in mind, Anggun is already among their ranks and for valid reasons: how could she not with a showbiz career that has lasted for three decades and counting, numerous milestones and accolades achieved, multiple records broken and most importantly, musical oeuvres that constantly challenge and expand what pop music is and can be? After a highly successful stint as a young rock chanteuse in her native Indonesia, the Jakarta-born embarked on emigrated to Europe - first to London then to Paris - in the mid-90s with a dream of making it big in the Western world. And that's exactly what she achieved with her 1997 English debut, Snow on the Sahara, which toyed with the term "world music" and blurred the lines between pop, rock, R&B and new age. It also propelled her to international prominence and made her the first Indonesian act ever to appear on numerous record charts across the Atlantic. When she took the stage of the renowned music program Sessions at West 54th, it was also the first time ever that an Indonesian song had been performed on American television.
The next two decades saw the songstress broadening her sonic palette while flexing her songwriting and producing skills, dabbling in electronica in the early 2000s with Chrysalis and Open Hearts, a soundtrack album recorded for a Danish film of the same name, before returning to her rock roots with Luminescence in 2005 and Echoes in 2011 but not without a detour to R&B and hip-hop via 2008's Elevation. She did all this while recording nearly all of these albums in both English and French (the Indonesian releases would typically feature at least one of the songs adapted into the language), in addition to a wealth of collaborative projects and one-off tracks. This means that virtually no year has gone by since 1997 without any new Anggun music. With all this productivity, it might be befuddling why she isn't one of the world's biggest or most respected musicians or why there is limited recognition for her outside of Europe and Asia.
The Paris transplant's new album, 8, might just change that: armed with ten big pop tunes that wield the different influences she has concocted throughout her storied career and introduce new elements at the same time (there's a splash of dubstep in "Forget Her" and scrumptious lounge-pop in the autobiographical "Oceans", for starters), she sounds more assured and ready than ever for even bigger and better things. Meanwhile, the rest of the album updates on the singer's trademark pop-rock sound with a burst of bubbly, kinetic synths such as in the mid-section trifecta of "Righteous", "Alive" and "Medicine and Meditation". Lyrically, the album's opening duo, "No Promises" and lead single "What We Remember", set the tone for the album's push-and-pull between the personal and the universal: while the latter muses on life's transient nature set to delicate guitar lines and light, thumping beats, the former is one of her strongest statements of purpose to date, charting the early stages of an impending romance with blunt candor. "I am not your typical girl / I'm not interested in correcting your world," she sings over crunching guitar riffs and angelic vocal harmonies.
"As an artist, you just want your song to live as long and healthy as possible. You want your song to grow. For me, you know a song is good when you can hear it in different ways," she says. This rings all the truer in the case of "What We Remember", which has gone to the top ten of the Billboard dance charts thanks to its bank of club remixes and this, in true Anggun fashion, consequently made her the first Indonesian artist ever to reach the summit. With her first chart appearance in the United States in 20 years, is it a sign that she is on the cusp of a second coming? Does she feel like she still has something to prove even with all her unprecedented achievements? It does seem like she is not all that bothered. "When I look back, I probably could have done things differently, sold millions of records and been one of the most famous [stars in the world]," she muses. "But I don't know if I would be this free or happy or fulfilled. I have my creativity, and my honesty is something that I try to keep safe. Of course I'm a bit slow in writing songs and producing albums and sometimes the fans don't understand why I do certain things... but it all makes sense to me."
Never one to be bound by the rules, she made her own instead and has since crossed all borders and frontiers imaginable.
8 is out now via April Earth.