Who better to ask about the best Indonesian love songs than the musicians of Malioboro Street in Yogyakarta?
They spend their evenings entertaining throngs of tourists as they eat the pecel lele and ayam goreng plied by the street vendors. These guys know what works; what’s popular, what gets people tapping their feet and singing along, what gets the Rp5,000 notes landing in hats, baskets, and bowls.
Yes, love songs very much exist in Western music, but the idea seems to be all-pervading in Asian music. Indeed, one of the first phrases I learned in Bahasa Melayu when I moved to Malaysia nine years ago was “saya sayang awak” after an evening in a karaoke bar with workmates. It was in every song, whether it was the twenty-something girls I was partying with or the gruff 40-somethings in their bandanas and tattoos getting up to sing their rock songs. Then in Indonesia, I learned “saya cinta kamu” as I roam around Yogyakarta.
With so many love songs in Indonesian music, it’s not so easy to choose some of the best. What makes a good love song anyway? Is it about how many people remember it? The soaring lyrics? The musicianship that crafts the riff and melody?
A good love song is indeed a subjective idea, but after hours of consultation with a group of successful street musicians at Malioboro, here’s what I’ve pieced together. This collection comes after hours of animated debate, plenty of half-remembered lyrics and riffs-gone-wrong, and more than a few confused people getting harangued into our discussion.
Got a date with an Indonesian on Valentine’s Day? Whether they’re hipster, achingly cool, mad for pop culture, or stuck in their teeny-bopper phase, you’ll have something to talk to them about.
The Best Modern Classic Love Song
“Ada Yang Hilang” – Ipang Lazuardi
Although only released this past decade, “Ada Yang Hilang”, or “Something is Missing”, has become a classic song of heartbreak. Indonesian singer Ipang Lazuardi sings of a love lost, someone who has walked away after giving her his everything.
The song follows a tried and tested form for music for the heartbroken. Opening with piano riffs, slow strings rise up in the background as the pain in Ipang’s voice comes through. The guitars kick in, chords at first and then take the melody before elevating into a decent solo before the bridge.
Musically, it wouldn’t be out of place on a modern rock album anywhere else in the world. The feeling is something like Queen’s “Love of My Life”; the pain and the longing, the craving for someone to come back to his side.
If you’re looking to sound credible when talking about Indonesian love songs, you can’t go far wrong with Ipang. He’s had a long career in music, having been in Plastik Band in the 90s and still working with BIP, too. When your intended Valentine stomps all over your heart the week before the romantic evening you had planned, spend a night with “Ada Yang Hilang” and all will be well.
The Best Old School Love Song
“Angin Malam” – Broery Marantika
I’m assured that Broery was the Elvis of his time, known for his intimate relationship with his audience and ballads that will bring a tear to your eye. Broery was a choirboy in his youth and the choral influence is evident in this song, and an understanding of how to capture the ear of the listener.
There’s poetry to the lyrics, with natural metaphors as Broery is missing a woman who’s no longer by his side. The twinkle of the guitar in the background, as well as the gentle power in his voice, is reminiscent of Elvis’ Now or Never.
“Angin Malam” is an oldie; it came up in conversation when I asked a 30-year-old what would be his parent’s favourite love song. If you’re looking to impress a date with your cultural knowledge and hipster prowess this Valentine’s, have this song on your playlist.
Best Cheesy Love Song
“Dia” – Anji
As I first listen to this song, I’m reminded of Elvis Costello’s “She”. It’s not just the title that is similar, there’s a simple tune with acoustic guitars and gentle strings. Anji’s lyrics lack the poetry and big ideas that Costello gives; he sticks to simple thoughts like “I love her, I miss her, and I want her.”
As a way to illustrate to me how popular this song is, one of the guys helping me decided to do a musical vox pop. As we sat on Malioboro, he called out to random people passing by and sang a line from “Dia” and without exception, the four people we surveyed all replied with the next line, as if by instinct mixed with mild confusion.
To cement the judgement of cheesy, Anji has trodden a path well-known to pop fans in the West. Failed contestant on popular talent show? Check. Joins a band, gets famous as band’s front man, and then leaves in acrimony to go solo. Check, check, and check. When your date is a follower of all things pop culture, this is the song you need to be learning for your late-night serenade.
Best Boyband Love Song
“I Heart You” – SM*SH
If your misspent youth had Backstreet Boys, N*SYNC, and Take That as its soundtrack, you’re going to feel right at home with this slice of cutesy pop-tastic tuneage. Their manufactured pop credentials are strong, having gone through a bootcamp with their management before being launched onto the Indonesian music scene ten years ago.
The lyrics are most definitely cringeworthy, as the chorus – sang in English – trills “Girl, I need you / Girl, I love you / Girl, I heart you…” The production of the music as well as the video sit somewhere on the border of: well done and just a little too much. The dance routine feels very Kpop sensation, BTS whilst the slow close-ups with puppy eyes are right out of a Westlife promo.
For a Valentine’s date who has a strong appreciation of irony, or left their music taste in the teen-hood, get learning how to throw SM*SH style shapes and learn the rap breakdown from this song.