When Agnez Mo enters a room, hearts stop. Conversations hush. Those within a 10-foot radius hasten to conceal the a collective realization that right before them is somebody. Agnez Mo walks the subtle swagger of someone who couldn't care less how you perceive her, but simultaneously hopes to leave a strong impression. Her look — a smorgasbord of colors, patterns and jewelry — is as loud as she is, announcing her vivacity to all in the vicinity.
The Western world may have trouble placing the Indonesian superstar, but Mo has lived in the spotlight since she was six years-old. Growing up in Jakarta as a daughter to two professional athletes, Mo was a child singing sensation who became a soap star, only to return to her roots as a solo artist. She has since collaborated with everyone from Timbaland to T.I. and garnered a cool 35 million loyal fans watching her every move across all social platform. Thousands stream her new releases in a matter of minutes. Despite her immeasurable success during a career spanning the better part of three decades (and a recent move to image-obsessed music mecca, Los Angeles) the singer says she's primarily committed to maintaining her authentic — but with the drop of her debut international album X, it won't be long until Agnez Mo conquers the universe.
Okay, let's start with the album name, X. Tell me everything.
So X is actually ten. So X is actually the roman numeral of ten and it dropped on the 10th of October. Then ten has always been my lucky number. I think I'm just surrounded with the number 10 in general because I remember when I first came out to LA, the flight was on the 10th of October. Then when I did something with Timbaland, the first song that we were vibing basically was saying you're a dime and dimes are 10. It's like everything I do is surrounded by that number. It's so crazy. I don't really believe in that sort of thing, it's just a cute idea to have, like oh that's my lucky number. I made it a thing, then I'm actually thinking of getting a tattoo, my first tattoo ever.
You haven't had any yet? At 31?
No not yet. I'm thinking I'll get the binary code of Agnez Mo. I'm such a nerd at heart. I'm a geek seriously. I'm all about books, technology, and retro stuff. The cool thing about binary code is that the computer language, it consist only of ones and zeros. Like 10. So it's like A, you have maybe one, zero, zero, zero, one, zero, one. It's ones and zeros. It was kind of like I'm a nerd, I'm a geek, and then it's one's and zero's which makes perfect sense.
Is this record a departure from your previous work? How has "Agnez Mo" evolved in the past three years?
Yes. I gave myself time to really find, not that I didn't know who I was, but I took the time to really find me. Sometimes I would be in the studio and I would write something, record it, and go, "Oh my gosh. I just found out something new about myself that I didn't know." I'm going to tell the person who's always about the vibe, who's always about loyalty to my own people, and stuff like that. I don't want to be working with too many producers, too many songwriters, just to get hits. It's not all about that. It's about the vibe of the people who work on the project. I'm really grateful to be able to say that the people who's on this project, who's on this album, are the people that needs to be, they are with me. The right people with the right vibes. It's almost like the universe kind of shakes off. It just shakes off the people who are not.
It's so admirable you took that amount of time out to really create someone meaningful. I just spoke to British pop singer, who said she's seeing all the "young ones" come up, you know, 17 or 18 year-olds pop off and she feels "too old." She's 25. Do you ever think about that? Is age ever a consideration for you?
Well I feel the good thing about my position is that I have strong social media presence and I think that my music speaks to the younger generation too, so not really. At the end of the day the songs that we listen to are Cardi B songs, DJ Khaled songs, and it's like their age range is defiantly not the same. It doesn't really matter where you came from.
DJ Khaled and Cardi B are also artists who are unafraid to embrace their personalities, which has actually assisted them massively in their music careers.
Absolutely. That's why I took the time for that album to come out. I'm a sentimental person so when I say that for me the sentiments behind the songs is also what's important as the song itself.
You mentioned you want those on your team to be ride-or-die, do you often come across people who aren't committed to or invested in you? Who see you as another "project"?
How can you tell they're disingenuous?
I guess I've been in the game for so long. I literally released my first single when I was six years-old. I've been in the business ever since that. You can tell when someone's genuine or not. Then because I took the time, in the process [of making the album], and the good ones who are really there with you and believe in the project are still there. That's how I know. Time will tell, but sometimes people aren't patient enough. I'm not that type of person. I'm patient enough to actually know my people and know the people who talk the talk. At the end of the day you can't fuck with everybody. You're not in this world to make everybody happy. That's why I love [New York] because I feel like people are so content with who they are. They just don't feel like they have to please everybody. That's the vibe that I get here.
How was the transition from Jakarta to LA? Did you feel pressure to integrate yourself into "the scene"?
I'm not here to become Miss Congeniality. That's why I think I can survive that whole scene. I don't really care about being accepted. If the moment is there and if I need to be their then I need to be there. I'm content with where I'm at. The right people love my vibe and love the project. I don't really need to be accepted by certain people if I don't fit into that category. I'm just going to be real and sometimes the realness can be a little too much for them. For people there they want you to all look the same so that they can understand you.
What about the fame? Are you able to be normal when you go out?
That's the thing I don't really go out. I would be in the studio working, then I have my team who's going to be there with me, but then I don't really go out. Don't get me wrong I love LA. When you meet the right people, yes you meet the right people, but it's just in general I just feel like I don't want to conform or fit in a box. I feel like in LA people really need to be strong and secure mentally because that place can really reel you in. It's the expectations. I think it's in the entertainment business. When you see the artists that we actually respect you see how they are not like that. Other artists are doing that but then they don't see people who are at the top.
Who is that for you?
Justin Timberlake...Beyonce. She keeps it in the family. Justin Timberlake's manager is my manager. He's all about his craft, it's all about the music. If you want to be an artist then you don't want people to think, "Oh I know her from dating so and so." I think that's why Justin Timberlake is Justin Timberlake. Every time and everything that he puts out people are going to trust that it's going to be one dope record.
Also you both were child stars who managed to stay at the top of the game.
I grew up in a family of super devoted Christians and both my parents are former national athletes. So the way that I was raised wasn't like all of a sudden I was famous and got caught up in the glamorous life. I was raised by two strong individuals with great work ethics.
How do you they feel about the way your career has turned out?
I think for them it's about doing it the right way. As long as I don't get caught up with the nonsense. That's probably why I didn't get sucked into this world. Growing up it was all about the production and if you're touring in the next couple of months then you need to be at the rehearsal spot every day and not at the club. Stuff like that. Because I was raised that way, when I got to LA I didn't feel like I had to go out there and show myself. I've never been that kind of artist.
Which is so funny because you have such a massive fan base for not being that self-promoting kind of artist.
I just feel like there are people who aren't patient enough to get to where they want to be because of social media and how fast this world is now. Everybody just wants everything so quick. Not a lot of people have the patience to actually do the work. For them it's all about who's going to be in my next Insta story. Whereas me I'm fortunate enough to be able to grow up not in the middle of that. When I built my career in Asia social media wasn't there yet. After a while yes the social media helped me boost my career. I got the best of both worlds. I always look at social media as the vehicle and not as the fuel. Again a lot of people think that social media is the fuel which is why that's wrong. For me social media is the vehicle but the fuel is supposed to be about your artistry. At the end of the day if you don't have that fuel where is the vehicle going to go? If you have that fuel you can put it in any vehicle and then it's going to run by itself.
That's a very mature and rational response. It must be the whole tiring part of the process having to continually keep up. I mean I have friends who have had 3,000 Instagram followers then just quit.
Because everybody just has something to say. Every time.
People pick you apart?
Yes, but that kind of comes with the job. What I'm seeing is that people are doing it not only to artists though. They're doing it to each other. People act like we're immune and don't feel bad anymore if we say something bad.
Everyone has become numb.
Yes because everyone's doing the same thing. I basically run my own social media.
You do? That's rare.
Yeah. I want to keep a sense of authenticity because it's my brand. I don't want any company to handle my social media and at the same time I don't want my social media to be filled with content that is only there to satisfy people. I don't have music out, if I don't have anything worth saying, I'm not going to post on social media just because I have to or just because according to the rules you have to post once a day. That's why I usually do a social media fasting. A social media fasting or diet.
You don't worry about people becoming disengaged?
No. The beauty of it is that I grew up in the middle of both worlds. I realized for me to get to the place that I am now wasn't because of social media. It was because of the work that I put into myself.
How long did you go or do you go?
I could probably do one month. I did that before. I did a month before because I wanted to focus on the projects and the people around me at that time. Then sometimes I would do two weeks straight, then I would go back online, then for two weeks, and then another two weeks. When I do that I feel I have more engagement to the people around me. I'm not saying to alienate your fans but at the end of the day you can't forget that the people around you are your core. In your inner circle. I don't want to be caught up in this and then forgetting the real things and what's important. There are a lot of things that I found out by not doing that. I didn't realize I was actually missing out on a lot of things when I focusing on that.
As a former child star who has transitioned into this international sensation, can you look at those who've followed the same path and fell off, and relate to them?
I don't know what's wrong with them, because I'm not in their shoes. I have no idea. For my parents, it was like,
"Sure you've won awards," but the appreciation came from, "Oh my gosh you woke up early to rehearse," good for you. That's the type of appreciation that I grew up receiving. Getting that was like a sense of security that it's actually fine for me to be normal. I couldn't think of a better answer than I was allowed to be normal.
What's been your most insane fan interaction?
People cry or whatever. The craziest is there have been several people, with a fan, who has proposed to me. They told my management that we were engaged. So they go, "I'm here with my parents, because were already engaged, so we just want to discuss the wedding date." They sent some crazy emails.
Emailing your parents like when could we set up a date for the wedding?
Exactly. Then there was a phone call.
Do you feel to use your platform to speak on social justice issues? You clearly have a massive influence.
Absolutely. I have always believed in using your words and choosing your words wisely. It's not going to help solve the problem if you're apart of bashing the people you don't like. You're just going to be the same. Whenever I want to speak out about something I just want to make sure whatever I'm saying is not to bash that person. Making it about the positive message and actually talking about the solution instead of asking someone, "Why did you do this is?" Like come on everybody else is doing that. Also doing what I do now as a woman now everybody especially women can choose who they want to be. If you're comfortable in showing your sexuality then it's fine. For example, I wrote an oath of love — love should be the weapon basically — and I asked people to take that oath with me and it was on national television. All of a sudden the government of Indonesia and also the United Nations basically made that official declaration of peace.
They made it a declaration of peace?! Did you predict that?
The only thing that I wanted to do was use my platform to make peace and love cool. Right now it feels like whenever you diss somebody that's cool. That's edgy. But that's just you being impolite. For me, be a part of the solution, you have to realize even though you don't like it, when you're in a certain position, when you have a certain influence and power, you have to know that's bigger than yourself now. You can't just say whatever the fuck you want to say anymore. Especially if you leaders of the country and people trust you to be in that position so that you can be a better representative for us.
Do you worry about being a role model?
No not really, I don't want to focus on being an inspiration just for the sake of being an inspiration. I tell my fans that even though you're from Asia you can come out here and make it happen too, but they're not going to believe it until I actually come out here and do the work. I want to be that better person so then it will automatically influence them. Every day I want to be a better self.
How do you hope the world will Agnez Mo after this album? What do you want to be the take away?
Authenticity and realness. At the end of the day it's about the realness. There needs to be some kind of understanding and mutual respect, then understanding that me as an artist, I'm evolving. I was just myself and it's so liberating and I love the fact that I get to play with that role every day and in the studio without being judged. I didn't want to write a song about a heartbreak, I wanted to talk about love because it's the most beautiful thing in the world. It started with that, it comes out in the lyrics that I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to write another song about heartbreak. I don't want to be put in a box. One day I want to be feminine, then another day I want to be fucking sexy, another day I want to be vulnerable. I feel like that's strength. That's what real.
Listen to Agnez's album X below.