Our willingness to learn from emotions takes time and introspection, but this comes easily for RAMENGVRL (real name: Putri Estian). From heartbreak to fake friends, self-realization, and breaking generational curses, the Indonesian artist will say what we can't — and she gets her point across, putting it all on the table for everyone to hear.
This is shown on tracks like "Ain't No MF" or her breakout "I'm Ugly," which documents years of transmuting negative notions surrounding east to west beauty standards. "Yes, I'm ugly/ I feel pretty," she sings. "I don't care 'bout what you saying/ I'm just me, that's all I need." Over trap-heavy beats, the song converts child-like insecurities into a statement of power.
RAMENGVRL's latest single, "Fake Friends," sees the rap princess step into a new, silky-pop cadence. "Especially in the music/ entertainment industry, I think there can be a lot of, well I won’t say "fake" per se, but people who might have other intentions of getting close to you," she says, explaining her playfully directed lyrics that challenge what she loathes in a friendship.
RAMENGVRL's exuberance may stick among the next wave of aspiring artists, but she leaves no one in the dust. By broadening the spectrum of what's known in the Indonesian music scene, she’s opening doors, leading new musicians inside and tossing a key for whomever dares to follow her.
As she continues on a journey of self-discovery, PAPER talks about fake friends, beauty standards and cultural criticism with RAMENGVRL, below.
What inspired you to make your new single, "Fake Friends"?
I remember thinking at that time that people are just disappointing. It’s not that they’re not great, like you’re not perfect either. It’s just that I used to put the highest regards to people I barely knew, then end up crying because of it. Especially in the music/ entertainment industry, I think there can be a lot of, well I won’t say "fake" per se, but people who might have other intentions of getting close to you. I knew that already, but the pandemic made me realize even more who stays because it's you, and who was there because of your status.
What makes you a real friend?
A real friend for me is someone who is always there every time you need them. They don’t have to be there every time you wanna hang out, but when you got problems they’ll pull through. They definitely aren’t gone when you fell off a bit and they wouldn’t be too "out there" when you’re at your peak either. They’re just chill. I realize I just described a dog, maybe dogs are the only real friends.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in making music?
That even when you have money and can now buy the things you have always wanted as a kid (or an adult too, really), you can still feel inadequate. And that doesn’t stop you from your overthinking tendencies at 3 AM, either. That, and not to sign shit without reading it.
If you didn’t have music, how would you express yourself?
Through YouTube vlogs. I used to run a blog and write casual think pieces on forums in college, so I can really see me switching into its more visual sibling now. And Twitter too, but most likely to vent.
What have you learned in terms of approaching hip hop, a western-dominated genre, and making it yours?
People from around the world can enjoy my work with little to no barrier. I learned a lot, especially seeing rappers that keep emerging from Asia, that you don’t have to be cooped up in these boxes on what hip hop should be or shouldn’t be. Mix three to four languages, use your own slang, you don’t have to be lyrical or make sense if you don’t want to, do whatever. At the end of the day you make music to inspire and entertain people, and that’s got nothing to do with genres or any definition.
What is the biggest criticism you’ve had while pursuing this genre as an Indonesian artist, and what does it feel like to pave the way for others?
Indonesia is a very conservative country and religion is a pretty big deal here. A lot of things get connected to, is it "moral" or not? Not to mention that it’s not really an English-speaking country. So you bet that when I first started people were asking me, "Why you have a song called 'I’m Da Man? You’re a woman, though.'" Or when I say “Alhamdulillah" in a song (cause I’m feeling grateful), people think I’m trying to troll the religion and start dragging me in my TikTok comments — all that good stuff. Honestly, I don’t mind it. It kinda comes with the job. And aren’t you guys tired of seeing the same female representation on the charts?
How has making music fostered your relationship with mental health? What have you discovered about yourself along the way?
Music helped me get through tough times, for real. I remember I was still doing a corporate office job and was so stressed out about it. I would get home and just record demos talking about the “bitches on 30th floor” or "why people enslave themselves to spend more than they earn" and shit, and be ready for another day. Words helped me get all that out. It’s always been like that. Before I did that with music, I did that with writing a diary. I have around 11 diary books in total since junior high.
What power lies in being ugly?
“Ugly” means you don’t fit in mainstream society’s standards, and that’s OK. Yes, showering yourself with body positivity is great, but a lot of people don’t really fit into that idea of pushing themselves to love themselves. It doesn’t work like that, like mental health, it’s not linear, it’s not A then B. You can’t force someone who’s already stressed out with their appearance or situation to do that, that’s putting even more pressure. But there’s power in saying, "I may be ugly to you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t kill it."
Is it hard to navigate new attention surrounding your talent and looks, while still having the mentality of your younger self and holding power in being "ugly"?
A little bit. Sometimes when I perform the track in front of people I've thought to myself, "Do they think I’m 'ugly'? Did they actually get the message of the song or are they mocking me now?" But then I remember the people that might give hate might not even have the brain capacity to process my songs either so.
If there was a movie about what the future held for RAMENGVRL, what would happen?
First of all, that’d be a boring movie cause the main character just sits all day playing games. But she got some sad days too. At least now she’s sad in a fancy bachelor-esque apartment in Tokyo.
Photos courtesy of RAMENGVRL