Whoa, Melly!

Anto Hoed and Melly Goeslaw (JP/J.Adiguna)

Melly Goeslaw taps out one last text message before being interviewed. She has working hands -- the kind that might even stretch to doing the dishes -- and a thing for red.

The singer's hair is a streaky, feisty orange-auburn; her Nokia, converse-style sneakers and bejeweled watch are all in shades of crimson. But her face is bare and clean, with nothing to obscure its surface.

Melly -- who on stage adopts the look of a fairy queen, her hair and eyelashes spiky and glossy/galactic glamour -- is plain, rough around the edges. Her sneakers say "true love", her T-shirt says "Fuct".

She is the type of person who sounds like she knows everything and nothing at once. There are few regrets.

"I wish I could play (musical instruments). But I don't want to learn from scratch. I need the help of a genie, so I can play instantly," Melly smiles, the corners of her mouth curling up.

Taking time out last week while overseeing the recording of the soundtrack for Cicak Man -- a Malaysian parody of Hollywood superhero films -- Melly explained that her husband, Anto Hoed, was also her other half in music, arranging all her songs.

"It always takes longer for me to compose a song compared to other musicians because sometimes Mas Anto is too busy and I have to beg him to match my lyrics and music."

The daughter of an Indonesian pop legend, the late Melky Goeslaw, Melly has learned to compromise, to stop wanting what she can't have.

Turning 33 this year, Melly is no longer at war with her body. There is no use in her comparing herself to divas Krisdayanti or Rossa.

The years of dieting; the liposuction last year -- these are things she can shrug off.

"I received protest messages from my fans when I had liposuction," she confided. "I feel fortunate, I guess. Now, even if I walk out on to the stage in my pajamas, there will be applause."

"The makeup and hairstyles were, at first, a way to hide my insecurity. Most women use black or brown eyeliner, I'd choose green or red instead. Now the wild makeup has become part of the package and it is something I take seriously with my creative team."


Melly, although role model material for young women, doesn't always need to be the one everyone is looking at. She has worked hard at supporting the careers of pop singers like Acha Septriasa and Irwansyah and Bukan Bintang Biasa.

Melly began her music career when she was in Bandung, where she was also born and went to school.

Her mother entered her in singing contests.

"I began singing when I was in fifth grade. Actually, I never liked singing but my mother was convinced I could sing like my father," Melly said.

In the mid-1990s, Melly decided to take singing seriously when she joined vocal group Elfa Secioria. She was still in high school but already in high demand as a backup singers for pop singers like Harvey Malaiholo, Vina Panduwinata and Andi Mariam Mattalata.

"We moved to Jakarta and I was doing backups at three different (recording) studios in Pluit in a day, imagine that," said Melly. The money was good enough to convince her to keep singing.

"I was a single woman and could suddenly afford to buy things I had only ever looked at," she said.

A turning point in her life came when she met music arrangers Anto Hoed -- now her husband - and Andi Ayunir. They were working for Katon Bagaskara on a three-month promo tour for his solo album Dinda.

"I replaced one of the backup singers. Mas Anto and Andi later urged me to make my own album. I married Mas Anto that year too," Melly said.

Anto and Melly struggled to make ends meet as newlyweds and the two worked on an album.

"I released my first album, Potret (Portrait), in 1995 with an enormous amount of help from Mas Anto and Andi."

Melly dared to be different, to be vulgar in her lyrics. She wrote about farting and about sadomasochism. She wrote not so much about the empowerment of women as about women living in reality.

"I never thought that way (about feminism). My songs are about how women can cheat on men too, for instance. I don't think I'm a feminist.

"My lyrics aren't *hear me roar' type of lyrics. I am just Melly. And the truth is I'm bored with what's on the market."

A mother to Anakku Lelaki Hoed, 7, and Lelaki Bernama Hoed, 4, Melly has never felt comfortable about being a celebrity and the accompanying fulsome praise.

"It puts me in a bete (bad mood) when I travel out of town and go to the mall. I can't go unnoticed," she said.

She regards the stage as a place where she can do as she likes.

"I love Bjork. When she was on stage (in recent Jakarta concert) she didn't change her clothes for 20 songs and people stayed in their seats.

"On stage I sing, I don't do sweet talk. It's better for me to focus on music.

In her spare time, Melly hits the malls, plays games with her sons and surfs the Internet. She is not a "book person", she says, but writes.

In 2005, an anthology of her short stories was published to commemorate the 10th year of her music career.

One of the short stories in the anthology, "Tentang Dia"(About Him/Her), was made into a film by director Rudy Sudjarwo.

She said she had never really thought about going international, having a limited understanding of other cultures.

"Take Anggun for instance, she has lived in France for years and knows exactly what the French want to hear. Here, everyone is familiar with Western bands but in Jember, or other small towns, they prefer Kangen or Peter Pan," Melly said.

Critics, she said, often incensed her to do something crazy -- albeit in a positive sense.

"When people criticized me for wearing unusual clothes and makeup, I would go even further the next time," said Melly whose digital music library holds albums by Rondo, Madonna, Bjork, Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos.

So, how does she measure success?

"If more and more people are professionally dependent on me -- that's an achievement.

And yet, "If you ever visit my house, you'll be surprised to see ... how big my house is," says Melly, with a hint of sarcasm.

"Hell no, I am not into those kind of material things. My house is minimalist unlike many other celebrities. But I am not a celebrity either, I am an artist."

Does she have any ambitions of being a movie star?

Melly pulled a face: "Watch out Christine Hakim, Dian Sastro*" she said with a twinkle in her eye.

Despite their comfortable lives, Melly and her sister/manager Yuli, who accompanied Melly during this interview, like to joke about their roots.

Yuli said they used to run into trouble whenever they applied for visas because they didn't have a family name.

"We're sisters from different fathers," Melly said. "Our mother married twice."

"My father married three times," she elaborated.

Yuli quickly jumped in, "My father married four times."

The pair's boisterous laughter made Melly's next comment almost inaudible: "Yeah, my life story is cool."

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