Releasing music about love on Valentine’s Day isn’t anything that will break the mold, but Stephanie Poetri’s new duo of songs “Do You Love Me?” and “Touch” aren’t necessarily about reinventing the 21st century pop wheel: for the 19-year-old hailing from Jakarta, music is all about making people feel good, and a way to make the world a better place.
“I keep telling people [my] goal is to make soundtracks to people’s lives, so I really want my songs to either be in their shower playlist or [when] they’re going to bed,” she says days before the release in a sunlit room of 88rising’s New York City office. “I want my songs [to] just define parts of their lives as they go through it.”
Romance is the object of Poetri’s songs for now, but it’s far from the only topic she wants to address as she develops as an artist, and so is playing around for now with different ideas of what love is. Last year’s “I Love You 3000” was her idealistic, geeky debut single that landed her on several charts, including the Next Big Sound, in part thanks to its viral-ready nod to the Avengers franchise, and her new laid back, introspective single “Do You Love Me?” and its acoustic B-side “Touch” are based on alternate approaches to romance. “They’re kind of anti-romance, which is really funny because I’m releasing them on Valentine’s Day,” she says with a laugh. “One is very much a mature understanding of lovers, and one is a mature kind of way to accept people who don’t love you back.”
hey babies i just released my first ep and this pic is basically me everytime i hear it — theres ‘do you love me’ hope u like it but if u dont then thats okay — cus theres another called ‘touch’ and u better like at least one or else imma come getchuu — https://t.co/UpQCLmj4sv pic.twitter.com/WTL5jsAsIN
— stephaniepoetri (@poetristephanie) February 14, 2020
Poetri admits she doesn’t have a lot of firsthand experience with love since she’s still pretty young, but that’s okay: her music is about telling stories, inspired from her father’s love of country music. Hailing from Texas, her father, a music teacher, once spent a train ride in the U.S. to introduce her to writing songs of the genre and emphasized its narrative structures. She also spent much of her time in school writing poems, and is essentially nowadays just putting them to tunes, ones she often comes up with in her shower. Stephanie’s overall goal is not necessarily to become known as a singer, but a songwriter; she is more than happy being behind the scene, sharing her musicality with the world and helping others out.
“At first, I didn’t really want to be a musician because, like, how am I going to help people? Maybe right now I’m not necessarily helping that many people but I’ve listened to songs that helped me go through really bad days. Sometimes songs can help people the same way psychology does, even though it’s not like that much but it gets people through their days which is really nice.”
Though she was setting out to pursue higher ed, in between graduating from an Indonesian international high school in May 2018 and when she was expected to begin college, Poetri focused her attention on music and saw interest in what she was doing, and it led to “I Love You 3000.” She has since signed with 88rising, where she’s one of the only pop singers signed to the Asian-oriented brand, which primarily features a roster full of hip-hop and R&B artists.
Though she’s new on the scene, Stephanie Poetri has been surrounded by music her entire life: her mother is Indonesian pop diva Titi DJ. Because of growing up with the spotlight shining on their family, Poetri never thought trying her hand at fame would be for her. “I grew up in the limelight, I kind of wanted to try to grow up not being there. And then one day, I was like, ‘You know what, you have one life. I want to do as much good in the world as I can. And I think one of the ways to kind of [do that] is — not be famous but like… You have to gain an audience.’ That’s weird,” she says, chuckling wryly.
“I Love You 3000” proved to be popular among listeners, and was later remade as “I Love You 3000 II” on the 88rising collective album Head in the Clouds II. Joined on this new version by Jackson Wang, who is both a soloist and member of K-pop boy band GOT7, it helped boost her profile further, introducing her to K-pop’s audience. Which thrilled her, as she’s a self-proclaimed fan of many acts, including GOT7 (she says Jackson is her bias wrecker, but JB has her heart) and Wang’s solo releases. “I was into his stuff even before I met him, and I was intrigued to see what he would do with the song [for the feature]. Was he going to rap? I didn’t know. And then he came back. I was like, ‘He is singing!’” (Her #songwritinggoals for a K-pop act, though, is Red Velvet.)
More than for herself, Poetri is hoping to use her rising prominence to get the attention of those who may want to collaborate with her as a songwriter, with her overall goal being someone who creates music for others to interpret via their own artistry. Because of this, she gets immense joy out of seeing what others do with her work, whether it’s Wang’s addition to the song or covers posted on YouTube by listeners.
In general, Stephanie Poetri is very determined to turn herself into someone who can give others a boost, both artistically and otherwise. Pursuing a career in the U.S. with support from 88rising and seeing major attention already, the almost-20-year-old knows it seems like she’s had it easy and risen rapidly, and that makes her question how she can pay it forward. “Am I the best person to represent my country?” she wonders aloud. “I just always try my best to represent Indonesia well, and to also kind of make sure I’m doing my part and do my best on the platform I’ve been given, because I know there’s a lot of talented people that aren’t necessarily as lucky as me. So I just want to make sure that we provide a bigger platform so that you don’t have to be lucky to be able to do what you love.”
Contemplating her place in the industry, Poetri is aware of her privilege, coming from a music-oriented family with entry into the entertainment world, plus she is an American citizen so was able to pick up from Jakarta and move to Los Angeles to pursue her dream at a time when many overseas entertainers are struggling with visas. “I had a highway honestly, and it was my decision to either use a highway or go pursue another job. I was like, ‘It might take long, but I can work hard so that other people can get the highway.’”
Take a listen to Stephanie Poetri’s new songs here.