Remembering Agung Hercules

By: Patricia Kusumaningtyas |

After a lengthy battle against brain cancer, Indonesian singer-actor Agung Hercules passed away this afternoon in a hospital in Central Jakarta. He became a household name back in 2011, when his single “Astuti” went into the mainstream and his idiosyncratic brand of a bodybuilder-cum-dangdut singer enthralled the Indonesian masses. For an outsider, Agung Hercules was just another dangdut singer with a one-hit wonder, or another bodybuilder internet sensation. But for the people who grew up during the heyday of his only dangdut hit, “Astuti,” Agung Hercules was much, much more than that.

The first lines of “Astuti” is as idiosyncratic as the man could be; it said “Tegangan cinta tak dapat dihindar lagi / Kala ku coba menyapamu Astuti” (“I can’t get away from love’s voltage / when I try to say hello to you, Astuti”). This was an inside joke for a whole country; no matter what kind of people I meet and where I meet them back then—middle school friends, family members, students from other schools I met through competitions—they can fill in the blanks of those first two lines of the song. “Tegangan cinta” (“love’s voltage”) is where I find a lot of my peers comparing Hercules to Thor; we reclaimed him as our own local superhero way before Joko Anwar remade Gundala.

His idiosyncratic branding was what made him famous really quickly. No one, back then, could associate bodybuilding—a serious activity—with something as non-serious as dancing and dangdut music. Our icons of bodybuilding are people like Levi Rumbewas, Syafrizaldi, and Ade Rai; these are the people we see in fitness centers, motivational videos, and energy drink advertisements—these are the people we could be intimidated with if we were to meet them in real life. However, Hercules’s forte—dangdut music—is far from intimidation. Being the music of our country, it brings together a lot of people and encourages its listeners to lay down all their problems and dance their hearts out.

Agung Hercules broke this mold of seriousness as the end-all-be-all of bodybuilders. “Tidak goyang, barbel melayang” (“if you don’t dance, this barbell flies to you”), he said during his lifetime. He did the impossible; he reconciled two forms of self-expression and toned down the bodybuilding world’s intimidation with the familiarity of dangdut. He showed the nation that life shouldn’t be all flashy and full of LinkedIn lies—fun and music is also a part of our identities that we can’t erase. He made himself a household name based on his love of fun, and he must’ve put a smile at every Indonesian’s face who’s alive during his heyday, for once.

Hercules might not be that prolific as artists whose careers span generations, or he might not be as flashy as artists who carefully think about their visual branding. Despite that, we owe Agung Hercules a lot for the development of our pop culture history, and Indonesia has lost a pop culture force to be reckoned with.

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