There's an old saying that eventually rings true to most young lovers who say "I do"—"Weddings aren't for the bride and groom." The "marriage" may be for the couple, but the "wedding" is actually for everyone else. OK, so all those long-as-hell traditions are for your parents. The party is for your friends. But everything else? Get real. We all know you're doing it for the `Gram.
Instagram is driving Indonesia's wedding wars to dizzying heights. In the past, you only needed to impress your family, friends, exes, co-workers, neighbors, family friends, local politicians, the doctor who delivered you as a baby, the preacher from down the street, the bosses at your current job, the bosses at the job you really want… the list sort of goes on.
But now, you need to impress all those people, plus millions of strangers stumbling across your amazing floral displays and 12-tiered cakes on Instagram too.
"Wedding trends on Instagram have risen the bar higher and higher," said Kevin Mintaraga, the CEO of Bridestory—the largest online wedding marketplace in Southeast Asia. "People look at the glamorous wedding photographs of their friends, relatives, or social media influencers and they want to match or outdo that."
The internet, meaning online vendors, search engine results, and, of course, social media, is responsible for about 40 percent of all decisions made by couples planning their wedding, a survey conducted by Bridestory found.
"The Indonesian wedding industry has definitely gone digital," Kevin told VICE. "Based on our research, smartphone usage dictates wedding trends in Indonesia."
Instagram is so ubiquitous that wedding companies don't even need to spend money on advertising anymore. Social media is more than enough to keep the best organizers, photographers, and MCs in business.
"This year, we spent almost nothing on marketing," said Aris, the co-founder of Wymm Organiser. "The pictures do the taking. If people like what they see, they ask their friends how to organize weddings like that, which vendors to contact, so on. We're never short of clients. Social media has made jobs so much easier for us."
Just how big is Indonesia's wedding industry? It's huge. More than two million people are married in Indonesia every single year. The average wedding totals 500 guests and cost as much as Rp 300 million ($22,500 USD)—which is nearly five times the average annual income. But 500 guests is only a "medium-sized" wedding in Indonesia. Plenty of others have guest lists in the thousands, and celebrations that last for days on end. It's not uncommon to see lines at Indonesian weddings that rival the queues for new Disney rides.
All together, the Indonesian wedding industry brings in an estimated $7 million USD annually. That's only $3 million USD less than the country's tourism industry. Indonesian couples spend about the same on weddings as their counterparts in the US, despite the fact that the average American earns 16 times more than the average Indonesian in a single year. It's no surprise that Indonesian couples often save for years for their weddings, or go into serious debt, borrowing money from friends and family left-and-right to finance their increasingly outrageous weddings.
How outrageous? VICE's Indonesia office sent me to the Bridestory Market 2017 out in one of Indonesia's pre-fab cities to find out. VICE's Indonesia office has written about the country's obsession with—and weird rules about—weddings before, but nothing prepared us for the levels some wedding planners are willing to go to create the perfect "Instagram wedding."
Kinsky, the director of marketing at Axioo Photography and Cinematography, told me their company offers newly engaged lovers a transcontinental photography tour that allows them to stage the pre-wedding photos in the most-exotic, eye-catching, and romantic places out there. It's almost a jet-setting pre-wedding honeymoon to places like London, Paris, and Switzerland.
"Pre-wedding photography has become a huge trend in Indonesia," Kinsky said. "It's an opportunity to play fashion models and travel to otherworldly destinations to take dreamy pictures for Instagram."
Then there's the wedding itself. One wedding planner told me a huge Indian wedding had Bollywood stars for entertainment, saline drips for hangovers, and massage tables, makeup booths, and hairdressers to help guests prepare for another all-day party. Another told me he had a wedding in Palembang, South Sumatra, that was so big the reception hall had to cut down a bunch of trees and build an entirely new, larger hall to fit everyone inside.
"After the wedding they tore the hall down and replanted the trees," said Mickey E.P. Adams, of Mitra Kreasi Indonesia. "It's outrageous."
So how much do those envy-inducing shots of gorgeous wedding halls cost?
"Our clients on average spend more than $70,000 USD on flowers alone," Mickey told me. "That's the minimum budget to create a decent, non-embarrassing decor for the standards of the Indonesian elite. We import fresh flowers straight from Europe or Africa."
These kinds of stories were insanely common among the vendors and wedding planners I interviewed. The Bridestory Market was a fairy-tale wonderland where every wedding dress is diamond-studded, every cake at least ten-tiers tall, and every single location the perfect spot for a killer selfie. Like, seriously, how good is this wallpaper?
And how is this a cake?
I spent the afternoon wandering around the Bridestory Market, lost in world of excess, when I ran into an old friend who was planning her own wedding. Jeanice Lie is an influencer, socialite, and jewelry-maker, so, of course, the pressure to have the perfect dream wedding must be on, right?
"I don't think so," she said. "At least, not consciously. I'm not trying to follow anyone. I am pretty secure with my own taste and style. But given my social media presence, I also have my own standards of what kind of wedding I want.
"After all, it's going to be my special day. I want beautiful pictures of a beautiful event. It boils down to your personality and your preference. If you have the resources to throw the wedding of your dreams, why not?"