Villano Antillano Is Embracing Her Power as Reggaeton's Prominent Trans Artist

Giovannie Berdecía
Giovannie Berdecía

The male gaze is a powerful thing. For the majority of history, it has been the only gaze that mattered. As a result, much of women's history has been skewed through its perspective. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the dichotomy of pariah and protagonist: Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, and countless others have had their actions and impacts scrutinized only to be branded one or the other.

The reggaetonera Villana Santiago Pacheco, known to fans as Villano Antillano or La Villana, is no stranger to this treatment. But as she rewrites the narrative with complex, often biting wordplay and an unapologetic attitude, the 28-year-old has become both the protagonist of her own story and reggaeton's latest movement, and a pariah to those minds who would seek to impose their traditional values and prejudice to marginalize her identity. But if you ask La Villana herself — one of reggaeton's first prominent trans artists — the negative sentiments and publicity actually have very little to do with her.

"I don't feel that that has anything to do with me, you feel me? Because I recognize my power," Antillano tells POPSUGAR.

It's this confidence, cultivated over the years, that has allowed her to triumph in a male-dominated genre rife with sexism and machismo. According to Antillano, the pressures of growing up queer in the chaos of one of Puerto Rico's most infamous barrios, Bayamón, mean she's been tailor-made to not only handle the slings and arrows that come with success but to triumph with her art as well.

"I think that queer people like me, we gravitate towards creativity because we have to be creative to survive."

"I think that queer people like me, we gravitate towards creativity because we have to be creative to survive," she says. "Our lives depend on it."

This mentality is evident in how Antillano approaches her music. In a genre that can sometimes value quantity over quality — largely due to shrinking attention spans and streaming services — Villano takes a more curated approach. She simply won't rap over a beat that doesn't speak to her. And when she finds one that moves her, you can be sure she's going to knock it out of the park with a mix of witticism, wordplay, and braggadociousness that harkens back to some of the genre's best spitters.

"I loved Héctor el Father and Tego Calderón . . . artists that were really heavy on wordplay and had a very particular way of rhyming," she says. "I think there's a skill to that, and it's something very Caribbean. You know, the way that we have a way with words, we bend them and repurpose them."

Giovannie Berdecía

Beyond a preternatural skill for bending the Caribbean dialect any way she wants, there's a certain theatricality that characterizes Antillano's body of work, a kind of polished sheen that denotes even her most unadulterated underground tracks. It's the sense that every lyric, every snare drum, every intonation has been meticulously worked over. There are no happy accidents on a Villano track. Everything you hear is by design. And again, the artist is quick to credit her queer identity and the larger LGBTQ+ community for this.

"I cannot half-ass things, because the first people that are going to come for me are the queer community. And they're going to read me the filth. As they should," the artist says. "You know, life has given us many knocks that we have to excel. So, it's natural for me to excel," the singer says.

Antillano has a natural way of turning on her charisma, making bombastic statements seem like pure logic and taking the edge off the more harrowing aspects of her life. The latter is on display as she talks about her years spent having to play the part of a cisgendered man to get by and survive.

"Living in stealth mode is something we have to learn prolifically," she says of being queer. "I feel like I'm a great actress, honestly, that I'm like, 'Where's my Oscar?' And it's because for many years of my life, I had to portray someone I was not. So, of course, I'm theatrical. All my life has been theatrical."

Antillano adds that she "lied" to people until she "reached a point where I was secure enough to just be me. Regardless of the consequences." And that artistic talent she cultivated translates to her music. "I just can't help it. I'm excellent," she says with a smirk.

Speaking of those acting skills, Antillano recently got to show them off in her video "Reina de la Selva," a collaboration with Puerto Rican reggae-pop crooner Pedro Capó. The latest release off of her album "Sustancia X," the video sees the reggaetonera living out her fantasy of being a Bond Girl as she and Capó are chased through PR's exotic locales and winding roads.

However, what the artist finds most noteworthy about the collaboration is what it represents for her musically.

"Pedro is regarded as a pop artist here, and for me, this was like my pop moment, my Katy Perry moment, because I'm an artist that realistically, I don't expect to be played on the radio because I don't make music that's apt for the radio," she says. "I'm a hardcore b*tch, and I touch on hardcore subjects. So this was my moment to do something family-oriented."

And perhaps this is what is so fascinating about Antillano. Yes, she is a champion of the queer community. Yes, she represents a shift in the úrbano genre that has seen women not only rise to the top but also do it by beating down the doors themselves and helping each other through. But still, her sound is pure, unadulterated reggaeton/trap that honors the underground pioneers of the genre without catering to a single demographic.

"Truthfully, [my music] is for the whole world. The point is to access a feeling inside people, and that feeling is universal."

"Truthfully, [my music] is for the whole world. The point is to access a feeling inside people, and that feeling is universal. You want to dance, you want to feel like a badass. Those are things that everybody can connect with without letting politics interfere and saying, 'Oh wait, this is a trans person singing this,'" she says. "You know, I feel like my music has transcended — like, it's no longer just for the queer experience, even though that's a major part of it. I think that at the end, we're all just human beings floating on a rock in space, so let's not get too serious about it."

But while Antillano likes to avoid opening the door to negative thoughts, she is very aware of the reality the queer community faces on a daily basis across the world and on the island. Puerto Rico has the highest transgender murder rate of any US state, and the trans community there continues to be the target of violence. So despite the success she has achieved in creating a sound that honors the "reggaeton pesa'o" that everyone can enjoy, as a champion of the trans community and public figure, Antillano admits that fear is something she has had to learn to live with and control.

"Fear has always been with me. I've just learned to ignore it because if not, you can't live your life," she says. "I think I had to grapple with fear a lot, out. But there's fear that transcends fear for oneself. More than myself, it would break my heart if something were to happen to one of my friends or the people I love."

To grapple with this, the artist says she has had to become actively fearless. And while people may try to call her out or criticize her, she is quick to elevate herself above it, getting philosophical to combat ignorance.

"Nobody can convince me that I'm not the most powerful person in the world. On this physical plane, if we want to talk about alchemy, I've committed the ultimate work of alchemy, which is literally changing my body on a molecular level," Villano explains. "I know what it's like to be on the other extreme, to have a completely different body, and I know what it's like to move to the other side, and to be split between both, and to be here now. So nobody can talk to me about power."

What Villano is referring to is the alchemical rebis, the purification, and the separation of opposing qualities that are eventually united into a single divine body and spirit. Historically, it was considered the magnum opus of the discipline. And it's a fitting description for the rapper. Not only to describe her transition but also the way in which she approaches her music. Her process is an alchemical stew, mixing beautiful wordplay with bass-heavy beats and sexually explicit lyrics for bodies to grind in unison to. The beat of reggaeton is capable of transcending any classification of gender, sexual orientation, or identity. Villano knows that. And through fearlessness and a little magic, she's positioned herself right at the center of the genre. When the only gaze that matters is your own, the bitter looks from the naysayers can't harm you.