INTERVIEW: Esteman Talks Living His Sexuality Freely & How It Reflects in His New Music

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla.

Colombian pop dynamo Esteman is one of the finest showmen working today. I’ve seen him perform on numerous stages over the years; the first, an intimate showcase at New York’s LAMC in 2014, and the latest, a sold-out, career-high performance at Mexico City’s Auditorio Nacional just a few months ago. No matter the size of the stage or audience, every production is designed to make you feel like the price of admission was a bargain, complete with dulcet songbird vocals, intricate choreography, buzzy guests, and abundant smiles and hair flips. Though his flamboyant theatricality can be polarizing, 15 years of catchy pop hits and non-stop touring speak for themselves. Good luck hitting the club this Pride season without the boom of “Reina Leona” and “Amor Libre” triggering waves of catwalking and clack-fan applause. Now, as Esteman embarks on a massive tour in support of his new album Secretos, it’s clear he’s not keeping any; instead, he is eager to continue spreading joy through music and challenging stereotypes as they come.

“I was the first Colombian artist to speak so freely about my sexuality, so inevitably, society and the industry tried to put me in a certain category,” says a defiant Esteman, speaking with Remezcla from his home in Mexico City. “When I came out [in 2018], I started getting comments like, ‘Oh, so Esteman makes gay music now?’ Which is ironic, considering the music that gets played at gay clubs is usually by female pop stars who are not gay. So I question that because, at any of my shows, you’ll see families with children, as well as LGBTQ+ people. Juan Gabriel and Miguel Bosé came up at a time when they couldn’t discuss their sexuality publicly, so I’m happy to keep breaking new ground while at the same time not caring about labels so much.”

Born Esteban Mateus Williamson, the Bogotá native was raised in a family that supplied a nutrient denied to most gay kids: understanding. His father is a businessman with a lifelong passion for music and singing who met his mother while at university in Paris, where she studied design and animation. When a teenage Williamson became interested in performing, they naturally enrolled him in a musical theater academy called MISI, which he says “cemented that intersection of theater, singing, and dancing into the foundation” of what he does. However, it wasn’t until he entered the arts program at Universidad de los Andes that his imagination truly ran wild.

“Esteman started as a sort of chameleonic alter ego while I was in art school,” remembers Williamson, who was influenced by David Bowie and David Byrne and the aesthetic narratives that accompanied every creative cycle. “The freeform curriculum allowed me to integrate music and performance into my work, so I became conscious of how important my histrionic side was. I did lots of video self-portraits. Some were really intimate, like when I set up five cameras in my room and filmed myself 24 hours a day, and then there was a highly produced piece I projected onto a big screen. Esteman became like a superhero to me.”

When I came out [in 2018], I started getting comments like, “Oh, so Esteman makes gay music now?” Which is ironic, considering the music that gets played at gay clubs is usually by female pop stars who are not gay. So I question that because, at any of my shows, you’ll see families with children, as well as LGBTQ+ people.

Where Argentina’s Miranda! was among the first to harness Y2K-era Internet piracy as a music distribution tool, Esteman’s facility for video put him in the vanguard of social media’s marketing possibilities. His first smash, 2009’s “No Te Metas A Mi Facebook,” quite literally lampooned the zeitgeist rise of likes and pokes with a campy bandstand-inspired clip that echoed another rising pop culture juggernaut, Glee. His quirky brand of alt-pop also contrasted against the chart dominance of tropipop stars like Fonseca and Carlos Vives. “They just sang about drinking guaro with their girls,” he says, bristling at memories of the tropipop bros who bullied him at school. Instead, he found allies in fellow artsy weirdos like Monsieur Periné and Andrea Echeverri, and by the time he began courting the Mexican market, he’d already locked in collaborations with Natalia Lafourcade and Carla Morrison. But after two albums and rapidly growing fame, Esteman’s character trappings had begun to wear thin.

Amor Libre is the point in my career where everything changed,” says Williamson, harkening back to his exuberant third album from 2019. “I started writing the record after just moving to Mexico [in 2017], so the songs were fueled by nostalgia, but I also felt free to share parts of Esteban that I hadn’t before. ‘Fuimos Amor’ came to me in the shower on my first week here, thinking about a relationship I’d left behind in Colombia. I quickly understood this was going to be a coming out album for the ages.”

He wasn’t kidding. The album’s lead single, “Noche Sensorial,” was a blast of neon-lit disco with a video that cast multiple drag queens, as well as his future husband, actor Jorge Caballero. While the title track was also released as a single, a later remix featuring Chilean pop icon Javiera Mena upped the rainbow quotient tenfold. A few months later, Esteman linked up with out cumbia stars Georgel and Raymix for a strobing reimagining of Juan Gabriel’s gay bar classic, “El Noa Noa,” rounding out an unprecedented year of homosexual revelry.

Five years later, Esteman returns to the sensual waters of his breakthrough on Secretos, diving much deeper into themes of desire and sexual freedom than ever before. He tapped Chilean producer Pablo Stipicic for throbbing club bangers “Reina Leona” and “Cartagena” – the first tailor-made for vivacious drag lip-syncing, while the second details racy fantasies of ménages à trois and beachside cruising. The tender bounce of “Noches de Verano” unspools serendipitous summer escapades with a paramour, getting a thumping boost from producer Manu Lara and a neck-breaking guest verse from Villano Antillano. These wild nocturnal adventures are followed by the blissful dawning of “Si Tú Me Nombras,” a vibey ballad co-written with Silvana Estrada and given the vintage touch by producer Adanowsky. To cap it all off, a new collaboration with Mexican electropop queen Fey on “Bailando Por Tí” and a major homecoming show at Bogotá Pride this weekend have given Esteman the perfect victory lap for a chapter all about self-discovery and acceptance on the dance floor.

“I wanted to tap into genres I listened to as a kid but didn’t get to experience live,” says Williamson, getting to the heart of the album’s strobing tales. “This obsession with ‘90s house and ‘00s club music created an opportunity to challenge that more romantic, colorful side that people associate with me. But I’m a person who enjoys his freedom, who likes danger and going into the night, and lives their sexuality freely. I’d never dared to talk about it so openly, but the reception has been overwhelmingly positive, so I’m excited to keep going.”