In the video for “Muñeca,” Puerto Rican rapper Villano Antillano is crewed up with fellow glammed-up sex workers as she drops sharp-witted lines. Everyone in the shop dons pink candy-striped dresses with ruffled white aprons and matching headbands. Presented is a fantasy or a “prototype,” she says, referring to the societal standards and expectations of trans women under the lens of many cisgender men. But in the context of “Muñeca,” the ideal, its roots in patriarchal misogyny, is reclaimed by trans women and non-binary Latinx people. Inside the flamboyant femme walls of the track’s video, released late last week, the dolls — including prominent Puerto Rican trans figures and artists — are wholly in control.
“As queer people, I feel like we have to work extra hard to have happy lives,” Villano tells REMEZCLA. “A lot of times, our lives are a constant choosing of,’ OK, I’m going to be happy, despite everything.’ I like literature a lot too, and magical realism — how sometimes we can decorate reality with fictitious or fantasy elements in order to make it prettier. I feel like I do that a lot with my music because I do it with my life.”
The driving force of “Muñeca,” though, she notes, is weaponizing the reality of the term (doll in English), which is one historically used among trans women. Speaking from her own experiences and of friends, the 26-year-old rolls out explicitly sexual bars about sex work: especially graphic is the brag about “sacando leche con cojones,” which in English translates to excellent orgasm-giving skills. Her image is part of this prowess: “I know that I look appetizing/ Everyone says I look enticing,” she adds, after verbally aligning herself with the likes of Bratz, Barbie, and MyScene dolls.
“As queer people, I feel like we have to work extra hard to have happy lives.”
For this single and its video, Villano Antillano teamed with producer Ismael Cancel — former Calle 13 drummer and producer for iLe, with whom he won a Grammy in 2016 for the album iLevitable. Villano’s also now partnered with local label La Buena Fortuna. Earlier in her career, she worked with the creative studio La Maldad.
Exuding queer sexuality and distorting the conventions of gender identity in trap-toned tracks is Villano Antillano’s jumpoff on nearly every song she’s released. In “Pájara,” released last December, she reminds straight women that she’s their boyfriend’s dream girl while simultaneously interchanging male and female pronouns. Earlier last year, she brought the same back-and-forth with “Culo,” a track that also references sex work. She raps, “I’m not Kendall, I’m not Kylie either/ I’m not Ken, but I’m not Barbie either.”
She’s bringing that same openness to her life outside of the studio — basking fully in her authentic self. Antillano recently came out as trans non-binary and has begun her personal transition process. But don’t expect her to change her name — because as with her music, she’s not trying to fit into standards. “That’s the fun thing about being a villain,” she says with a smile, referring to one of her favorite catch phrases of being a villain for going against outdated norms. “You don’t play by the rules.”
Antillano forms part of the other queer and trans artists in el movimiento making moves — some of them diligently pushing forth for several years. There’s Dominican artist La Pajarita La Paul, Jedet from Spain (one of the actresses who starred in La Veneno), and Dominican dembow-twist trio MULA. There’s also the impact of late Kevin Fret, the young Puerto Rican who achieved a tragically short-lived stardom.
Still, LGBTQIA+ folks in el movimiento is a community that, situated among the wider musical landscape, is like a town so tiny that on a map it’s only noticeable by an extreme zoom-in. These artists remain generally, and unfortunately, overlooked by the mainstream. There’s perpetual conversation around what LGBTQIA+ representation in el movimiento means for the community: What does it mean for the community? What does it mean for the genres under that umbrella, for its most famous artists, many of whom perpetuate the movimiento’s well-documented history of homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny?
Villano says that if she transcends these patriarchal industry boundaries, then great. But she is more concerned about making music that speaks to her own life and experiences, and those of other LGBTQIA+ people, than whether or not cis-hetero people will embrace her.
For many of Villano’s fans, it’s both satisfying and empowering to see how far she’s come speaking her truth. Just recently, she was in superstar Yandel’s home for a Rapetón project, where the iconic reggaetonero told her that “she’s got it.” Villano recalls realizing that she was the only trans woman in the room, and she felt the usual nervousness from the cisgender straight people in room, seemingly worried that they’ll misgender her or say the wrong thing. But she was proud to be there no matter what tension was present.
“Those are the moments that I’m like, ‘Damn, look at the power we’re wielding,’” she tells us.
By “we,” Villano is referring to the growing number of Bori-queer artists like Gaybriel Josué, María José (check out “Casablanca,” featuring Gabi Grace), and Romii (featured on Villano’s “GasoLean”). There’s Ana Macho too, who is featured on “Muñeca,” and drops a very specific reference to the Puerto Rican LGBTQIA+ culture, noting everyone greets her arrival by screaming ‘mamabicha.’ The explicit slang term translates in English to one who performs oral sex, which Ana Macho reclaims power in by owning it as a sex-positive compliment. For these artists, you won’t just find plenty of empowering flaunting, nods to LGBTQIA+ culture, but the unpacking of urgent issues, like transphobia and colonialism, as well as dives into their Puerto Rican identity.
While Villano stresses that there needs to be more LGBTQIA+ representation coming out of the Puerto Rican music scene, she feels that won’t be possible until lack of access is addressed. “Because of my standard of living and the poverty that I face as a queer person, I still don’t have a setup where I can make music from home. I don’t have a fucking Mac, I don’t have fucking MIDIs and shit. I don’t have the money to buy a nice microphone,” she says. “But I’m going to get there pretty soon.”
She’s finally committed to music full-time, having most recently left a high-stress, low-paying call center job, a very common employment setup for many low-income Puerto Ricans. Villano says she’s privileged and lucky to have people backing her up and believing in her, so that she could invest in her career.
“What I’m doing, what I’m going to do, and what I’m getting done, it’s a one-in-a-million chance.”
“What I’m doing, what I’m going to do, and what I’m getting done, it’s a one-in-a-million chance. It’s so hard, but I’m doing it, and I’ll hand it to myself for that,” she says. “But not everyone can [get out of these jobs]. The system is rigged and set up against you. That’s truly sad.”
Something that brings her joy as she works against the system that fails to uplift her is that creative studio La Maldad is now supporting fellow music artist Ana Macho, who self-released both a notable album and an EP, each boasting a mix of reggaeton and piano ballads realized with a certain quirk that’s all their own. It’s that success among her own and kinship that Villano says provides strength and empowerment.
“If I hadn’t felt safe in my sense of community, I would have never felt strong enough to number one: stay alive, and number two: make music, creative projects, and art,” Villano says. “I feel like this is for all of us.”
Watch the music video for “Muñeca” below: