This story is part of season two of “Serving You Style and Substance,” a video series where we get to know bold Filipino creatives with idiosyncratic styles through their influences and the narratives that they choose to explore.
Stef Aranas’s rise to trans Pinay pop superstardom may still be an ongoing process but she isn’t one to be underestimated. She has zero reservations when she perfaces something with, “I’m trans. These are my pronouns and you’re not gonna misgender me.” Her pop and R&B tracks from her solo projects and the duo Stef &Euge have been resonating with a growing number of fans dealing with similarly messy romances and sharing the same advocacies. She knows she’s a star, and it’s just a matter of time before more people think so, too.
Not only does the sassy songstress make her presence known with radio-ready dance-y tracks like her latest single “Don’t Like You Like That,” Aranas also creates films that are explorations of trans identity like her 2021 Toronto Queer Film Festival entry, “Resolving ‘Your Biggest Fan.’” We sat down with her to talk about the direction she’s taking and her inspirations in an episode of “Serving You Style and Substance” which you can find below.
Hungry for more? Here are snippets from our conversation that didn’t make it into the show.
Which of your songs do you love performing the most?
May unfair advantage ’yung song na ’to but I love performing “Eyes” by Stef & Euge the most ’cause that’s the most dynamic and it’s also the most danceable. May heavy bass siya, medyo may drop siya. It’s easy to sing and I’m so comfortable singing that.
What’s your fave collaborative project that you’ve been a part of so far?
Siguro yung “Palate Cleanser” EP namin ni Euge. In 2019, we launched it with an event at Mow’s. Ako ’yung nag-head ng overall thing from the production of the CDs to the conceptualization of the event, the promos, and everything. Very baby ko ’yung buong event. Baby namin ’yung EP of course and Euge did help a lot. ’Yun ’yung pinakamalaking project na minount ko and with a relatively small team.
’Yung dynamic namin ni Euge is, at this point, he’s kind of like my brother. Ako ’yung parang naging ate that has to get him together. I’d say I’m the more organized one while Euge is a lot more chaotic and unpredictable. Pero he comes through, especially kapag crunch time. Alam na namin how to work with each other and whenever we do sessions we have a lot of fun. And he volunteered to co-produce my next solo single. His hands are going to be all over, not only our music, but my music as well.
And also, “Don’t Like You Like That” kasi first shoot ko ’yun in two or three years tapos sobrang na-achieve ’yung vision. And for the first time, I wasn’t the one directing [the music video]. I had Ida Siasoco do the directing and her vision was insane. Sobrang love ko ’yung concept niya for it.
What’s the most stylish music video for you?
“Best Friend” by Saweetie. Charot. Honestly, pwede but the first one that [really] comes to mind for me would be “Alejandro.” It [had] such a specific, niche concept and it was pulled off so well and so sleekly. Anything “The Fame Monster” era by Lady Gaga.
In an alternate universe where you debut as a K-pop idol, what group would you like to debut with?
My god, STAYC! STAYC girls, it’s going down. I love STAYC so much. Stream “Beautiful Monster” by STAYC.
If you could trade wardrobes with a famous person or fictional character, who would you pick?
The first person that comes to mind is Doja Cat. Any stage outfit that Doja Cat wears.
May soft spot ako for period pieces na very unique. Even the wardrobe and styling in “Crimson Peak” I find so beautiful.
What’s a piece of media that really struck a chord with you?
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” because it makes me feel such a wide range of emotions. Even though reality TV competition format siya, you have all of these queer, maginalized people who make such beautiful art for a living. Alam mong may pinagdaanan at pinanggalingang struggle silang lahat. And sobrang diverse kasi ng cast every season. It’s really the only piece of media that I have committed myself to [consuming].
This season was a celebration of 8 very talented artists. It was all about uplifting each other through sisterhood and community. Let this season be a message of love towards one another, so we are unified as a community while we continue to fight the oppressive powers that be 🖤 pic.twitter.com/fJm9OEaVPJ
Right now, my two favorite queens are Bob the Drag Queen and Monét X Change because I’m an avid listener of the “Sibling Rivalry” podcast and the “Sibling Watchery” show. My favorite queens change every now and then pero for a few years now, silang dalawa talaga.
As a queer artist, do you consciously try to break stereotypes with your work?
Yes and no. For the majority of my career so far, it’s been more of an unconscious effort—especially at the start of pandemic. In releasing music, I kind of let my identity do the talking instead of the music. I make pop music and, with that, my underlying goal is to make it as accessible as possible. I write about my experiences as a trans girl in a way that can also be felt by other people regardless of who they are.
Pero I guess mas kita yung transness in my films kasi my two short films are all about trans identity. ’Yung first short film ko was “Mimi’s Makeover,” a short narrative film about gender expression for a trans girl whose friends don’t find her to really pass as well as she “should.” “Resolving ‘Your Biggest Fan’” naman is about my life as a trans artist in the pandemic and the anxiety that came with that.
Although moving forward, I’d like to make a more conscious effort to really speak up. I’ve always been an advocate. I come from UP Babaylan and outside of the lyrics that I write, I’ve performed at pretty much every UP Pride since 2018. If not performed, part ako ng organizers. The advocacy is very alive in me and I think there’s always room for improvement. It’s also a part of me manifesting being a trans Pinay pop superstar. Definitely, it bleeds into my work.