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Freeman Cebu Entertainment

STEL is out and proud in debut single ‘I’m Bi’

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman
STEL is out and proud in debut single âIâm Biâ
Estela Elaine Inopiquez

CEBU, Philippines — When I met STEL for an interview at the 22 Tango Music Group office, we immediately bonded over going to the same university and taking up the same course.

Inside the Talamban campus of the University of San Carlos, she is Estela Elaine Inopiquez, a 20-year-old second year BA Communications student. She is also a content creator at SAS Bulletin, a student publication that I used to be associated with. “I am part of the video team because I love making content. I love editing videos and making scripts,” she says.

She is not that different outside the campus, except perhaps the moniker she goes by which is STEL, her stage name for her fledgling music career as an artist under 22 Tango.

STEL stumbled upon a contest by 22 Tango called Demo-Crazy where aspiring artists can submit their tracks and get the chance to perform them live to a wider audience. That time, she wasn’t expecting to be actually signed by the label.

“I wanted to make use of those 15 seconds of fame to make sure I get my voice out there because it’s not every day that you get this opportunity to sing your heart out and be promoted,” she says.

One of the reasons 22 Tango recruited STEL is her active social media presence, according to the label’s founder and producer Cattski Espina.

“STEL really puts herself out there because other artists are hesitant to share a lot about themselves. It’s really necessary these days if you want to have a bit of headway,” Espina shares. “I checked her other songs and that’s when I realized that she is a very good songwriter.”

The demo she submitted would eventually become her first single called “I’m Bi”, released March 24 on streaming services and digital music stores – a year after she first performed it live for the ninth volume of Demo-Crazy on YouTube. It is a straightforward track as STEL declares herself to be a proud femme bisexual woman, loud and clear.

Being bi

“I just wanted to make a song about myself, to make my own anthem,” she says, “and also to give a voice to others who are just like me.”

Espina still remembers her reaction to STEL’s demo. “She didn’t use any figure of speech.  No symbolism or metaphor. Wala! She is direct!” she remarks, as she quotes a line from the song, “I love girls and maybe boys too.”

STEL says it was in eighth grade when she questioned her sexuality. “I had this best friend and I was going through my first break-up and she was always there for me. I had this thought, ‘Oh I wanna kiss her!’ I cried to bed that night because I was so scared of thinking this way. I might go to hell for this or something!”

She also heard rumors about the school that she transferred to. “I remember people were saying ‘If you transfer there, ma bayot ka because there’s a lot of gay people there!’ and that’s when my internalized homophobia panicked. But I actually felt like I belong there because a lot in the school’s LGBTQ+ community were accepting and open. That’s where I got to explore my sexuality.”

Her parents accepted her sexuality when her mother found out that she was going through relationship problems with her first girlfriend. “My mom is supportive in a way because as long as I am happy, she is happy too,” she says.

Telling her own story

Asked about the moment she fell in love with music, STEL says it was from the spontaneous karaoke sessions in her room, usually to the tune of the unofficial instruments made by the “Sing King Karaoke” YouTube channel.

“Every single day, I was blasting my favorite songs in a room that I share with my sister. I would sing my heart out and my sister would get annoyed. But I am still having fun at the end of the day,” she says. This led to neighbors complimenting her voice, which in turn made her consider pursuing a career in music.

“They’d say ‘We really loved your singing’ and that made me more confident and open to a lot of audiences. I was just used to singing with no audience, just my camera and basically posting covers online. Now that a lot of people like to hear me, I kinda want more of that.”

STEL’s interest in songwriting came at an interesting time for her as a music listener wanting to become an artist. “I got into songwriting when lo-fi [music] was on the radar and everyone was raving about it. I was like, ‘I wanna sing over this [lo-fi beat]’. I saw a lot of these instruments that were produced where you can use it for personal use so I was going to try singing over that, and then I did. I really liked it and ended up having fun.”

This was how she evolved from performing covers, to now telling her own story. “I sing a lot of songs by other people and I listen to their stories. But I think it’s my turn to share my story in my own way and make everything myself,” she declares.

She cites artists MARINA, Keshi, and Filipino-British artist Beabadoobee as some of her inspirations. “I love Marina because I was a 2014 Tumblr aesthetic girlie. I was chronically online listening to Marina, Melanie Martinez, and Lana Del Rey. I love how they write a lot about the hard stuff and I always resonated with that because their music really saved me.”

Of the three, Keshi seems to be the artist that closely inspired STEL career-wise. “Keshi actually worked as a nurse and he didn’t like it so he gave up on it and decided to pursue music which is his main dream. I resonated with that because I also used to be a nursing student but I shifted to my current course because I couldn’t handle it.”

Honest songwriting

While other artists might feel pressured because “they need to be this and that”, STEL is simply loving the opportunity.

“I get to say what I want and I get to stand for what I believe in. I am just really lucky and grateful to be in this position and to be given this platform, to actually express who I am through my artistry and my music,” she says.

Espina is excited that 22 Tango is part of STEL’s musical journey, citing her honest songwriting as an important factor for the label.

“I am here for their journey, it’s not just a one-time thing. I always consider longevity and it can be achieved if you are really talented, if you really write, and willing to process and look within yourself, which is important,” says Espina.

“STEL is like other 22 Tango artists Jericho Streegan and Julia because they have this capability to look within themselves and write it down,” Espina points out. “They are willing to go through the process of going through pain and sitting with their discomfort, which is why they can write beautiful songs.”

STEL hopes that she and fellow Cebuano LGBTQ+ artists continue to showcase themselves despite the prejudice they face.

“I want the community to be heard because there is a lot of discrimination going around here and it’s really unfair. Through our music and artistry, we can make noise, we can correct all the stigma, and we can actually give a voice to the community because we deserve to be heard,” she says.

“The more we make noise, the more we get heard, and the more we can make change.”

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