Yani Villarosa isn’t afraid of the internet

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Unlike the previous generation of “‘Instagrammable”’ influencers, Yani's brand of content is hilarious and a little messy. But she is also known for her conviction. Illustration by ELLE SHIVERS

Content creator Yani Villarosa pronounces her username “yanihatesu” as Yani /Ha-Te-Su/. She says it in her vlogs and videos. When asked about the username’s origins, she says there isn’t really a story. “Walang matinong thought process behind that username,” she tells me over a Zoom call.

“Kinuha ko lang ‘yung hate kasi diba angsty teenager na, ‘I hate everyone.’ Noong na-create ko pa nga ‘yun, iba ang basa ng friend ko. Bakit yani /ha-te-su/ ‘yung username mo? Sabi ko, bobo ka ba? Yani hates u ‘yon. So dahil sa friend ko na ‘yon, everyone started calling me Yani Ha Tes U hanggang sa pati ako nainternalize ko na. Fuck, sige, Yani Ha-te-su na.”

It’s a Sunday morning. She requested for a weekend schedule because she had just spent the week buried in acads. Yani is a sophomore in UP Los Baños, taking up Communication Arts. But besides being a full-time student, Yani is a freelance content creator. She’s part of a new generation of content creators who grew up on the internet. As in, she literally has enough videos to make a reaction video of said videos.

Unlike the previous generation of “Instagrammable” influencers, Yani’s brand of content is hilarious and a little messy. Her earliest videos are a mix of many things: Relatable school scenes (like a fictional spelling bee) and familiar family disagreements. All shot from a cellphone front camera with all the ambient noise of jeepneys and family members in the other room. Eventually, she stopped playing generic parts and leaned into her own personal identity. Her introduction to her most recent vlogs goes something like this: “Hi guys! Akala niyo si Rhian Ramos, no? Ako lang ‘to, si Yani.”

But Yani is also known for her conviction. She uses her platform to speak up on burning social issues such as social inequality, the victims of Duterte’s drug war, and the Marcos atrocities. “Toxic place ang Twitter but it’s a good place for learning,” she says. “Also at that time, hindi mahirap makita ‘yung injustices in the Duterte administration. For me, hindi siya something na pinilit kong buksan ‘yung mata ko because it’s there, happening in front of me.”

One of Yani’s biggest advocacies is greater equality for the LGBTQIA+ community. Yani, whose pronouns are she and her, identifies as bisexual. The experience hasn’t been easy. “Bisexuals, even within the community, get invalidated by other people… Mayroon talagang research studies, even queer theories, na hindi nila na-acknowledge ‘yung bisexuality. They see bisexuals as either closeted gay or closeted straight. Sobrang daming confusion within my sexuality na I was able to explore sa ‘Gabi ng Bading (or ‘GnB’).’”

She’s referring to a podcast that she started with co-host AC Soriano in January 2021. Yani described the podcast as a safe space. “We wanted to be the people na kinailangan namin noong nag-eexplore kami ng sexuality,” she tells me. The high energy podcast-slash-reality show would occasionally feature other influencers and celebrity guests like Sassa Gurl, Paolo Pangilinan and Ian Pangilinan, and even Nadine Lustre.

“I got to learn about other people’s stories about sexuality… Mas natutunan ko kung paano i-validate ‘yung sexuality ko. Just because bisexual ako na mas attracted sa opposite gender, that doesn’t make me less queer,” Yani says. “Nakatulong rin siguro talaga ‘yung mga advice ni AC as someone older than me and has more knowledge about sexuality that time.”

“Sobrang lawak ng sexuality. It’s really a spectrum and sobrang fluid niya. I think nadiscover ko through ‘GnB’ kung gaano ko ini-invalidate ‘yung sarili ko, sexuality ko, and even ‘yung capabilities ko.”

“Sobrang lawak ng sexuality. It’s really a spectrum and sobrang fluid niya. I think nadiscover ko through ‘GnB’ kung gaano ko ini-invalidate ‘yung sarili ko, sexuality ko, and even ‘yung capabilities ko.” The podcast quietly concluded last May 2022, with AC and Yani penning their goodbye letters on Twitter.

Yani’s origins

When Yani first started posting videos, her family members would wonder: Why is Yani shouting in her room? “Noong 2018, may pagka-war shock pa sila,” Yani jokes. “Akala nila may kaaway ako dati. Pero since naging work ko na rin siya, aware na ‘yung parents and family ko na gumagawa lang ako ng content.”

When asked about her earliest influences, Yani says it was growing up with radio and MYX. She specifically mentions DJs like Nicole Hyala and her big crush on VJ Robi Domingo. But she also credits an English teacher from Grade 9. “May something talaga sa English teachers, no?” she says. Yani went to Pasig Science High School and for the longest time assumed that she was going to enter into a STEM-related course.

“Tapos ‘yung teacher ko… Sinabi niya sa akin na if gusto ko talagang mag-media, huwag akong manghinayang sa allowance na mawawala sa akin pag-alis ko ng school. Siya ‘yung nag-confirm. Nag-validate siya na ‘bagay naman sa’yo.’” Yani recalls.

Yani enjoyed her non-STEM classes, particularly English and Filipino. Not because she liked the readings (“Mahina ako sa ganoon,” she says), but because she loved the occasional creative output the classes required. “‘Yung mga performance na balagtasan, role plays, ‘Noli me Tangere,’” she says.

“What did you like about it?” I ask.

“The clout,” Yani jokes. Our whole interview is full of these punchlines. “Aaaminin ko na part doon is ‘yung attention that you get. But also it turns out, ang dami kong ideas. Four years na akong hindi nauubusan ng idea.”

Yani with her co-host AC Soriano in the first episode of the "Gabi ng Bading" podcast. Photo from GABI NG BADING:THE PODCAST/YOUTUBE

The internet was just another stage for Yani. She used to join groups on Facebook and became a pretty competent Hyoyeon (now DJ Hyo) roleplayer. Back then she was known as that K-pop fan on Facebook and stan Twitter. When she created @yanihatesu, she started with lipsync videos for her friends and classmates and eventually one of those videos went “viral.”

“Feeling ko na-embody ko ‘yung si Yani na bababeng napaka-chaotic sa internet na okay lang maging dugyot in front of people,” Yani says, “‘Yun ‘yung beginning ng personality ni yanihatesu.”

The labor of being a content creator

Not a lot of people understand that content creation is work. “Hindi ka parang artista na ang selling point mo is yourself kasi may fanbase ka,” Yani explains. “For content creators, you have to compensate na para makakuha ng engagement ‘yung gagawin kong deal for the brand, kailangan funny enough, engaging enough. Ang hirap.”

The truth is that today’s Twitter and TikTok famous content creators are pretty much micro celebrities. The difference is the more “personal” relationships they cultivate with their fans. They’re more “relatable” and arguably a little more influential. This isn’t lost on commercial brands. Some content creators have gone on to become full on brand endorsers, like Sassa Gurl for White Castle Whiskey and Mimiyuuuh for Lazada. One-man act Esnyr was even signed on to Star Cinema, where he appeared as a supporting actor in the movie “Love Is Color Blind,” and later, in the DonBelle series “He’s Into Her.”

READ: How breakout TikTok star Esnyr became the nation’s classmate

Yani’s first paid gig was back in 2019, when telco Globe asked her to be a part of KmmunityPH, a K-pop focused community. “Nare-recall ko na, “Ay shocks, I’m working with brands!” Makikita ako sa TV! Doon siya nag-start. Kaya, thank you Globe for taking a chance on me!” Yani says, laughing.

Yani has always been comfortable sharing her personal life on the internet — it’s pretty much her entire brand. “I built my personal brand on authenticity and vulnerability… Noong mga unang years ko, parang sobrang daming nalalaman sa akin ng mga tao. Kilala ko personally ‘yung ibang nasa audience ko kasi lagi silang nanonood ng live at lagi silang nandiyan. So somehow I made a connection and friendship with them,” Yani tells me.

But Yani knows that the internet can get pretty mean. “On Twitter, sobrang fond ng mga tao sa drama,” she says. She tells me about a time that there were dedicated “alter” accounts just for bashing her… hiding under anonymous usernames just to say things about Yani and her appearance.

“Sobrang fan behavior talaga like they were really out to get me. Saying things like ‘Ang itim itim mo,’ ‘Ang dugyot dugyot mo.’ Dati, hindi ko lang pinapansin kasi ang brand ko nga is unapologetic, pero for a 16-year old girl, ilang beses ko rin iniyakan ‘yung mga ganun dati. Hindi ko pinapakita sa mga tao because that’s off-brand,” she says.

But the worst of it was just this year in 2022. “May isang troll account as in dedicated siya to calling me names. Nasa hiatus ‘yung ‘GnB’ noon. Nagti-tweet siya everyday tagging AC na ‘wag na isama si Yani pagbalik ng podcast, ‘wag mo na isama ‘yung ulikbang ‘yan, nagba-back ride lang ‘yan sa fame mo,” she says ruefully.

She recalls it as some of the most difficult months she had ever experienced. Instead of deflecting or fighting back, Yani internalized it. “[That account] made me feel that everything I worked hard for years ay wala lang, and that everything I have now ay hindi ko pinaghirapan at binigay lang ng ibang tao, and that I was just a shadow of someone else.”

“Kung nasaan ka man, tang ina mo,” she says.

Post “GnB,” the support of a community, and an impulse tattoo

“It’s very telling of how much love I had for myself at that time. ‘Yun ang narealize ko,” Yani tells me. And she was only able to get out of it through the help of those around her.

“For a whole year, ang work ko is inside that tandem and parang I lost myself in a way. Nawala ‘yung yanihatesu na individual doon. When it ended, I was really lost. Nagtatanong ako kung may yanihatesu ba talaga before and outside of ‘GnB.’ What if ‘yun lang talaga ako as a creator? People — my loved ones — had to remind me that there’s a Yani outside of that.”

And here is where Yani draws the line between what is public and personal. How 'GnB’ ending will be a matter that will remain private. “Nag-usap kami [ni AC] na what happened stays between us because it’s a personal thing. Sa’min na ‘yon. Conscious effort na ‘wag gumatong, wag pumatol, because it will die down. Sorry, hindi ko nalang ifi-feed ‘yung curiosity niyo.”

“I think creating content with someone dear to me, which is AC, for one whole year, and also creating content for other people, is something that I’ll cherish and forever thankful ako for that. But it’s about time rin to do something na, hindi ko sinasabing hindi ito para sa ibang tao, pero ‘yung purpose ay more of towards myself.”

During this time, one of her oldest friends sent her a letter of encouragement. The letter made such a mark on her that she went and tattooed it on herself just the day before our interview. She shows me her ring finger and it’s a line drawing of a sun rising above the horizon, looped around her finger.

In the letter, her friend recalls a class requirement in what was probably English class in seventh grade, where they had to describe who they were by using anything “under the sun.”

“Ang pinaka-learning ko is unahin ko ‘yung sarili ko above everything. I am the sun and anyone who disrespects me shall burn.”

“Naaalala niya na ang pinili ko noon ay sun. Ang explanation ko daw noon is because I can brighten up your day. Very grade seven,” Yani says laughing. “Naisip ko nga, ‘luh, main character vibe si ‘teh.’”

“Sinabi niya sa akin na I gave too much power to people over me and that every time people come into my life, I just let them be comfortable with hurting me.” Yani says, which is why she describes her new tattoo as a promise ring. “Parang ako na ‘yung ikakasal sa sarili ko. Right now, ang journey ko is building that love for myself. Yani, hindi mo na ulit sasaktan sarili mo. Hindi mo na ulit hahayaang gawin mo ‘yun sa sarili mo.”

“Ang pinaka-learning ko is unahin ko ‘yung sarili ko above everything. I am the sun and anyone who disrespects me shall burn.”

In the meantime, Yani is focused on school. She enjoyed a recent marketing class, and tells me she might consider it as a possible career path in the future. “Na-eenjoy ko siya,” she admits. “‘Yung mag-conceptualize ng strategies for the brand. It’s something na iniiwasan ko dati because I thought it was too competitive for me and cutthroat nga talaga siya as an industry.”

“Pero mas malaki ‘yung part na after mag-college, mag-work pa rin ako as a media personality like a content creator or as a host,” Yani says.

“Hanggang ngayon, may plans pa rin ako to create podcasts and all. Definitely, as a creator pa rin.”