Go Anitta! Introducing Brazil’s Next Crossover Superstar

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On the Latin airwaves, Brazilian pop singer Anitta is hard to miss. Her intoxicating mix of funk carioca, reggaeton, and fizzy dance-pop has made her a household name throughout parts of Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking countries. But as she begins to amplify her eclectic sound in the English-language realm, Anitta knows she has her work cut out for her. “It’s rare that [a Brazilian] goes international in pop,” she tells Rolling Stone over the phone, just hours before she headlines the Ginásio do Moringão, a stadium in the South Region of Brazil. “I have been working in the Brazilian market for seven years, but I just started working the international market one year ago. Things will not go faster, easier, or get bigger quickly than they have in my country — it’s a matter of putting in the work.”

Lest anyone doubt the caliber of her efforts, Anitta — née Larissa de Macedo Machado — has enjoyed a steady winning streak in the past year. Her 2017 single “Paradinha” dethroned “Despacito” from Number One on multiple Brazilian Billboard charts. She’s co-starred on tracks with Colombian reggaeton ambassadors J Balvin and Maluma, as well as Alesso, Major Lazer and Brazilian drag superstar Pabllo Vittar. “I’ve been in the studio with Pharrell and Rita Ora,” she adds, “and I’ve been talking to Dua Lipa as well.”

With unparalleled style and internet savvy, Anitta boasts plenty of industry sway on her own. Her solo releases have racked up YouTube views and streams by the hundreds of millions, and with 30.2 million Instagram followers, she’s amassed the largest social media following of any woman in Brazil. She’s sold out arenas in her home country and regaled international audiences in one-off gigs — including a night at the prestigious Albert Royal Hall in London. Following in the footsteps of Brazilian superstars Xuxa and Os Mutantes’ Rita Lee, Anitta is working on an empire in television as well: Scheduled for release fall 2018, she will star in her own Netflix show, Vai Anitta!, an “unrestricted and uncensored” docuseries which follows the trilingual singer on her path to international fame.

Anitta’s myriad accolades come at no surprise to her; she speaks as though her stars have simply aligned. “I used to tell my family that I was going to be a singer since I learned how to talk,” she says with a chuckle. From the age of nine through her teens, she’d draw people into her grandfather’s church by singing during his sermons. “I like everything that challenges me,” she asserts. “I can’t accept that something is impossible.” Rolling Stone caught up with the 25-year-old star about her many upcoming projects, Brazilian TV and her whirlwind of a summer.

You’ve undergone a huge career transition in the last year alone. You’ve gone from singing at church to becoming a viral social media sensation. Vogue recently named you a top 100 influencer. What has that shift been like for you?
Everybody thinks that it’s a huge contrast, but it’s not — my work has always carried a message. I don’t like to drop a song and say “Have fun everybody! Bye!” I try to find a funny way, an entertaining way to send an important message. There’s no limits, there’s no rules, if you wanna be sensual, that’s fine. It’s just you and yourself. You’re not hurting anyone. I think that as long as you respect people, you’re free to do whatever you choose.

Reflecting back on your achievements, did you ever think you’d attain international success?
There are high expectations in Brazil, because it’s rare that someone [has gone] international in pop. My country is really big, and the numbers that I’ve reached in Brazil alone are huge. Sometimes my country expects the same [statistical] results [in the U.S.] that I have here. I have been working in the Brazilian market for seven years and just started working the international market one year ago. So of course things will not go faster, easier, or get bigger quickly than they have in my country. It’s a matter of putting in the work. I’m starting from zero again. It’s another beginning. But outside of Brazil, it’s amazing. Everyone asks about my country, and they try to find out more about Brazilian culture [through] my work.

Do you feel that Brazilian rhythms such as funk carioca or baile funk can be as successful as reggaeton in the U.S.?
Yes! Funk has a similar history to reggaeton, as funk in Brazil is also similar to hip-hop’s [foundations] in the U.S. The class level is the same, the lyrics are the same, the same history gets repeated. For me, it’s a normal thing to sing reggaeton songs because it’s within my comfort zone. Reggaeton was not that big in Brazil, but now it’s getting huge support — not only in Brazil but all over the world.

Your last album, Bang, was released in 2015. You’ve been steadily dropping singles since. Why not an album?
It’s a huge mission and an obligation. They’ll go, “You need 12 songs! You need to do this! You have a deadline!” And I understand the business — I am my own manager in Brazil, I take care of my business here. But I think that art is art. When it comes to art you just need to be focused on doing a great thing. Not thinking all about the business.

Your stage name is inspired by the protagonist of a Brazilian mini-series, Presença de Anita. What was it about that character that drew you in?
The show is about an 18-year-old, Lolita-type girl who everyone was interested in — the kids, the neighbors, the women and men. She would say that it wasn’t necessary for a person to be one kind of person. One day she’d wake up and be Ane, the next day she’d be María, and the next she’d be Ashley or Jennifer. She chose to be romantic, sensual, intelligent, aggressive, or sexy. She could be all those women; whatever she wanted. That’s what I loved about her character.

Who were your musical influences growing up and how did they inspire your approach?
Mariah Carey was the first singer I ever listened to. Then there was Luis Miguel, who is Mexican. About a year ago, I found out that they were [once] in a relationship! I always loved them. But growing up, I listened to everything, all types of Brazilian music. That’s what I try to do in my work, to show how eclectic I am. My new song “Medicina” talks a bit about this — that music has no prejudice. You don’t choose who your public will be. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or not, if you’re beautiful or not, or if you’re a child or an adult. Music is something everyone can appreciate. That’s why the chorus has no lyrics, which goes “Ta-ta-ta-ta-ra-ra-ta-ta-ta-ra-ra.” Everyone can sing it. That was my idea, to have kids from all over the world singing. Kids are the future, and I tried to [bring together] as many cultures as I could, singing the same thing.

What are some upcoming projects or releases we should look out for this year?
I’m working on the video for my song, “Veneno” — which is crazy because I’m covered in snakes! I’ve been in the studio with Pharrell and Rita Ora, and I’ve been talking to Dua Lipa as well. For me, when doing a collab it’s all about chemistry, and whether you think their style matches with who you are. But right now, I want to show more of me, that I can do something by myself and reveal my personality alone. This year I’m going to work more in English, but first I want to get solid in the Spanish [language] industry.

If you could describe your music as a type of Brazilian food, what would it be?
Whoa! I love our food. I would say feijoada, which is a black bean stew. It has all types of meat and you can eat it with rice. I think the hearty meal goes with my rhythm, and when you taste it you just want more. You go crazy with it.