In her videos (of which there are over 60) and on stage, she likes to show off her heavenly curves in a tiny Bikini and twerk lasciviously, whether in the snow at Aspen or bang in the middle of a favela. But Anitta, the singer from Rio de Janeiro, isn’t just any Latina sex bomb, since she puts her enormous fame to political use. Just this April, the “Brazilian Beyoncé,” as she is known, blocked president Jair Bolsonaro on Twitter after he made ironic comments about the scanty Brazilian-flag outfit she wore at California’s Coachella Festival. In an election year, she afterwards explained, “the opposition strategy must be to cite his name as little as possible,” prompting her to shut down any further interaction with his account.
One of the most influential stars in Brazil, Anitta has 62 million followers on Instagram, 19 million on TikTok and is viewed literally billions of times with every new video release. Her latest album, the lively and ambitious Versions of Me, which mixes power pop, funk and reggae- ton in three languages (English, Portuguese and Spanish), has smashed all the sales records in Brazil, and her fame has spread out-side her homeland. Anitta has collaborated with international artists such as Madonna, Cardi B, Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus, Maluma, J Balvin, DJ Snake, Nile Rodgers and Caetano Veloso, and even the footballer Neymar has succumbed to her charms, as evidenced by lascivious videos of the couple that made the rounds on social media in 2020.
Anitta’s fans would like the singer – who has given lectures at Harvard and MIT about her inspiring career trajectory – to stand for president in Brazil, but as she’s only 29 she’ll have to wait a bit, since the minimum age for the country’s high- est office is set at 35. As a career change, it’s not so absurd, since Anitta is very militant with respect to issues that are important to her. Openly bisexual and vegan, she has showed her support for Black Lives Matter (her father is Black and her mother white) and is concerned about climate change, stances that stand out in a country where anti- LGBT+ rhetoric and police brutality cause enormous damage, and where the president is a confirmed climate sceptic. Conscious of her role, Anitta, who is in many ways a national treasure in her homeland, is determined to shake things up. As she explained to Numéro over Zoom earlier this year (for the interview, she was glamorously coiffed and sported a monogrammed Louis Vuitton polo shirt), “some people in Brazil are waiting for me, because I say what I think. When you have a lot of visibility, people listen to you. To me it seemed important to use my fame to start a discussion on key subjects. If I see that my country is behaving badly, which is the case right now with our president, the least I can do is to get involved in the debate.”
Her latest combat is to change the image of the Brazilian woman, as evidenced by the rather R’n’B Girl from Rio on her album Versions of Me. “You hear a sample from Antônio Carlos Jobim’s classic The Girl from Ipanema. But I wanted to show my own idea of what constitutes the DNA of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro. With this track, I talk about my culture, my life and how I see women from Rio, which is far from the clichéd tourist idea of sexy girls that everyone thinks of. There aren’t just girls who look like top models here. I wanted to focus on the energy that animates this country. We feel good in our bodies whatever our vital statistics are. When the single came out, I posted several photos of ‘girls from Rio’ on Instagram, all of them very different and beautiful in their own way – among them there were actresses, a new-wave singer, a member of parliament and also a sociologist.”
Anitta’s penchant for celebrating others, whatever their walk of life, can perhaps be explained by her attachment to her own roots. For this superstar is a self-made-woman who got there the hard way. Larissa de Macedo Machado, as she was born, in 1993 in Rio, grew up in the low-income neighbourhood of Honório Gurgel. “My street isn’t considered part of a favela, but the street next to it is,” she explains. Brought up by a lower-middle-class single mother, little Larissa knew very early on what she wanted to do in life. “As a child, I was constantly telling my family that one day I would become a very famous singer,” she recalls. “They were always worried that I would be really frustrated if it didn’t work out for me. Nobody wanted to disappoint me by explain- ing that it was impossible, but I could feel their anxiety. They’ve always supported me though, and my brother even works for me today.”
At just eight years old, Larissa was already singing in the choir of the Santa Luzia Church in Rio. In one of the first videos of her performing as an adolescent, we see her in a flowery dress with a deodorant bottle for a microphone, her charisma and megawatt smile conveying all her star potential. Ten years later, while she was studying administration, she appeared on a funk carioca show on TV, which opened up a more glittering avenue: her music career began in 2010, and she signed with Warner in 2013. Though she mixes different references, including pop and reggaeton, it is funk carioca that dominates her sound. Also known as favela funk, it is an addictive electro genre that can be heard all over Brazil in clubs and favelas. Accused of glorifying violence, its aggressive and sexual sound is often accompanied by lyrics that are full of guns, gangs and drugs. But Anitta, who is sympathetic to the genre’s protest aspect, adds her own touch with lyrics that speak of love and self-confidence.
Indeed Anitta hides a lot of vulnerability behind the very clear and carefully pondered statements she makes. In the two documentary series broadcast about her on Netflix (in 2018 and 2020), we discover that Larissa invented the character of Anitta, a powerful and disinhibited woman, in order to get over the sexual abuse she had undergone. The conquering diva who took back control of her body has since made fe- male empowerment one of her main battles. “I consider myself a feminist, and I believe feminism is a question of freedom, of being able to decide who you want to be, regardless of what others think. Women are still far too often told what to do, how they should behave and what they should or shouldn’t say. We should be able to do what we like without harm or prejudice. If I like a garment then I’ll wear it. If I want to have plastic surgery then I’ll do it.” In one of her videos she even shows off her cellulite, highlighting it like a sort of militant symbol.
Anitta admits that her attitude has not always been understood. “When I started out, I encountered quite a lot of problems with respect to the way people looked at me, because I dressed very sexily,” she recalls. “Journalists and members of the public were sometimes very judgmental... Brazil is a very conservative country, even if this is a totally hypocritical attitude. Many Brazilians hide what they really do in order to project a virtuous image. That can turn out to be very dangerous: is it better to tell the truth and risk upsetting a few people or to live a life of lies and disappoint absolutely everyone the day you’re unmasked? By insisting on honesty, by remaining authentic, I’ve gained credibility in Brazil.” Were Anitta one day to end her musical career (which we sincerely hope she won’t), she would like to become a psychologist rather than the president of Brazil. In the meantime, she treats hearts, minds and bodies with swaying melodies that are as warm and welcoming as her homeland.
Anitta, Versions of Me (Warner Music), out now.