From Humble Beginnings to a Billion Fans on Social Media
Photos by Eduardo Bravin
Anitta is curled up on the hotel bed in a fluffy white bathrobe. Her long chestnut locks tumble back from her face every time she laughs – which is often. She chats nonstop with the roomful of makeup and hair people, photographers and assistants on break from an afternoon photo shoot at Emiliano, a boutique hotel on São Paulo’s most exclusive street.
Surrounded by racks of gorgeous gowns, she settles back on the pillows for a few minutes of relaxation with the intimate group that, she says, has been working with her since the beginning. “They understand what’s in my head. I just say one sentence and they know what I mean.”
At only 25, Brazilian pop sensation Anitta says she’s already realized her most ambitious dreams. That doesn’t mean she’s slowing down or letting it go to her head. It just means the girl from a working-class suburb in Rio de Janeiro can have a little fun.
“I wanted to be a singer from the time I was a little girl,” she says. “I don’t know when the first time was that I said I wanted to be a singer, because I was always talking about it.”
Now, she’s an international star, the most popular Brazilian singer on YouTube with over one billion views in the first half of the year. Growing up, Mariah Carey was her idol, and she practiced the dance steps of American pop stars like Britney Spears and Madonna. Now, it’s Britney Spears and Madonna who have posted videos on social media featuring the music of Anitta.
“I’M NOT AFRAID TO FAIL”
Anitta has 30 million followers on Instagram and a string of hits in three different languages, including collaborations with Alesso, Iggy Azalea, and Major Lazer. The sensational “Downtown,” recorded with J Balvin, was the first song by a Brazilian artist to be featured on Spotify’s Top 20. Anitta even performed at the opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympics.
Her to-do list is just as impressive. In October, she’ll appear as a judge on La Voz Mexico, she’s working on a new English-language album and she is even going to star in a new behind-the-scenes Netflix docu-series called Vai Anitta, scheduled to air later this year.
But the singer readily admits that she never actually imagined she would be as popular as she is in Brazil or even known outside of her country.
“It’s incredible. I’m comfortable at this stage in my life. I’m trying to conquer an international audience and I’m experimenting. But I’m no longer afraid to fail.”
FROM CHURCH TO FUNK PARTIES
Anitta was born Larissa de Macedo Machado (March 30, 1993), and lived in the suburb of Honório Gurgel, near a favela on the outskirts of Rio, surrounded by family and by music; her mother was a fan of Luis Miguel and her father introduced her to Rio’s traditional samba tunes.
Today, Anitta remains attached to her family. While they have moved to a new neighborhood, Anitta and her husband, Río businessman Thiago Magalhães, live on the same street as her mother. Likewise, her business partner is her brother Renan Machado.
“For me family is everything. All of my success is thanks to my family,” she stresses passionately. In fact, her musical career started alongside her family, singing with her grandfather at church when she was only eight years old.
It was a religious start for a woman who had her big break a little more than a decade later, singing “funk carioca,” a musical genre born in Río’s favelas, melding hip hop with Miami bass and often sexually explicit lyrics.
Along the way, there were moments where it seemed she might give up on her dream of becoming a singer.
“I wanted to study arts, but my father said the arts are for rich people,” she says. He talked her into going to business school and she got an internship at Brazil’s biggest mining company, Vale.
But on the side, Anitta continued to pursue her interest in music. Eventually, she posted two homemade videos on YouTube that piqued the interest of a Brazilian music label specializing in “funk carioca.” It launched her meteoric career.
“I like funk, because it opened the door for my career,” she says, adding that it could have just have easily been samba or pop. “Really, I like everything. But there is good and bad music in every genre.”
“I HATED BUSINESS SCHOOL”
If funk was her first big break, it was her business schooling that clinched her success.
“There was a time when I hated business school,” she recalls. “But now, the fact that I studied business is super useful.”
Anitta says she is present in every aspect of her business, from financial decisions to social media campaigns and mapping out long-term strategies. She manages everything from her phone, even when she’s on tour.
“I am very demanding in my work. I get involved in everything!” she says in a voice loud enough to be heard by all of her assistants in the room.
But, she adds, it’s the music that she’s passionate about, and that shines through in many of her hits, beginning with 2013’s “A Show das Poderosas” – or “Powerful Girls’ Show,” which launched her international career. The video of Anitta leading a troupe of dancers has been seen more than 145 million times on YouTube.
Since then, Anitta’s career has flowered, not only in her mother tongue, Portuguese (which she speaks with the accent of her native Río), but also in English, a language she is fluent in. She also decided to learn Spanish after feeling frustrated speaking through a translator when she was on tour in Spain promoting “Show das Poderosas.”
“I felt so dependent. I’m very communicative, so I don’t like not being able to communicate with people when I travel,” she adds in near-perfect Spanish.
Since then, she has made some of her most popular multilingual collaborations, like “Downtown” with J Balvin and “Is That For Me” with Alesso, and recently, the colorful Spanish-language pop tune “Medicina” – viewed by millions around the globe.
“People are sometimes alienated from each other because they have their own slang expressions. But we are all Latin America,” she says of her latest forays into Spanish-language music. “That’s what I should be doing, unifying cultures, without borders.”
“IT’S MY CELLULITE”
Ironically, it was the very Brazilian song “Vai Malandra” – or “Go Bad Girl” that recently made headlines in her native country. The video clip shot in the Vidigal favela in Rio de Janeiro opens with a close-up of Anitta’s sashaying buttocks, jiggling and bouncing in tiny red shorts. What everyone noticed was the cellulite.
“I was really surprised. For me it was totally normal to leave my cellulite in the video,” laughs Anitta.
“But to tell you the truth, the first reason I decided to leave it in was because it was really expensive to take it out! My God, every second of cellulite was going to cost me, so I said, I’m not going to pay to take it out!”
It also reinforces a message she wants to send to her fans, she maintains. “It’s my cellulite, people, leave it there. A woman doesn’t have to be ashamed or afraid of what she is.”
Anitta says she hopes her success can inspire girls to reject the limits that life tries to impose on them.
“I want to be an example of a person who isn’t afraid to make a mistake or take a risk,” she says, getting up for the next wardrobe change. “What’s the worst that can happen? You fail. Then you start again, and go back into battle.”
TRAVEL TIPS FROM ANITTA
Favorite Brazilian food: feijoada (the dish whose basic ingredients are beans and seasoned pork).
Where to eat it: Bolinha in São Paulo (“I had feijoada there today!”).
Favorite Brazilian music: Funk carioca.
Favorite Brazilian drinks: Skol Beats (alcoholic) and fresh-squeezed Brazilian OJ (non-alcoholic).
Favorite Beach: Angra dos Reis (about 95 miles from Río).
Favorite activity: Going to a party in the outskirts of Río de Janeiro.