Brazilian pop sensation Anitta: 'Run for president? I'm 27!'


Anitta had imagined that this summer would be a break: a period in which she could record new music. It would have followed 10 years in which she became Brazil’s biggest pop star, including stadium tours, a Netflix docuseries about her life, and hits with Madonna, Snoop Dogg and Rita Ora – all of which skyrocketed her from a Rio favela to fame. Instead, she’s been quarantining at home with her five dogs, infiltrating her country’s politics and being touted as a future Brazilian president.

I speak to her in early June, just as the coronavirus pandemic is tightening its grip in Brazil. (The country’s death toll is now the second-highest in the world.) Demonstrators have gathered to denounce the president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has urged governors to open states while dismissing Covid-19 as “a little flu” and reminding Brazilians that “we’re all going to die one day”. Some of the protests have expanded to include the issues of systemic racism and police brutality that plague Brazil’s population, which is 50.7% black or mixed race, according to a 2010 census. The country is hot with unrest.

Anitta is amped up by it all because she’s seen that when she decides to speak, people sit up and take notice. A few weeks before we talk, she invited Brazilian politician Felipe Carreras to debate a contentious legal amendment that would have changed how artists get paid for their copyright. Anitta was enraged that Carreras introduced it – surreptitiously, she felt – at a time when Brazilians were distracted by the health crisis, and her anger was palpable during a tense 45-minute argument, broadcast to her 47m followers on Instagram Live. On stage she’s known for being bold and empowered, and she channeled that into the conversation; she was tough, almost relentless. Three days later, Carreras withdrew the bill. “I felt like a hero,” Anitta tells me. “And then came the crazy part.”

Advocates began alerting her to other causes they were working on. (She’s taken up a few, including deforestation in the Amazon.) By June, a poll in the newspaper O Globo indicated she was the third-most influential political figure in the country and fans urged her to run for president. “The law only gives you the right to run when you’re 35. I’m 27,” she says. “A lot of journalists were calling me, saying, ‘Are you going to listen to the people and run?’ I was like, ‘Guys, I’m just trying to help! Wait!’”

Anitta talks a mile a minute – whether in Portuguese, Spanish or English – and she’s so emphatic you can practically hear her gesticulating. She’s known as a workhorse whose business savvy, stamina and drive pushed her to learn two additional languages to break market barriers.

‘She knows exactly where she wants to go’ … Anitta.
‘She knows exactly where she wants to go’ … Anitta. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty Images

“Anitta stands out for her strong personality, focus and determination,” says Sérgio Affonso, president of Warner Music Brasil, the label that signed Anitta in 2013. He says that from the moment she released her first single, she paid careful attention to everything – streaming data, video concepts, social media – to consolidate her success. “She knows exactly what she wants and where she wants to go.”

Her next move is to release an album, mostly in Spanish and English, through Warner Records in the US later this year. The first single is Tócame, a slinking, syncopating reggaeton track featuring the Puerto Rican rappers Arcángel and De La Ghetto that radiates with the party vibe from Anitta’s last album, Kisses. But she’s also working on Girl from Rio, a glossy, English-language R&B track that samples the bossa nova classic The Girl from Ipanema – it’s a smoother, sleeker addition to Anitta’s energetic catalogue and has garnered 7.6bn streams.

Some Latin pop stars such as Maluma and Bad Bunny sing in their native language as a marker of authenticity, but Anitta says that because Brazil hasn’t had a major international pop star before, she’ll use whatever language will get the market’s attention. “They didn’t need [to sing in English] because they already had representatives like Shakira, like Ricky Martin, like J-Lo,” she says. “There’s no person in Brazil that did it.” She jokes she’ll keep learning whatever language she has to to teach people about the sounds and culture of Brazil.

She doesn’t just want to be a musical ambassador, but to paint a full picture of Brazil in 2020, including its harsher realities. She says she “doesn’t approve Bolsonaro’s administration” and that he hasn’t “brought benefits to our nation”. She’s started Instagram Live sessions with Gabriela Prioli, a lawyer who gives classes on Brazilian legislation. Anitta has also spoken out about environmental challenges and, in more recent weeks, the Black Lives Matter movement and colourism – prejudice against darker skin among ethnic minorities – an issue that manifests in injustice and police brutality in predominantly black favelas. In Rio, where Anitta still lives, police killed 606 people between January and April this year.

There are other markers of severe racial inequality. She brings up a much-discussed case in Brazil that has bleakly exposed questions of race and class: Mirtes Santana, a black domestic worker, left her five-year-old son with her boss, a white woman named Sarí Gaspar, while she ran an errand. When she returned, she found Gaspar had left the little boy alone in the elevator of her apartment complex. He wandered toward a window and fell to his death from the ninth floor. Gaspar was arrested but released on bail after paying £3,200. “Now imagine if it was the opposite,” Anitta said. “If there was a cleaner, a black woman, who’d left a kid alone in the elevator, do you think it would have been different?” Her voice shakes with anger.

Despite how vocal Anitta is today, it took a long time for her to speak up. In 2018, eagle-eyed followers noticed she had followed a pro-Bolsonaro Instagram account, and demanded to know if she was planning to support his conservative, anti-LGBTQ campaign. When she didn’t comment, an #AnittaIsOver hashtag began trending on Twitter. She says she had been busy reading everything she could find on Bolsonaro to establish an informed opinion, and after several days shared that he was “not the [candidate] who represented her”. But her statement was too late for some – even now, they see her politically active turn as a marketing strategy.

Anitta performs on stage during Rock in Rio 2019.
Specs mania: Anitta performs on stage during Rock in Rio 2019. Photograph: Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

She doesn’t regret that it took her time to find her political voice. “I don’t have any shame in that, because I’m 27,” she says. “I started to have access to a good education after I got money, after I learned – by myself – how to build my company, how to run my own career. I think that it’s never too late. I’m proud of myself, that I woke up and I was like: ‘It’s important for me to get involved’.”

Whether celebrities have a role amid the pandemic and global political unrest is open to question. The Latin music industry has faced particular criticism for reticence and tone-deaf calls for unity. (For example, social media users blasted Colombian star J Balvin for using an #AllLivesMatter hashtag.) But, while Anitta has decided to get more involved, she’s wary about saying other artists should do the same: “It depends on how secure each person feels.” She says it takes courage to share your political opinions. “When you say your political thoughts, you have 50% [saying] you’re right and you have 50% that are like, ‘You’re such a bitch, I’m going to kill you.’”

Anitta seems to have learned over the years to separate helpful feedback from attacks on her personal life – the latter including a divorce in 2018, her subsequent dating life, several plastic surgeries and the fact that she’s bisexual, all of which have made her Brazilian tabloid fodder. When people judge her for what she calls “normal things”, she says it only makes her more eager to be true to herself.

“If I have a boyfriend and he wants to have a threesome or switch couples, I feel safe, and I don’t feel bad doing it if everyone doing it is happy,” she says. “I don’t care. My family knows about my bisexual life. I switch boyfriends as much as I switch outfits … The more people judge me, the more I want to say, ‘Hey guys, I do this and I do that! You want to know more? I also do this!’”

Besides, she also doesn’t really have a lot of time for the gossip mill. By the time we finish talking, she tells me she has more phone calls and scenes to shoot for the second season of her Netflix series Vai Anitta. And then, she says excitedly, “We have political classes on my Live session!” It doesn’t sound too different to a politician’s daily schedule.