Entertainment

At the Altar of Anitta

Brazil’s biggest pop star is a multiracial, multilingual, multi-genre supernova beloved by everyone from Mariah Carey to Madonna. Soon you’ll love her, too.

You can’t hear it, but there are few expressions of fandom more rapturous than “Come to Brazil.” The phrase, typed over and over in Twitter replies and Instagram comments in a torrential display of Brazilian hospitality, has taken on a mythic quality in the United States. A chorus of Internet strangers begging you to play in their country is a sign you’ve made it. It also means that when Brazil produces its own global superstar — the biggest since Astrud Gilberto sang “The Girl From Ipanema” nearly 60 years ago — you better believe they’re not whispering. They’re screaming. They’re screaming for Anitta.

The day I meet Anitta, born Larissa de Macedo Machado, in the living room of her suite at the swanky Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles, she’s just flown in from Paris Fashion Week. Well, actually, she’s just woken up from a nap. But before that, she was sitting front row at Valentino next to Vanessa Hudgens and posing for pictures with Colombian singer/actor Maluma, her collaborator and star in the Jennifer Lopez rom-com Marry Me. (Anitta’s beloved there: Last summer, her Francophone song “Mon Soleil” with French singer Dadju debuted in the Top 20 charts.) In person, a few feet away from her bed, the 28-year-old radiates ease and confidence, as if glowing with the absorbed adoration of the most effusive music listeners short of K-pop fans.

Christian Siriano dress, State Property earrings, Elissa Poppy gloves

Five-foot-probably-nothing, Anitta is dressed down in a white tank top and blue Gucci joggers she threw on for this conversation. “Before you came here, I was naked,” she says. She laughs but does not break eye contact. “Panties only. That’s how I am!”

She’s ebullient and practically jumps at the opportunity to detail her plans for Coachella, which will be her most important American gig to date. She pulls out her iPhone, swipes past pictures of her many dogs to show me a 3D blueprint of her stage set. It's a massive favela (or Brazilian barrio), an artistic rendering of the crowded, impoverished neighborhood she grew up in. With real motorcycles.

“I was watching this documentary of Disney World and I saw this guy Joe [Rohde], he built the Animal Kingdom park. There is so much fantasy — nature and magic,” she smiles. “I managed to bring him to this stage. Walt Disney was a dreamer, and that’s how I am… I’ve got to bring my country [to Coachella]. Somehow.”

Balenciaga dress and boots, On right ear: Sauer earring, On left ear: L’Enchanteur earring

Here’s what you need to know about Anitta: She’s been one of the most famous people in South America for a decade now, with four studio albums under her belt — making her the kind of global pop phenomenon without household recognition in the United States. (That’s next.) She’s decided to start her career over again, in English, which she speaks fluently (in addition to Spanish and her native Portuguese). Versions Of Me, her new album expected this spring, is an eclectic mix that reflects her cosmopolitan palette: reggaeton, pop, funk; everything from the Panic! at the Disco inspired pop-punk powerhouse “Boys Don’t Cry” to the the bed-squeaking club banger “Rather Have Sex.” It also serves as her formal introduction to American audiences. On the English-language hit “Girl From Rio,” a clever interpolation of “The Girl From Ipanema,” she sings, “Hot girls, where I’m from, we don’t look like models / Tan lines, big curves, and the energy glows.”

“I’m not trying to play with ‘the American Dream,’” she says. “I’m a Brazilian girl, doing what I like.”

Other people like it, too. She boasts 93 million followers across Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, and her YouTube videos have been viewed more than 5 billion times, which makes her one of the most influential musicians on social media, according to Billboard. It tracks: At the time of our conversation, her legendary booty-shaking has inspired the “Envolver'” TikTok trend, in which fans drop into a plank position and twerk the Brazilian way — “el quadradiño” — ass athleticism to the highest degree. She’s performed at the Olympics opening ceremony in Rio, at a Formula One grand prix, and led Carnival parades.

Fendi coat, Ben-Amun earring

One time, Anitta met Mariah Carey at a shop in Aspen, and she says they both cried, each woman’s admiration bringing the other to tears. (“Imagine!” she gasps.) She’s the subject and star of two Netflix docuseries, 2018’s Vai Anitta (which introduced the world to her “fake” husband — more on that later) and 2020’s Anitta: Made in Honório (an intimate look into her unusual relationship with celebrity). She’s collaborated with Cardi B; Diplo; J Balvin; DJ Snake; Snoop Dogg; hell, even Madonna. “Having the work ethic she does, there are no limits for what she can do,” says DJ Snake. “The world needs to know that what you see is what you get. No Hollywood stuff. She is really a dope girl from Rio.”

Diplo agrees. “I’ve never met someone who works as hard as she does,“ he says. The producer, who collaborated with Anitta on several Major Lazer tracks, emphasizes that the singer is not simply crossing over between two overlapping markets. He says that unlike, say, Latin rhythms, Portuguese-language music doesn’t often travel beyond Brazil, so many Americans know nothing about it. Anitta had to start from scratch. “No other artist has that much independent spirit and that much confidence to do that on their own.” He pauses. “And she’s sexy as hell.”

Vaquera dress and headpiece, Dorsey earrings, Joanna Laura Constantine necklace, Uncommon Matters bracelet, Roger Vivier shoes

The daughter of an artisan mother and a car battery salesman father, Anitta was born and raised in the Honório Gurgel favela of Rio de Janeiro. She slept in the same room as her mother and brother because that’s where the air conditioning unit was, a luxury they could only afford to turn on for a few minutes at night. They’re still close. “Family is the thing that makes me feel grounded,” she says. “When I come back home, I’m treated as the same motherfucker as always. I speak to them literally every day.”

In 2010, when she was 16 years old, she went locally viral. Dressed in a bright, striped minidress, she filmed herself singing into a deodorant stick and put it on YouTube. The video caught the attention of Furacão 2000, a Brazilian record label that specializes in funk carioca, and her career began. She started using the stage name Anitta (inspired by a Lolita-esque Brazilian miniseries) and became known as Hurricane Anitta around the neighborhood.

“I’m not trying to play with ‘the American Dream.’ I’m a Brazilian girl, doing what I like.”

“Funk in Brazil was like hip-hop in the ’90s in America — it came from the poor people’s communities,” she explains. Or, more recently, like reggaeton in Latin America: demonized for its lyrics about everyday realities. “Drug trafficking, sex, guns. Society wanted to criminalize the rhythm. The rhythm is not guilty. If you change the reality of society and bring opportunity, the lyrics are going to change.”

Anitta couldn’t wait for reality to change, so she changed the lyrics to reflect society as she wished it existed. She educated herself on optimistic ideas of “empowerment, feminism, being independent” — the kind of ideas Beyoncé was espousing at the same time, 5,000 miles away — and added them to funk music. Her music became a pop-funk hybrid, which meant it got radio play, even though funk was prohibited from the airwaves. The blend, it could be argued, also mirrored the push and pull of Brazilian society, where gay marriage has been legal in 2013 yet violence against women and LGBTQIA+ people is rampant. (Anitta is openly critical of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.)

Melitta Baumeister dress, Ben-Amun earrings, Uncommon Matters ring

Against this cultural backdrop, it’s no surprise that, as Anitta’s star rose, she became known for stirring the pop feminist pot. In 2017, when she released the music video for her song “Vai Malandra,” filmed atop the roofs of favelas and featuring gorgeous nude bodies of varying shapes and sizes, for example, she failed to edit out her cellulite. “Vai Malandra” was touted as a feminist rebellion by some, as cultural appropriation by others (Anitta’s dad’s family is Black and her mom is white). In reality, she says, she was working as her own manager at the time and found the technology to remove the cellulite would be too expensive.

“I’ve done hundreds of plastic surgeries, but I couldn’t find one that took out my cellulite,” she says, throwing her head back. She laughs like a singer, loudly, and with a rasp so deep it falls silent. “Some women came to me, like, ‘Now I feel confident to go to the beach because you are a sex symbol, and you are so full of cellulite and you don’t care. I shouldn’t care, either.’ I’m like, ‘Yes!’”

JW Anderson clothing, L’Enchanteur earrings, Uncommon Matters bracelet, Maria Tash rings

To be clear, if there were a magical cure for cellulite, Anitta would be the first to admit to getting it. Brazil has the second-highest plastic surgery rate in the world, and Anitta has had her fair share: rhinoplasty, jawline reshaping, and multiple breast reductions, among other procedures. “I won’t be pretending I’m some type of way that I’m not,” she says. It’s clear that she takes embracing her contradictions — fake and real, objectified and empowered — as a feminist vow. “There’s a lot of machismo [in the world],” she explains, “And it’s crazy how people need to describe [women like,] ‘This is a woman to marry; this is a woman to party [with].’ Fuck that. I want to be ‘the marry’ and ‘the party’ woman.”

She pauses. “Girls don’t need men for shit. We got vibrators, we got friends. We got gay friends, which is way better than any other fucking husband. Trust me.”

Vaquera dress and headpiece, Dorsey earrings, Joanna Laura Constantine necklace, Uncommon Matters bracelet

Five years ago, in a private ceremony in the Amazon rainforest, Anitta married her then-boyfriend, businessman Thiago Magalhães. She was hosting a Brazilian television show called Música Boa, and he was there with her business partner. He thought she was too sassy, she was persistent, and they fell head over heels.

Next came marriage, except, she says, not really. “[He] was not actually a husband. It was just because I needed [him] to sign a prenup,” she says. Their lives were entangled and she wanted to keep their finances apart, so she organized a romantic agreement. “I set it up. I was in love, but I wanted to separate my money — I was rational. I knew he wouldn’t sign if I didn’t set up the love thing.” There are virtually no photographs from their wedding, but in Vai Anitta, she’s shown being very affectionate with her husband, frequently referring to him as her esposo — happy and tender.

“If you’re in love,” she says, leaning into the recorder and giving off a diaphanous, expensively soapy smell, “just make sure you sign a prenup. No matter what.”

Marriage advice aside, Anitta — who is openly bisexual (“I hate hiding things,” she says. “Yeah, I fuck girls, too”) — admits she does currently have a boyfriend. It’s an open relationship, which is ideal for her jet-set lifestyle. “I have 15 million boyfriends, whatever,” she says. (One of them, she told Jimmy Fallon, played in the Super Bowl.) But the main boyfriend’s name she keeps to herself. “If the guy makes me feel respected and amazing, I don’t give a fuck if he fucks another girl,” she explains. “I’ve had boyfriends that never cheated on me but treated me like shit. That’s an unloyal person.”

Fendi coat, Ben-Amun earrings

In the first episode of her 2020 Netflix show, Anitta, barefaced and dressed down in a green polo, sits on a barren-white hotel bed and films herself. She’s on the verge of tears. “When I was 14 or 15 years old, I met someone. I was afraid of him,” her eyes travel up, away from the camera. “He just kept doing what he wanted to do. When he was done, he went to grab a beer and I just stared at the bloodstained bed. It was only recently that I stopped blaming myself for what happened.”

Then she looks directly into the lens: “For all of you asking yourselves how Anitta was born, that’s how. She was born out of my desire and need to be a brave woman, who no one could ever harm. That’s how.”

Talking now about the decision to publicize her sexual assault, she leans in close — a gesture of fearlessness or to ensure I don’t misunderstand her. Perhaps both. Journalists were circling the story, she says, and she felt threatened. “That’s why I opened up about my abuse when I was a teenager. I knew it was going to come out, and not through my mouth… I’m going to tell my own shit. I’m scared of nothing.”

Balenciaga dress, L’Enchanteur earring

Typically, when a musician records under a moniker, it’s a shield, but Larissa’s Anitta is more a weapon than armor. “Anitta is a person I call every time I need to be strong,” she says. “If I didn’t have this character that goes for it, and that I can turn off and be myself, I would be lost.”

Near the end of our conversation, I notice Anitta is sitting with her hands on her thighs, palms turned slightly up — something Winona Ryder told this magazine back in 2016 helps her to “feel vulnerable” and communicate vulnerability. Anitta comes to the United States a fully formed star, but being here in Los Angeles is something like a trip back in time, to when she was still Larissa, could still go out without being totally mobbed, a freedom that she’s bound to lose again through her own success.

“My mom tells me a story. When I was a teenager, I started to go out, I loved to party. She said, ‘Daughter, you got to stay home.’ And I said, ‘There’s going to be a day [when] you’ll beg me to go out and I won’t be able to because I will be so famous.’”

You see where this is going. “[Then] there was this day when she told me, ‘You’ve been working so much. Go out with your friends.’ And I looked at her. ‘I told you that date was coming.’”

JW Anderson clothing, L’Enchanteur earrings, Uncommon Matters bracelet, Maria Tash rings

Top Image Credit: Melitta Baumeister dress

Photographer: AB+DM

Stylist: Jan-Michael Quammie

Hair: Jesus Guerrero

Makeup: Adam Burrell

Manicure: Tom Bachik

Set Designer: Carlos Lopez

Talent Bookings: Special Projects

Video: Sam Miron