The Business of Being Anitta

The Business of Being Anitta

By Bradley Stern

"There are so many things happening so fast," Anitta says over the phone, sounding slightly exasperated, during a break while filming La Voz Mexico at the end of August. Anitta is not Mexican, nor is Spanish her first language. She is, however, already popular enough in the market after only a year since the release of her debut Spanish language single, "Paradinha," to warrant a seat in one of the swivel chairs this season alongside Maluma, Natalia Jiménez and Carlos Rivera. She'll set her sights on the English market next. And then, presumably, the world.

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1993, Anitta grew up taking dance lessons, singing in church and listening to Mariah Carey, whom she calls her personal "voice coach," while dreaming the same dreams as the contestants she'll soon be mentoring on television. "She was the first singer I ever listened to," Anitta recalls. "I know all her songs. I have all her CDs, everything. I really admire her taste for music." Anitta can't definitively name her favorite Mimi song, but "Fantasy" springs to mind first. "It's happy," she says.

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Anitta's own fantasy soon turned into a reality once she was discovered on YouTube, similar to Justin Bieber's own emergence from obscurity, by record producer Renato Azevedo, known as DJ Batutinha. She signed to Furacão 2000, the company responsible for helping popularize the sound of Rio's funk carioca, and released a series of funk hits with the company, including "Eu Vou Ficar" and "Menina Má."

But it was 2012's "Meiga e Abusada" ("Sweet and Sassy"), later re-released as her major label debut, that epitomized Anitta's pop star aspirations, from its Fame-era Gaga synth-pop sound to the glossy, glam Katy Perry-esque video shot by Beyoncé's "Countdown" director Blake Farber and partially filmed in Las Vegas. Only 19 at the time, Anitta had to disguise herself to film scenes on the gambling floor of a casino — an indication of her tenacity in years to come.

"Nothing is impossible for Anitta," the director said after working with the rising star. Bids from major labels followed. By the beginning of 2013, she was signed to Warner Music Brazil. Since then, she's gone from being one of millions of teenage hopefuls crooning in quiet corners of the Internet to being followed by millions — 30 million alone on Instagram and still rapidly rising, in fact.

While some might have bristled at calling Anitta a pop star early in her career, there's no denying she's now the embodiment of Spotify's Global Top 40 in 2018: her sound — a blend of homegrown funk carioca, reggaeton, dance-pop, dubstep and R&B — and her stage shows — hair-flipping, bunda-shaking extravangazas filled with dancers and flashing lights, like Beyoncé with a Brazilian flair — make her the epitome of a modern superstar.

Following a No. 1 debut album and a solid string of hits, Anitta shot to superstar status in her home country. By 2016, she was already performing a medley of her greatest hits at the Multishow Brazilian Music Awards. "I thought that I would do this, I don't know, 10 years after I started," she recalls. "But no, it was like four years. I reached all the goals I could have in Brazil."

In less than a decade since her arrival on the scene, she's already been dubbed "Queen of Brazilian Pop" by media outlets and myriad fans alike. But how does one deal with a title like that, and so soon in their career? "It's pressure, but I like to have people expecting things from me," she says. Instead, she tries to take it as a compliment, as opposed to the impossible expectations that come with the title. "When I see people saying these things, I think 'great,' she explains. "But I don't bring too much else into it. If you start thinking about the big things, you're going to be killing yourself, thinking 'Oh my God, I need to be huge. Oh my God, I need to be amazing.' Every day. Better. No. It's not healthy."

A healthy mental state — for pop stars and mere mortals alike — is key in these turbulent times, especially when navigating the occasionally unruly sea of social media. After all, we're all being bombarded with feedback. Pop stars, of course, are no exception. "I think when you're a star, you should know that you are there, open to critics and to... everything," she says in a measured manner. "It's my work, so I just try to separate who I am as a person and who I am as an artist."

She admits that it can be hard, but she still reads everything. Really. Everything. "I read all of it, because for me, it's important to know what my public thinks," she says, sounding appropriately regal. "But it's important to separate who is giving a real opinion, and who's just throwing hate, you know?" "First, who's talking?" she continues, describing her own process of sorting through social media madness. "Why? How many people are talking? Numbers make a difference. Separate it and understand that this is work."

"I thought that I would do this, I don't know, 10 years after I started. But no, it was like four years. I reached all the goals I could have in Brazil."

Disconnecting is important, she adds: "I'm a person, and I have my days when I turn off my cell phone and I'm just a human being, not reading what the people are saying." Numbers do make a difference. And while Stan Twitter loves sparring over charts and sales, no one is likely more aware of her own stats than Anitta herself, who is managed in Brazil by... Anitta.

Until a few years ago, despite an impassioned community of pop lovers and massive domestic stars, no Brazilian artists made major Top 40 chart moves outside of their own country. But Anitta broke through, guiding international eyes and ears to the South American country's own musical offerings, as opposed to the other way around. How? Strategy, she says. "I tried to understand how I could do this, and why it was so difficult for people in Brazil to do this…I started to plan. Little, little things," she explains.

By the way she describes her own hustle, it's quite clear that Anitta commands an understanding of something foreign, or even foul, to other artists: the business of it all. "It's impossible for me to push every market at the same time without being big in every one of them," she says, her perspective impressively shifting from artist to manager, "I need to start one by one." She begins to matter-of-factly list off the territories she's conquered thus far, like a manager would, starting with Brazil: "I started doing what I do, and then I got big. Perfect. So now, let's go to the next one. That was the Spanish market."

So, she explains, she started introducing herself to new audiences, like her remix of J Balvin's massive 2015 smash "Ginza" and 2016's bilingual bop "Sim ou Não" (or "Sí o No") with Maluma, in order to generate anticipation for her eventual debut. "I started doing things more like myself, trying to show people who I am, so I could start getting into other markets using Brazilian numbers, too," she says.

In July of 2017, Anitta signed a U.S. and Latin American management deal with Shots Studios, which represents an array of Internet personalities and artists including Alesso, Lele Pons and Rudy Mancuso. With the company helping to facilitate some of her early crossover collaborations, she began to conquer outside of her own country.

After securing enough hits of her own in the Spanish market, she'll be setting her sights on the English market next. In fact, she's already dropped a few tracks with some big names, including "Is That For Me?" with Alesso and "Will I See You?" with Justin Bieber's hit-making producer, Poo Bear.

The songs are a nice introduction but, by her own admission, she's not quite there yet. "I just put some material on the Internet so people could see me singing in English, too. But I don't have something, like, 'Okay, now we're going to work this market.' Not yet," she confesses.

Give her time to round up the receipts of her Spanish success — which she's definitely got, with nearly 300 million views and counting on her 2017 J Balvin duet "Downtown" alone, for instance — and she promises to "push really hard" in English soon - assuming she finds time to sleep at some point. "That's the part that I think is the most difficult," she says, "to keep doing three different markets, but being only one person."

Stretching herself increasingly thin while working in different territories is not the part of popstardom that Anitta likes the least, though. The actual worst part? "I hate to change clothes and do photos," she sighs. Come on. Really? "Yes..." she groans, miserably. "Okay, I like to take the pictures," she concedes. "But I hate the two hours getting ready, and the make-up, and getting dressed... I hate this! It's like, if I could just wake up beautiful, that I would love...pá!"

But aren't interviews the worst part, though? And no, I promise I won't be offended. "Sometimes the interviews are bad too. They ask the same things. Things that are so boring... but you're not that kind. You're not that kind!" she assures with a laugh.

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Speaking of validation, Anitta offers plenty of that in her catalog: empowerment, assertiveness, acceptance and sex positivity are all themes along the way too, as Anitta strives to do more than just make people dance and sing to her music. At the same time as violence against the LGBTQ community hit an all-time high in Brazil last year, Anitta teamed up with Major Lazer and Pabllo Vittar, Brazil's premiere drag queen-turned-pop superstar, for one of the defining Songs of Summer '17: "Sua Cara."

And no, it wasn't just a bop for bop's sake. "When I do my songs, and when I'm going to do a video, I think about having something more to make people think about it," she explains. She worked on "Sua Cara" with Diplo for almost a year before it came out, she explains. After Diplo sent in backing vocals recorded by Pabllo, Anitta suggested that they enlist Pabllo for a full-on feature — for both the song and video.

"My idea was to have this video in Morocco, which is a very, very conservative country," she explains. "So, I was sending a message like: look, we have a drag queen, dancing with very crazy clothes, in the desert, in this very conservative country," she says. "Having a drag queen singing, with great talent - and not being like, 'Oh, it's a drag queen, she can't really sing' — I wanted to send the opposite message. And it worked." Having Pabllo involved was crucial in encouraging discussion, she says. "Even the fact that you accept that another person thinks different than how you think, and you can respect her... this, for me, is a very good thing," she says.

"Music doesn't choose its public. Music doesn't have prejudice."

Her passion for inclusion extends throughout her videography. "When I did another video of mine, for 'Paradinha,' I put every type of person in the video — plus-size dancers, children, a lot of different types of people to say hey, everybody can dance. Let's stop the prejudice."

Like Whitney, Anitta also believes the children are our future. Therefore, she made sure to highlight youth from all around the world in her vibrant visual for this summer's "Medicina." "I already had the idea in my mind," she explains. "We did it in a lot of countries. I wanted to send a message that children are the future, and music doesn't choose its public. Music doesn't have prejudice or anything." And so, Anitta hired local productions across several countries — choosing the children, the clothing, "everything" — to make her uplifting statement. "It was a lot of production," she admits.

Throughout our conversation, one constant theme weaves itself throughout Anitta's words: control. "I love being the manager," she happily coos. "I love making decisions. I love to talk to the employees and decide what I need to do, what they need to do for me. This is really the best part of all."

"Meiga e Abusada" is not only the name of the singer's catchy major label debut, but also an apt description for the assured entertainer. Ever the fiery Aries, Anitta comes alive when describing her own decisions and, just as quickly, shoos away the idea of following with tradition with a tone of disgust in her voice. "I don't really care about the way people do things. I just want to do it my way. I don't care about how things used to go. I just create my way to go," she says at the thought of when to expect her next album.

She goes off of feeling, she says, like her 2017 CheckMate project, which saw her dropping one song per month. "I decided to do that one month before I started. When I feel I need to do something, I just go and do it," she says. "I just work, and if I feel like it's an album, I do an album. If I feel it's a single, I do a single... I let the life lead me and drive me."

Thinking too far into her future, she explains, is not very interesting to her, either. "What I think is that I'm 25. And I never thought that by 25 I would have such a great career as I have right now. I thought it would be like this when I was 35 or 40. I'm really satisfied with what I have, and I think we need to enjoy what we have, too," she says, pulling away to call out society at large. "I think it's kind of wrong when we reach some kind of goal, we're already thinking about the next one, and the next one. It feels like we are never happy. We're never satisfied. I'm not like this."

"I don't really care about the way people do things. I just want to do it my way."

How does Anitta like to live, then? "I like to enjoy. Thank God for what I have. I want to do more things. I want to keep working. I'm already happy with what I did, and I wouldn't be disappointed if I stopped here. I would be really proud of myself, because what I did in music was really hard. I want to keep doing what I do without thinking about being No. 1 and being the best. I'm not the kind to compare myself with other people. I just compete with myself."

She's also perks up when discussing the ways she plans to use her massive platform, including an upcoming children's cartoon back home in Brazil. "I have a very big audience of children in Brazil, but I've never done something especially for them," she explains of the upcoming project, which will see Anitta teaching kids through song about "nature, how to forgive friends, how to eat healthy, how not to stay on their cell phones all day... I'll have something to teach the children. I'm really happy with this."

She's got dream collaborations on the bucket list, too — "Drake, I love him" — and plenty of pinch-me moments to remind her that this dream is truly a reality, like the time Britney Spears casually got to work (bitch) to the sound of Anitta's global smash hit collaboration with J Balvin and Jeon, "Machika," on her Instagram.

"It was really crazy," she said when she saw the video. "I came from a very humble place in Brazil. Some people would never even think that I could be a singer anywhere in Brazil. So to imagine being listened to by Britney? That's something that was impossible to me," she says, incredulously. (And yes, of course, she'd be down for a collaboration one day. Call her, B).

While she's in no rush to release an album (unless the spirit moves her), she does plan on releasing a track called "Veneno" ("Poison") this November, which she teased earlier for fans in the summer with a unique IGTV series involving her fans in the process of choosing between that song and "Medicina" as her next single.

"Some artists just say 'hey, this is my new single,'" she says. "But, how did they do this? How did we get to this point? I liked to show them how the process is... and also to make them part of the process." "Medicina" ultimately won over "Veneno," but she confesses the upcoming song is actually her favorite of the two. And it's definitely coming out, right? "Yes, of course! For the love of God, yes!" she happily cries, already impatient for people to hear and see the production. "The music video is crazy! It's me, covered by snakes... 24 snakes on the top of my body!" she exclaims.

Feeling guilty for taking too much time of a pop star wearing so many hats (and snakes), I thank Anitta for breaking away from filming La Voz to speak with me. And, as not to disappoint the people of Brazil and Stan Twitter at large, I leave her with a simple plea: "Everyone in Brazil asks pop stars to come to Brazil. So, please: come to America." "Perfect! Yes, yes, yes!" she promises, laughing uproariously. "They're always saying 'Come to Brazil.' Now they're saying 'Come to Brazil' to me!"

Photography: Eduardo Bravin