With over 300 awards under her belt, singer and actor Anitta is a global phenomenon. In a chat with Vogue Arabia, she shares why she’s on a constant mission to celebrate Brazilian funk, musical melting pots, and women’s enduring quest for freedom.
Lights, camera flashes, and a vast sea of fans gathered, their voices resonating in a rising chorus – Anitta’s performances are articulate spectacles that transcend languages. Born Larissa de Macedo Machado, Anitta is a Brazilian singer, songwriter, and actor. Across over a decade, she has grown into a global superstar, a magnet for awards, and a once-in-a-generation talent that has people from opposite sides of the world listening to her songs and hanging on to each of her words.
From 2014, for five consecutive years Anitta held onto the title of Best Brazilian Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards. Her first single of 2022, Envolver, cemented the star’s positioning as a true global force, earning her two Guinness World Records; from being the biggest solo debut by a Brazilian artist in the history of the Spotify Global Chart to helping her become the first Brazilian solo artist to win the MTV VMA Best Latin award. “I never pictured it and said, ‘Oh, I will be the first to win a VMA. I will be the first to win an EMA. No, it just happened and then I came to realize that I was the first [Brazilian to do so],” she says.
While the supernova seems to have accomplished everything a singer might aim for, Anitta’s proudest triumphs are far from an award. “Opening a door or maybe breaking prejudices and changing the way the industry was in Brazil,” she shares with calm satisfaction. Captivating millions of local and international fans, Anitta has undoubtedly secured her position as Brazil’s biggest pop star, while also proving that she is no less than an international ambassador for her country’s music. Today, she works against the clock to bring together her new, long-awaited album, scheduled for release during the first half of 2024. “It is a whole cultural funk album in English and Spanish. It is a mix of my music in Brazil, my Brazilian funk – but in an international way – featuring other languages and various productions. I think it is going to be very different from what people are used to hearing outside of Brazil,” she says.
A true multitasker, the award-winning musician is also busy launching a parallel career as an actor in the wake of her debut in the Spanish Netflix production Elite, season seven. Portraying the character of Jessica on the small screen, the outspoken self-defence teacher opened a whole new realm for the artist. “I signed to do a movie. People are inviting me to act now, and it is my second dream. After I have accomplished many things I have dreamt about in music, I think being an actor is my goal. Elite was an amazing experience and now, I am working on my next project,” shares Anitta with a warm smile.
Growing up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro city, she was never a stranger to Brazilian funk, the controversial hip hop-influenced genre. After honing her voice at church, young Larissa started performing in the favelas at the age of 16. With a profound voice and swift dance moves, the soon-to-become world-class talent already had her sight set on grand goals. “It was always my dream to make Brazil recognizable again. A long time ago, Brazil was under the spotlight with bossa nova and many other things; and there was a big moment with Carmen Miranda. But then for a long while nothing was happening for the country in terms of music. So, I just started to study and see possibilities of bringing it [international attention] back again.”
With over 64 million followers on Instagram, more than 17 million subscribers on YouTube, and 21.8 million monthly listeners on Spotify, the star has undoubtedly shattered multiple stereotypes – introducing Brazilian music to a global audience and also unshackling funk from being a stigmatized music genre that was previously associated with crime. Simultaneously, her bold, unapologetic stage persona has become an advocate for women empowerment. “I think entertainment is the quickest way that you can get to a big audience and with powerful messages.” The eloquent superstar continues, “I like to bring freedom. I believe that for women everything is harder, because we are not free to do what we want as men are. And for me, I think for women to succeed we have to work 20 times more, and there are a million times more expectations.”
Venturing through the world with grace and power, practicing her freedom, the singer is never scared of speaking out and instigating controversy. Starting from two candid Netflix docuseries, Vai Anitta (2018) and Anitta: Made in Honório (2020), to the articulate album cover of Versions of Me (2022), which featured six headshots of the singer depicting the plastic surgeries she has gone through – Anitta is an open book. “I have not always been this person. After my experience of being abused [by my boyfriend as a teenager] I wanted to create this personality that would not be afraid of anything. Because we always guilt ourselves when these things happen, even though we should not do that. So, I built this personality that would not fear anything. We should be free to say what we think. I do not like the feeling of someone silencing me. I would rather make a mistake and be like, yes, I make mistakes too, I do not know everything.”
With courage, determination, and dreams paving her way, Anitta rarely has a rest day, trotting across the globe. With a few Arab destinations on her radar, the household name is already well-acquainted with its culture, food, and music. “I have been to Dubai. I went to Burj Khalifa. The tallest building in the world! My ears certainly felt the pressure. The experience was crazy. I did not get the chance to visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi though. I wanted to go but I did not have time [during that trip].” Anitta continues with excitement, “It was Ramadan when I went. So, when it was 6PM, everybody had food together in what felt like a spiritual celebratory ceremony. It was a great experience. I love religions. I enjoy learning about them – the rituals, the celebrations, the practices, the holidays. So, it was special for me to observe.”
A seasoned foodie, she confesses to being enamored by Middle Eastern cuisine. “I got to try kafta, hummus, and shawarma. Shawarma in particular with the meats and salads – the mix of different ingredients and how it was prepared; it was so good. I absolutely loved it.” Anitta adds with a chuckle, “I want to go to Qatar for sure and I want to visit AlUla in Saudi Arabia. It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I am going there at some point. One of my best friends and I have a bucket list and AlUla is on top of it.”
As Anitta plans a handful of trips to the region, her curiosity and admiration for the Arab world extends far beyond her current bucket list, to its sounds. “I am familiar with a lot of Arab singers but there is one in particular that I grew up listening to: Amr Diab. I like his songs; I have known many of them since I was a kid.” More recently, she has also made it to the top of many best-dressed charts while wearing Arab designs. “I work with Mônot and Eli Mizrahi and then obviously Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad, who has always dressed me. He has made a bunch of amazing things for me to wear; I love his work.” The singer furthers, “Eli is very modern; his ideas are always new, unexpected. On the other hand, I love Zuhair Murad’s details. When you wear it, you feel like you are a piece of jewelry. Additionally, I believe Azzedine Alaïa is a classic.”
Beyond the many faces of Anitta – her fashion, her new music, her acting aspirations, and even the back-to-back flights – when asked about the future, serenity and confidence take over. “I feel happy. I believe the most important thing in life is when you are not a prisoner of the things that you have accomplished. I am living life, and I am proud of what I have achieved and the things that I have changed. A lot of times, when I walk in the streets nowadays, people recognize me and approach me – and that is when I feel true gratification.”
Originally published in the December 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Julia Müller
Fashion director: Amine Jreissati
Art direction: Leticia Haag
Makeup: Daniel Hernandez
Photography assistants: Marcio Marcolino, Gabriela Oliveira, Diego de Lima
Style assistant: Lita Assis
Makeup assistant: Emanuel Gregório
Producer: Sam Allison
Executive producer: Patricia Veneziano
Production managers: Marc Edenburg, Rafaella Molon