Anitta approaches her favourite songs choices through a common theme: beginnings; the songs that laid the foundations of the pop phenomenon’s story.
Even if they happened so organically and at times seemed irrelevant, such as the soundtrack of a movie being played during Sunday lunch, they planted seeds that led to an unimaginable outcome.
“When I was still a girl, dancing to the music video of Beyoncé’s “Baby Boy” in my room, I could never have dreamt that one day I would actually record a song with Sean Paul”, she tells me. Sean Paul apart, it’s an experience we can all relate to right now. It’s perhaps even clearer than ever how we can’t predict, or barely imagine, how the future will unfold. Our best chance is in the present moment, in making the most of what we have and what we have already lived through. In this sense, Anitta’s story has many lessons to teach us.
Born Larissa de Macedo Machado, she’s one the biggest pop stars of all time in Brazil. Her list of collaborations takes in Madonna, Rita Ora, Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg and J Balvin, as well as Brazilian Tropicalia legends such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Now signed to Warner Records in the US, she’s preparing to release her first multilingual album later this year.
Anitta is currently the most streamed Brazilian artist on Spotify, with 7.6 billion streams globally, she has 47 million followers and counting on Instagram, has won awards including the Latin Grammys and MTV EMAs and performed at the 2016 Olympics opening ceremony Added to all of that, she also has her own Netflix docuseries, Vai Anitta, but it’s not surprising to hear that she wasn’t born into this life, most people aren’t, even more so in Brazil.
However, Anitta’s journey to this point has been filled with surprising outcomes and chain reactions that were impossible to predict. Her first breakthrough is one such story. Growing up in Honório Gurgel, a poor neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, her first contact with music came from singing in the church choir. After graduating from school, her dad pointed her towards a business course, in the belief that art studies were for rich people. Anitta began an internship at a multinational corporation, but without ever discarding the dream to perform.
In 2010, she posted a light-hearted, singalong video on YouTube, where she danced and sang, with a deodorant can as a microphone. It was prove the first of many breakthrough moments in her life. Producers from the independent label Furacão 2000 - highly influential within the Brazilian funk scene - came across the video and got in touch. Anitta thought it was a prank before she discovered, through a mutual friend, that it was anything but. She was just 17 years old at the time and since then, her relentless hard work and breakthroughs have kept coming.
Her business course came in handy after all, and she’s helped set new standards of self management and professionalism in the Brazilian music industry. Alongside that, her days attending and then performing at favelas in Rio de Janeiro would go on to see Anitta incorporating Brazilian funk to pop music and choreographed dance moves - her own dance move quadradinho [little square] became her trademark.
As with her own story, Anitta’s favourite song have their own motifs - each of them started a chain reaction that would lead her to become the artist she is today.
“Dreamlover” was the first song that I listened to by Mariah Carey and I have always been a huge fan of hers. It’s also one of my earliest memories of music, I remember listening to it when I was only three years old! I know, ha ha, I was very little then, but it’s true!
“It’s great how I grew up listening to her, and her music has stayed with me through all of these years, I never grew out of it. My life and my career have changed in so many ways but my admiration for her remained constant, I still love everything she releases.
“I come from a humble background and as we didn’t have much money, my mum and my aunties used to share the CDs they had, swapping them each week. We would keep a record for a week or so, and then we would exchange it for another. I remember that sometimes, if it was someone else’s turn to keep a CD I wanted to listen to, I would pay a visit to their house only to hear a certain song!
“My contact with Mariah came from there. Her music brings me back to my mum and family memories. They were big references for art and music, and a lot of what I know and what I learned came from them.”
“No Me Platiques Más” was the first song in Spanish that I ever heard in my life. My mum used to play it every Sunday, while she was cooking for us. My aunties and her were big fans of Luis Miguel - and Mariah Carey, of course. It’s funny how they both became very special artists to me, and that I grew up listening to them without ever imagining how important they would be for my career.
“The connection I had with Luis Miguel and that bit of history of Latin culture was completely natural - it wasn’t something I had to research. It was part of my childhood and the music that was played in my household.
"The dots connected later in life, when his music and that early contact I had with Mexican music was incorporated into the work I was creating. I could never have imagined that I would be someone that gets asked questions about him!”
“Baby Boy” is the song that I used to perform in front of the mirror. I would pretend I was on the beach, rolling around and throwing sand in the air, just like she does in the music video. I used to watch it over and over, trying to copy the dance moves and all the rest. I’m not sure if I was getting right at that time, ha ha, but it doesn’t really matter.
“This song is also very special to me because it features Sean Paul. When I was singing along to it in my bedroom, I could never have dreamt that one day I would actually get the opportunity to record a song with him.
“Beyoncé is a symbol of perfection and excellence. The quality of everything she releases is so high, special and sophisticated. This standard is something that extends to all of her work; it’s not only present in her music, but in her work ethic and the way she handles her career... it’s flawless.”
"Like the character itself, who simultaneously embodies youth and womanhood, this song gives me a mixture of feelings. There’s mystery, sensuality, pain and love all together and I believe those feelings shift around according to whoever is listening.
“There are many covers of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and it was difficult for me to choose one because they are all so good! The Brazilian singer Maria Gadu did a beautiful version of it, but I went for Nina Simone in the end. I’ve started taking French lessons during the quarantine period, so it’s also special for me because of that.”
“The first time I heard “Finally” was in the movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert. Cinema is very important to my work - I often use movies as references for my music videos - but this one is special, because it was my first introduction to LGBT culture.
“I remember watching it with my mum and falling in love with this world that was completely new to me. Up to that point, I hadn’t had any contact with it - there were no references in my family, so it opened my eyes to a universe that was new, exciting and fantastic! This song became a symbol of it.”
“History aside, I still listen to this song all the time. If I’m at a party or a karaoke, “Finally” is my go-to song. If you’re at my party or I’m DJing with one of my playlists, you will also be there dancing to it before you even realise!”
“I included this song for a specific and special reason. Even though I have always been very open to different kinds of music, I used to think I would never be into a song like this - heavy drums, heavy guitars and shouty vocals. That was until the day I said to myself that if I was going to become the singer I wanted to be, I didn’t want to hold prejudices against different genres, and I would try to know a little bit about as much of them as I could.
“That’s when I started to research music and seek out sounds that were different from what was familiar to me. My friends from school introduced me to “I’m So Sick” and it was very meaningful to me, because it led me into exploring guitar music, which led me to alternative rock, indie rock and bands like The Strokes.”
“You wouldn’t necessarily imagine that I would love a song by Belle and Sebastian right? Haha! But I do - I love this song and this whole record!
“Funny Little Frog” is another one that stands out to me, because it brings me back to this time when I was learning how to listen to songs that were different from the ones I was used to. The song was a big discovery, and the lesson of learning and loving the diversity in music was essential to me and my career as a singer. It revealed a principle to understand different languages of sound and not to hold a prejudice against any specific style.
“The lyrics of “Funny Little Frog” are thoughts that I relate to, and I’ve felt something very similar to at times in my life. I find all of the songs on this album very soothing and I instantly feel good when I listen to them. It brings me to a place where I can find and appreciate solitude. I can travel with it and feel all the goodness that springs from it.”
“I picked this song because it was a key reference in the process of composing my album. We worked in a way where we assembled producers from all over the world, so they could bring their individual perspective and sound references to the studio while I was gathering Brazilian sounds and songs that I love. The idea of the collaboration was to mix and match these together to create something diverse and unique.
“16 Toneladas” is a song that I played a lot in those studio sessions, so that people could get a grip of what the Brazilian vibe is, and they could understand our concept of melody beats and percussion - our samba.
“This song is unanimous - everybody loves it! From Pharrell to Ryan Tedder, who is producing my new album, everyone who listens to this song goes like, ‘Wow! This is fantastic!’”
“This is another song that I got to know through cinema. I was very little when I watched Selena [a biopic about the singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez] where she was played by Jennifer Lopez, and I completely fell in love with it. I think I was around eight years old, and soon as the movie finished I went back to play “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” because I wanted to dance to it.
“It’s crazy for me to think that the little girl dancing in front of the mirror would become a person who gets asked about Selena when giving interviews and receiving awards. An episode that seemed so irrelevant to my childhood - a movie that my mum used to play while we were having lunch - changed my life forever and paved my way to another bit of Latin culture, that would become part of my day-to-day life years later.
“It’s something I could never have imagined but still, talking about her feels very natural to me. This is my favourite song of hers, but her whole work and career are incredibly inspiring.”