Nine Songs: Pabllo Vittar
We didn’t know how much we needed Pabllo Vittar until Pabllo Vittar came along.
The Brazilian drag queen and pop artist might be best known for her collaborations with Charli XCX on “Flash Pose”. Or for being a genderfluid superstar, in a country where one LGBTQ+ person dies every 23 hours. Or for going viral with a video where she nailed Whitney Houston’s high octaves on a TV show. Or for her flawless makeup, body and dance moves.
As it turns out, these are only a tiny portion of her talents. Whilst Vittar has accomplished all of these things, she can’t be entirely defined by any of it. Her career so far has triumphed through amalgamation and hybrid expression, in terms of gender, music and aesthetics that are unique to her. Vittar shines through her capacity to unite different cultures, backgrounds and life experiences, whilst forging her own diverse place in the music industry.
Vittar’s first stage name was Pabllo Knowles, named after Beyoncé and she first came out as a drag performer at a Halloween party for her 18th birthday watching the seventh season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Today she’s the most popular drag queen on Instagram, accumulating more than 10 million followers, and in a place of constant growth, where she’s 25 years old and still only at the beginning of her journey.
“If I look at my career, I feel this is just the start of it - it’s the tip of the iceberg. I’ve just released my third album 111, I’m starting to go on international tours, but there’s still so much I want to do - so many collaborations and so much I still want to create. I feel just as excited about what has been done and what is still to come”.
Vittar’s music is a reflection of that same mix of different references; songs that combine traditional Brazilian rhythms with more traditionally American pop anthems. Her collaborations are just as diverse: alongside cupcakKe and Brooke Candy, she featured on Charli XCX’s Charli, rapping in Portuguese on “Shake it”. In March, she released the single ‘Tímida’, a collaboration with Mexican superstar Thalia, and performed at Coachella 2019, singing “Sua Cara” with Major Lazer.
Such a melting pot of references is clear from Vittar’s Nine Songs choices, where her selection ranges from noughties bangers to Brazilian electro-trash. “I wanted to choose songs that represented my identity, which is a mix of regional sounds from Brazil - such as Forró, Rasteirinha, Tecnobrega - with world Pop music, which I love. I’m constantly discovering new music and constantly wanting to incorporate it. I love to make crazy mixes.” It’s not just the music that Vittar loves, her appreciation for aesthetics shows in the choices too, taking in the music videos, their styles and dance routines.
Our conversation takes place during the first weeks of Covid-19 isolation, yet Vittar is in great spirits and, with a glass of wine in her hand, tells me that she hopes people can dance to her choice of songs. Her prescription for the quarantine is for people to find their own way to be well, and respect the individuality of the time we’re living in. And stay at home, of course.
“My tip for this moment is to keep our minds busy, but busy with whatever you want. To not fall into the pressure of having to be productive, creative and make loads of live sessions. It’s fine if you want to create something, but it’s also fine if you just want to watch telly, sleep and eat! The important thing is to find a way of feeling good in such a difficult situation, so whatever gets you through. And to not forget that this will all pass, we are going to get our lives back.
“Let’s carry on, not give up, or lose our energy. Let’s put a smile on our faces dancing to these songs I chose for you.”
“I could spend 24 hours a day talking about Brit. I mean, you can’t be a human and not love Britney Spears! “…Baby One More Time” was my most listened song last year, in 2019. It’s the song I play before going onstage when I’m putting my face on. It’s the song I go to when I want to feel confident.
“She is a huge reference for me in terms of performance. Britney used to attend every group rehearsal to collaborate with her dancers and choreographer in the creation of all her dance routines. That kind of work ethic is something that I also have in me, I have a very close relationship with my choreographer.
“It’s all part of the professional side of being a performer, of giving it all when you’re onstage. I can’t just go there and sing, it’s not enough for me. I need to feel like I’m performing at the EMA (MTV European Music Awards) whenever I’m onstage. It all comes down to how much you give, how you deliver it and I want to give it all. Part of that, I learned from Britney.”
“Calipso is a regional rhythm from the north of Brazil. It’s a fusion of guitars, drums and electronic music, with rhythms that are very particular to that part of the country.
“The songs are great for dancing and the lyrics are very empowering. Most of the time they sing about love stories, and the songs bring reassurance and self-esteem back to people. Situations like betrayal, the end of a relationship, or falling in love, like the song I’ve chosen. Other times they just sing about dancing and dance moves - like ‘Throw your hair to this side.’ Either way, they are down to earth, day-to-day themes.
“The main character in “Nas Ondas do Rádio” is a singer telling their loved one that the song playing on the radio was written for them. The lyrics go like, ‘Pick a station on the radio, and you will hear my voice / My song will find you, you the one I love / when you listen to it, think about me, I wrote this song for you’. I always thought, ‘This is me. My songs play on the radio and I could be saying that to someone! Turn on the radio, I will be there singing a song that I made for you.’
“This is a song I play when I want to feel like I’m in love, even though I’m not. Do you know what I mean? When you want to feel romantic? When I listen to it, I can feel the feeling of falling in love.”
“You know when you’re watching a series, and there’s that moment when the main character is in a club, and the ambient sounds start to fade out, so a song starts to play loud? This is a song for that moment! For that time when you want to feel the main character of the series, the main character of your life.
“Grimes voice is angelic, and when she sings, I feel that she’s entirely present, giving all that she is. I love this about her. I have been a fan for such a long time, and recently she started to follow me on Instagram - how amazing is that?!”
“When I was very young, my Mum used to buy DVDs that were full of music videos, and you had all these different genres mixed in - hip hop, R&B, electronic music, a bit of everything. That’s where I first saw “Try Again” and I completely fell in love with it.
“It’s all just so wonderful and Aaliyah does not stop dancing for a second! She has that long straight hair, which was so iconic to that time, her beautiful make-up, heavy eyeliner and heavy shadows - full on the eyes. Her belly button is showing off in those amazing low waist trousers. I still love dressing like this. I’d give one my nails to be in that music video, even one of the ones I wore in the “Flash Pose” video, which is now here in my wardrobe.
“I loved this song when I was young, but I didn’t go back to it until many years later. It’s funny to think that back then I was already a little gay, and now I’m a big gay. When music is great, it doesn’t age - great music is timeless - and “Try Again” is the perfect mix between pop and R&B. Sometimes I listen to this song in my bedroom and I feel like I am Aaliyah!”
“This song has a great story behind the lyrics. They were born out of bad reviews that critics had written about a clothes collection shown at São Paulo Fashion Week in 2003, and the verses are a sort of collage of what was said about the show, that’s why you have lines like ‘Sequins are back, back, back’.
“I am constantly exposed to a lot of criticism, so “Baile de Peruas” really hits the spot for me. I find it very inspiring how they made art out of bad reviews and harsh words, it transformed something negative into a strength and that is so empowering. As well as the tone of it, its mockery and it’s also so much in your face.
“Can you imagine the reviewers listening to it? When I’m putting my makeup on before a gig, this song really gets me going.”
“Purity Ring takes me back to 2012, when I started a BA in Design in Uberlândia, a city in the state of Minas Gerais, in the south-east of Brazil. I was very much into them, when everyone else was like, ‘Who the hell is this band?’ They used to call me indie because, this was my vibe. Oh, I miss those times!
“Back then, I had a good friend called Mateus who started to come out as a drag queen with me, when it was early days for me. He was a very important part of the beginning of my journey, as well as one the first people I made friends with at uni. He was the person who introduced me to this song. He’s no longer here with us, so whenever I listen to it, I think of him. He knew so much about music, and what I learned with him lives with me - music never dies.
“Lofticries” is a song I listen to when I want to chill and relax. The way the melody goes makes me feel like lying on the floor, sunbathing, with a glass of white wine in my hands, forgetting about everything else. There are times that I find it relaxing to listen to trance, but there are times when this is more what I’m looking for.”
“This song is part of my early teens. At the time, Nelly did a version of this song with Di Ferrero (a member of the Brazilian rock band NX Zero), where he sang his part in Portuguese.
“This is how I found out about it, because back then I was a total singles babe, you know what I mean? You know when you’re a babe that only listens to the singles? Don’t be that person - even though I was, ha ha - listen to albums! There are so many great songs that we miss because of this singles culture.
“It also brings back memories of when I was 13 or 14. I used to live in Caxias, a countryside town in Maranhão, in the north east of Brazil. My Mum used to travel a lot and me and my sisters would go wild when she wasn’t around. I used to sing on local TV shows, but I would only sing Beyoncé, because that was what I was into at that time. Nelly Furtado was more like when I wanted a change, so I would listen to songs that were played in clubs. Clubs were out of my reach then, so the novelty in the songs they played was exciting for me!”
“Everything M.I.A. does is so spiritual, but still, they are bangers! I listen to “Come Walk With Me” when I want to work out, when I’m drinking with my friends, or even driving with my Dad. Sometimes we lower the car windows and play it very loud. It’s a cathartic one for me.
“And the music video - so amazing! There are all those images of gods and goddesses; I don’t know their names, but I can’t stop staring and thinking about how beautiful they are. I find it very inspiring, how she brings her cultural and spiritual background to everything that she creates. That’s empowering, she’s a big reference for me.
“The person who introduced me to this song was that same friend I mentioned before, Mateus. We used to throw house parties, because we didn’t have enough money to go to clubs. Even now, if I’m at a party with my friends and I hear this song, you would have to hold me and stop me from banging my head on the floor. I like dancing with power, so I feel like this is my song!”
“A couple of years ago, I moved to São Paulo to become an artist, but as it didn’t take off at that time, I got a job at a hair and beauty salon. The TV was always on, with this local channel that showed all sorts of music videos, regardless of how new or old they were. One of them was “Nobody’s Home” by Avril Lavigne. It was on every day and it became iconic to me.
“My friends and I used to get together to look up lyrics and translate them into Portuguese, so we could sing them when we were hanging in shopping malls, or in those clubs for underage teens. I wanted to know what the words were so I could sing it with real intent!”
“This was after my Emo days when I listened to Slipknot, so I really got into Avril. I even dyed my hair black to look like her in the music video! It was very liberating to me at the time to feel like rock-girl-queen. Avril was at her peak and the character in the video had run away from home, cut her hair and gone rogue. I still watch this music video when I want to feel young again.”