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“Versions of Me” shows Anitta’s best side, even if's not her best music to date

"Versions of Me"

Release date: 12 April 2022
The new album from the pop star Anitta
25 April 2022, 10:59 Written by Ana Clara Ribeiro
Anitta changed Brazilian pop culture as her contemporaries knew it, and in the last years, she’s been on a mission to make herself and Brazilian funk Brazil’s main cultural exports.

Released on the tails of her global hit, "Envolver", Versions of Me is her first album on a foreign label and her ultimate endeavour toward global domination. The release itself is an unprecedented feat for the 29-year old Rio-born artist, even if it falls short in selling Anitta at her best.

The question is not so much whether Anitta can conquer the world. She has more than enough star quality for that, and the timing now is more propitious than it ever was. The real question is whether she do it without appealing to Latinx clichés, such as “La Bamba” (which is sampled in “Gimme your Number (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)”? The same could be asked for what a track like “Girl From Rio”, which samples the most popular Brazilian song of all time (“Garota de Ipanema”, better known as "Girl from Ipanema") can do for a Brazilian artist specifically.

You have to at least give Anitta credit for trying to make canon out of an alternative interpretation of the glamourized, bohemian Rio de Janeiro lifestyle. Even so, when paired with Anitta's nonetheless iconic performances at Coachella 2022, where she checked all the boxes of a foreign-friendly Brazilian performance by adding musical citations of “Mas Que Nada” and “Magalenha”, at first these songs from Versions of Me may feel like she's succumbing to stereotypes. However, these references say less about Anitta’s lack of creativity, and more about how Brazil still has a long way to go to expand its brand beyond samba, bossa nova, Carnival, and beaches. Perhaps a Brazilian artist branching to bigger markets cannot afford not to stick to the same old Brazilian references to dialogue with foreign audiences yet. Not even an artist as disruptive as Anitta.

With lyrics in Portuguese, Spanish, and English, and an even broader variety of music genres, Versions of Me adds an intriguing page to the already complicated book of the Brazilian vs Latinx identity, and of Latinx artists trying to crossover into the English-speaking music markets.

Versions of Me starts in great style with the sensual reggaeton of “Envolver”, and hits its apex too soon with “Gata (feat. Chencho Corleone)", a track that summarizes Anitta's path in a brilliant and involving way: it starts as Neoperreo and then transitions rhapsodically to funk carioca; like a musical picture of Anitta's plan to make the ghetto Brazilian genre strike overseas. Even though it's sung in Spanish and obviously informed by reggaeton, the connection with Anitta's background flows naturally; not for a second does she sound like trying too hard to cater to Latin American audiences (which, unlike many may think, are not as close to Brazil when it comes to cultural exchange as they are in the map).

But Versions of Me is not just macro, meta conversation. Anitta’s personal charms are present too. “I’d Rather Have Sex” scores points in humour for the meme-potential of its creaking-bed sounds, and for featuring tamborzão (the beat is the foundation for one of funk carioca's variants). From then on, the album withers, revamping occasionally in tracks like “Maria Elegante (feat. Afro B)”, and “Que rabão (feat. Mr Catra)". The latter is a fusion of 150-bpm-funk with trap, and one of the highlights on the record. The very fact that no English translation of “rabão” makes justice to the partially sexy, partially funny meaning of the Brazilian slang for “ass” would make the track’s presence in the album worthwhile already. Or maybe it is also because it assembles an impressive roster of Brazilian urban music stars: funk MC Kevin o Chris, trap producer Papatinho, and posthumous participation by the king of proibidão funk, Mr Catra, while also bringing American rapper YG to join the baile de favela. “Que rabão” is where Anitta sounds the most like the charismatic funk queen that many Brazilians love to love (and conservatives love to hate), such as in her past hits like 2017’s “Vai Malandra”. For the rest, the album sticks to pop, trap, disco-rock, and more reggaeton.

While Versions of Me does indeed show many versions of Anitta, it's maybe too many. At a time when hybridity and fluidity are pleaded to legitimize artistic exploration just as much as they are used as an excuse for inorganic artistic choices, it can be frustrating that such a generic motif is claimed by an artist whose brand has been fairly consistent such as Anitta.

Still, it's an enjoyable record and, if anything, it might drag new listeners to the effervescent world of Anitta. Hopefully they’ll land in her best works: her debut and sophomore albums, Anitta (2013) and Ritmo Perfeito (2014), whose music sounds almost ingenious in retrospect; Bang (2015); and her punctual hits “Vai Malandra”, “Paradinha”, “Bola Rebola”, “Downtown”.

Aside from musical references, Versions of Me tells Anitta’s story in how it reflects her understanding of the real role music plays in reaching a point where an artist like her will be marketed as proof that "music is a universal language". Until now, she needed not to branch too far from her roots to reach farther places (even when she aimed for Spanish-speaking markets, she chose reggaeton, a ghetto-born genre that shares similarities with funk carioca to a degree). Adding generic mainstream pop to her catalogue now feels like too much of a safe choice and a bit of a waste of her unique spark and sound. But don’t doubt Anitta’s ability to make that choice pays off in the long run. She is a skilled pop songwriter and magnetic performer, but it’s her faith in her vision, combined with her business-savviness and marketing genius, that led her to build a career that transcended the limitations of her natal Rio de Janeiro suburbs, and now Brazil.

As she dreams of becoming Brazilian funk's poster girl and pave the way for more Brazilian artists to have a global platform, Anitta knows damn well that the route to sucess requires a few concessions and adjustments, and she's very willing to make them.

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