The Cultural Power of Anitta in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

In “Girl From Rio,” Anitta changes bossa nova’s soft power. The video shows provocative clips that are different from the conservative image Bolsonaro wants to promote.
Bossa Nova, Brazil, Brazil news, Brazilian music, Anitta, Anitta singer, Anitta Brazilian singer, Jair Bolsonaro, soft power, Franthiesco Ballerini

Anitta performing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 10/5/2019. © Delmiro Junior / Shutterstock

June 25, 2021 13:15 EDT

Anitta is turning her back on Brazil — and for a good reason. One of the most successful Brazilian singers of the 21st century, she alone gathered over 370,000 people in just one carnival block in Rio early last year. But now she wants millions more, and from all over the world.

In late April, Anitta released her most expensive video for her new song, “Girl From Rio.” She had one goal in mind: conquer the ears of the world. Her method was by reshaping a notorious Brazilian cultural soft power known as bossa nova.

The music video begins with clips of the singer dressed like a Hollywood star in 1950s Rio de Janeiro. Surrounded by thin, mostly white men, Anitta sings an English adaptation of the internationally famous “Girl From Ipanema,” which was released in 1962 by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. The video then shows viewers the real Rio de Janeiro. A trap beat drops and our eyes shift to black people dancing in Piscinao de Ramos (Ramos’ Pool), an artificial beach created by the government in 2000 in the suburbs of Rio.

Bolsonaro’s Conservative Brazil?

For two years, Anitta was heavily criticized by fans and artists for not taking a public stance over Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right president. During the 2018 election campaign, she was questioned about her absence in the #EleNao (#NotHim) movement against Bolsonaro. At the time, she argued that she was only 25 years old and had zero political knowledge.

Bolsonaro’s nationalist policies aim to bring back the beauty and glory of Brazil’s past. But the truth is that he is more known for his sexist, homophobic and racist declarations from his time in the Chamber of Deputies. Last year, one of his most trusted colleagues, Damares Alves, the minister of human rights, family and women, acted to stop a legal abortion on a 10-year-old girl, who became pregnant after being raped by her own uncle.

With Bolsonaro in power, Brazilians are currently living under a conservative administration. This is particularly reflected in the federal government’s cultural decisions. Bolsonaro’s government monitors exhibitions, music, films and TV shows and assesses if they align with the state’s view of family and religious values.

Anitta has finally posted statements on social media criticizing Bolsonaro’s administration. Yet none of her tweets are as powerful as the message her new video carries.

A Different Rio

“Hot girls, where I’m from, we don’t look like models,” she sings, with scantily clad women dancing on an artificial beach. The song puts an emphasis on women without silicone breasts showing off their bodies with cellulite. The video also shows black men putting cream on women to bleach their body hair, while others barbecue meat on the beach. Some couples even look like they’re almost having sex in the sea. This is a completely different Brazil from the country Bolsonaro wants to portray to the world.

Anitta’s video presents clips of the Rio suburb’s poverty, but in a funny and sexy way. The video focuses on the nostalgic past of a white Rio de Janeiro that never really existed, but whose image was created with the help of the most popular Brazilian rhythm of all time, bossa nova. Translated as “new wave,” this genre is a mix of jazz, African beats and samba.

In 1962, the historical debut at Carnegie Hall by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto helped bring bossa nova to the world stage. In the same year, Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes released “Garota de Ipanema” (Girl From Ipanema), one of the most famous Brazilian songs of all time. The muse to inspire the composers was Helo Pinheiro, a 17-year-old girl with blonde hair and blue eyes who walked every day on the beach.

As a successful singer whose fortune is estimated at $100 million at the age of 28, Anitta’s cultural power overseas is being built song by song. In the past four years, 24 of her 32 singles were dedicated to international markets. Giovanni Bianco, a Brazilian creative director, produced the “Girl From Rio” video. He has worked several times with Madonna, who released the song “Faz Gostoso” with Anitta in 2019.

Changing Bossa Nova

With bossa nova becoming more popular worldwide, the “Girl From Rio” video cost at least $200,000. Anitta has already collaborated with international stars like Maluma, Major Lazer, Cardi B. and J. Balvin. The official launch party of the song took place at Strawberry Moon, a bar at The GoodTime Hotel in Miami whose partner is Pharrell Williams, an American singer and producer.

In May, “Girl from Rio” was the 58th most-listened song on Spotify after its release, with 1 million plays in Brazil and 400,000 in other countries. Although Anitta featured on popular US shows with NBC and also on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the song soon fell out of the top 100. With 54 million followers on Instagram, the singer’s fans accused Warner Music — the label Anitta is associated with — of not promoting the song worldwide.

In the video, the white images of the 1950s, carried by bossa nova’s soft pace and soft power, give way to the colorful scenes in “Girl From Rio.” With its trap beat and variation of funk, this is the most popular Brazilian genre in the world today. With the help of her record label or not, Anitta wants to conquer the world with a Rio de Janeiro that is far from the one shown on postcards or holiday brochures — and certainly not the one Bolsonaro wants to promote.

Anitta wants to focus on empowering black people, women and those with standard bodies, not with abs, breasts and butts like models. She definitely knows what she’s doing.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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