anitta grew up in a favela and became brazil’s biggest pop superstar

She has 28.5 million followers on Instagram. Rita Ora, Drake and Camila Cabello are fans. Get to know Brazil’s biggest pop export.

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May 31 2018, 10:47am

In her first quarter century on this planet we call earth, Brazilian pop superstar Anitta has performed at the Olympics (in a singing capacity, not doing the bloody shot putt or something); won five MTV Europe Music Awards; accrued over 18 million Spotify monthly listeners; worked with everyone from EDM overlord Alesso (Is That For Me) to Major Lazer (Sua Cara) to J Balvin (Downtown) and has had massive hits in Portuguese, Spanish and English. If all that wasn't impressive enough, last year Billboard named her the 15th most influential artist in the world on social networks, ahead of up and coming artists like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Shakira and Rihanna. Not bad for someone who grew up in a Favela, educated themselves in church, finished a business degree and steadily took their music outside of Rio, then outside of Brazil.

With Latin music riding the crest of a Despacito and Mi Gente-shaped wave outside of its Spanish-speaking demographic, the time feels right for Anitta -- who is playing London's Royal Albert Hall on 28 June -- to step up and take over. As we found out in this illuminating chat, however, she's happy to continue being happy and more success would be a lovely bonus.

Hello Anitta. Where are you right now?
I'm in Brazil. Working.

What are you working on?
Erm, well I'm talking to you. Later I have rehearsals for the MTV awards here in Brazil and then I have meetings. Here I'm my own manager, so when I'm not doing the artist part I'm doing the managing part.

Blimey. When did you last have a day off?
I can't remember… No, wait, I think it was the other week! May 8th! My next one is on Thursday, thank God.

Do you find it easy to relax?
Oh yes! What I really need to do, and I think it's really important, is to lock my cellphone. When it's a day off, if you're on your phone you'll never rest the right way. Even thinking about work is work. When I'm resting I prefer to lock my cellphone and I ask my the people who are with me to not be on their phones too.

Do you think we're too obsessed with our phones in general?
Look, I think the internet and cellphones changed the world. For me, it's good because I want to be an international artist, but I think we need to know how to use them properly. People are addicted. I was. But I learnt that there's a time to be without it. We need time to rest and to breathe.

Speaking of social media though, is it true that 10% of the population of Brazil follow you on Instagram (she has 28m followers)?! That's madness.
Yeah. It's a lot of pressure because Brazilian people are really warm and they want to share love and be with you, so it's tricky. I try to keep a balance. When I see people doing anything for a video or a picture or a like, I say 'hey, just enjoy the present'. I make sure and tell them to relax. I try to educate them.

Your real name is -- apologies for the pronunciation -- Larissa de Macedo Machado. Why did you change it to Anitta?
Larissa is a common name here, and I wanted to stand out. I wanted a name that when people say it it could only be me. Anitta is from a TV series in Brazil that I used to watch as a teenager and she was the girl who could be whatever she wanted to be. It wasn't necessary for her to be only one woman.

It's also one name, like Beyoncé or Rihanna.
Exactly! You don't find Anitta easily in Brazil. When you say Anitta it's me.

Where did you get your passion for music from?
I started singing in church with my grandpa. It was good because I grew up in a place that was really humble and if you didn't have money it was really hard for you to learn things, be it music or English. The church was like school for me. Everything I know about music I learned there.

Who were your musical idols growing up?
Mariah Carey was the biggest one. Then Beyoncé and Rihanna. Lots of Brazilian artists via MTV.

How did you go from singing in a choir to being Brazil's biggest pop star?
So I always loved to sing and I put a video on YouTube of me singing and dancing, like as a joke, and a producer saw it. From there I started to make music and go from Favela to Favela -- I used to live in a Favela -- and then from there we went to the city, then to the state then to the country and then to other countries.

Can you describe what living in a Favela was like?
It's like a ghetto. It's what you see in my video for Vai Malandra. People who don't have the choice to live in the city they go to the Favela. It's more dangerous. It's like a war everyday in your city.

Do you feel prouder of your achievements so far because it wasn't handed to you easily?
Yeah absolutely. It's a hard way to do it for sure. I can set an example for people who don't believe it's possible to achieve things. I am an example that it is possible.

You also studied business -- why was it important to have another option?
Well now I run my own business. I can give direction to my employees and my team. It's easier. It was hard to get into higher education but my mum was always my shining example. I use it in my work all the time.

Do you like to have total control?
Yes. Until I find somebody that can think for me, or I can teach someone to think like me. This is very difficult work -- you lose your privacy, you have to give so much -- so you at least need to be happy when you do your work. I try to do everything in the best way possible.

Last year was heralded as a big breakthrough for Latin music -- do you think that wave is here to stay? Are you keen to be part of that?
I think it's like a mission in my country. We do an exchange in a way because I know we're Latin American but we speak Portuguese. I have the mission via pop to put the two together, to bridge Portuguese and Spanish. I'd like to make people in Brazil listen to other languages, and I'd like to make people from other countries listen to Portuguese.

Your previous collaborator J Balvin performed at Coachella with Beyoncé, which felt like a big moment. Were you excited?
It was huge. I felt so happy for him because he's a brother to me. He helped me a lot. I hope he gets bigger and bigger and the most incredible thing is that he can do it in his language, and that's really amazing.

Can it be quite limiting though? To be seen as just a Latin or South American artist? You seem like a really global artist.
Look, I think the language is a difficult part, but with the internet, everything's becoming only one thing. The song I did with Major Lazer plays in a lot of countries even in Portuguese, so sometimes we can bypass these things. With the internet I think we get closer together.

People often talk about 'breaking' America, is that what you're keen to do? You're doing more English language collaborations.
I'm really happy with what I have today. If I get bigger it's going to be amazing and I'll be very happy. But if that's it, then I'm happy too. I don't want to be the number one, I just want to be happy and I already am. I can definitely live without it.

I saw on your Instagram you recently worked with Pharrell -- how was that?
I was in the studio with him and it was amazing. When he called me I couldn't believe it. It was so special to me. I cried a lot.

Do you feel like a role model? If so, what message would you like to send out?
I'd like to be an example of a real person. Sometimes people think famous people can't make mistakes or be wrong, sometimes people think we're perfect, but I want to show that it's normal to be wrong sometimes. We're human. I show my imperfections and say 'hey, this is normal'.

Anitta performs at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 28 June 2018. Tickets are available at LiveNation.co.uk