By Marcella Nahas
When was the last time you heard of a Brazilian artist breaking into the international music scene? Antonio Carlos Jobim? Sérgio Mendes? Roberto Carlos? As the only Portuguese speaking country in Latin America, Brazil stands out. It draws a distinct audience separate from the Latin American cultural community. Because of the country’s large population, many Brazilian artists are satisfied with the audience and success that they can attain within Brazil’s domestic music scene. Some Brazilian artists, however, have an insatiable desire to grow beyond borders and spread their artistry globally. These are the artists that are remembered for spreading Brazilian culture worldwide.
Anitta is one of those revolutionary artists. Through her unique artistry, strategic collaborations, and a killer instinct for branding opportunity, she has become Brazil’s first modern artist to break through internationally. And, with her, has come the entrance of funk cariaoca, a unique style of funk music that has come out of the dense favelas of Brazil. If this genre has been bubbling beneath the surface of the world stage, Anitta has triggered its eruption. From the onset of her career to her present and continued success, Anitta has blazed a path for artists to grow from a local success to an international and multicultural sensation.
Who is Anitta, and What in the World is Funk Carioca?
Anitta – or by her original name, Larissa de Macedo Machado – is a funk carioca singer, songwriter, and dancer from Honório Gurgel, one of the many slums in Rio de Janeiro. She began singing in churches at a young age, where singing soon developed into much more than a hobby. In 2010, after gaining a following on YouTube, Anitta signed a record deal with an independent funk carioca label, Furacão 2000. Following the success of her first single, “Meiga e Abusada,” Anitta signed with her current label, Warner Music, in 2013. While she has been self-managed since 2014, Anitta has also built a team of over 50 people that work directly with her, helping to develop her brand and build upon her massive success.
Funk carioca is a Brazilian musical genre and socio-political movement that developed in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the late ‘80s, after one of the nation’s first funk artists, DJ Malboro, released the album “Funk Brasil. The genre mixes Miami bass with a very unique rhythm – the “funk carioca” rhythm – that defines the genre. The music of funk carioca is composed both by and for the communities in the favelas where it originates. Its themes often discuss the harsh realities of living in the favela, much of which is uncomfortable for people in more privileged positions. While some artists are seen as sexist for their objectification of women, others use it as a medium to convey messages of female empowerment and normalize a woman’s ownership of her body and sexuality.
Beyond being a source of culture and expression for these communities, it has also had a positive impact by creating job opportunities and supporting social events within those communities. As a result of this, many people in Brazil’s favelas have developed careers as producers, singers, musicians, dancers, and even artist managers. From its conception to its cultural and economic effects, funk carioca is a style and movement that belongs entirely to the forgotten commoners of Brazilian society.
It took years for funk carioca to be accepted by Brazil’s middle and upper classes, which comprise over half of the population. This was due, in part, to the sexually explicit lyrics that made many people uncomfortable. Consequently, people avoided listening to the genre. Despite that, Anitta jumped right into the funk carioca market and made her start.
From the start of her career, Anitta realized something profound. While the lyrics to funk carioca did not speak to everyone, the music did. By following the tradition of funk carioca but changing the messages and narratives presented within it, Anitta was able to tell her story through the music and culture of her home. She used her platform to speak out about socio-political topics like women empowerment, and environmental issues impacting Brazil. As her fan-base grew began raising awareness about topics such as the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, and the impacts of climate change. Through these actions, she showed her audience that her goals extended far beyond music – more than an icon, she worked to be an advocate for her community and leader within her country.
By adjusting the features of her music that had been rejected by the upper classes, she was able to bring funk carioca into the mainstream. This transition changed how Brazilians perceived funk. Slowly, Brazil’s upper classes began to view it as an asset to Brazil’s culture, rather than an embarrassment. Because of Anitta’s music, funk carioca become a genre that could be representative of all Brazilian people and gave a voice to the people and communities through which it had been borne.
Having revolutionized the musical culture in her home country, Anitta set her sights beyond Brazilian borders, and into the international market. She saw her opportunity to wield an even bigger platform, and with the potential, purpose, and business strategies required to do so, she took it further than anyone could have imagined.
Between September and December 2017, Anitta released a single, followed by a music video, every month; these songs formed the project Checkmate. Aiming to explore different subgenres within the world of pop music and grow internationally, she chose to collaborate with different international artists, who would help her access a wide array of demographics.
In September of 2017, she released “Will I See You,” a pop song featuring a bossa nova rhythm, in collaboration with songwriter and producer Poo Bear. The song was such a departure from her previous work that it came as a shock to many of her fans – especially because she sang it in English. Despite their initial aversion to it, most of her fans came to love her new style.
This development allowed her to expand into new markets, attracting more listeners with different musical tastes. Her reputation amongst Brazilians was strengthened as she showed her versatility both as a musician and a businesswoman.
Once she began projecting herself into the international market, her value as an artist grew. Anitta had previously released musical collaborations in Spanish, which helped her reach Hispanic markets. This presence in Hispanic markets helped smoothen the transition into a “new” Anitta era, in which many of her lyrics would be sung in English. By this point it became clear: she was poised to become an icon in the Brazilian, Hispanic, and American markets.
The second phase of the Checkmate project was released in October when she collaborated with Swedish DJ, Alesso, for the single “Is That For Me”. The song launched her into EDM markets internationally and did particularly well in North America. The music video was filmed in the Amazon rainforest to raise awareness about rainforest deforestation.
She also partnered with Brazilian clothing brand C&A, the third-largest in the country, for the video. The outfits worn in the music video were made available in stores, with the slogan “Anitta used it in her music video; now it’s your turn.” This fulfilled her merchandise needs and expanded her reach throughout the country. This savvy move sparked a wave of similar partnerships between artists and companies, and these collaborations are becoming more common in Brazil.
Having made her entrance into the EDM market, Anitta set her sights on reggaeton. Working with Colombian reggaeton icon J Balvin, she released her next single, “Downtown.” The song became one of her biggest Spanish hits, as well as one of the most-streamed songs in the US. She also performed the song with J Balvin on his Vibras tour in Miami, which further cemented her presence as a reggaeton singer.
The last song of the project was “Vai Malandra,” a funk carioca song that hit 1 million streams on Spotify in the first 24 hours, breaking the record in Brazil. With this, she finished Checkmate, having launched into the international market and introducing funk carioca to the world.
While the project itself was excellent, the true genius of this project lies in how she used it to construct her image – or rather, images. Through Checkmate, she created three different Anittas. In Brazil, she is the funk singer; in the US, pop singer; and for Spanish Latin America she is the reggaeton singer – yet in all of them, she is herself. Focusing on the different niche audiences, as well as understanding cultures and their needs allowed her to adapt to the particular markets and approach their respective audiences effectively. More than anything, Anitta’s case teaches a lesson of flexibility and versatility.
Collaborations & Co-branding
Anitta’s countless collaborations with other artists have created a plethora of possibilities for her career and expanded the audiences that she can reach. Instead of treating these partnerships as normal artist collaborations, Anitta took another approach: co-branding. Anitta sees and treats herself as a brand, not just as an artist. Her collaborations with other artists mean much more than a simple partnership. It is the confluence of two forces, two brands, two strong logos, that are part of a bigger-picture strategic alliance. With each collaboration, a melded brand is created, and the project takes on a unique life of its own. For both artists involved in the collaboration, market share, customer loyalty, and the artists’ brand awareness are increased. By choosing her co-branding partners carefully, with the markets she hoped to enter in mind, Anitta was able to target her audiences with precision.
To better reach Latin markets, Anitta’s co-brandings have included Latin artists such as J Balvin, Maluma, and Luis Fonsi. To break into mainstream American markets, she has collaborated with international artists such as Madonna, Poo Bear, Major Lazer, and Rita Ora. Meanwhile, to grow and maintain her fan base home, she has continued to join forces with countless Brazilian artists, such as Kevinho, Silva, and even Caetano Veloso.
On the corporate side, Anitta has been far from shy. She currently works with 11 companies including Renault, Samsung, and Skol Beats (Ambev). As a result, brand sponsorships have become one of her largest revenue streams. In addition to giving her brand more credibility, these partnerships have strengthened her position in the market and exposed her to a wider range of clients.
From Artist, to Brand, to Franchise
Anitta figured that the best way to reach success and grow her brand was to be present everywhere, all the time. Like many stars in the music industry, she maintains an extremely active social media presence, through which she is constantly documenting her daily routine, her life on tour, and, of course, promoting her music.
This year she released a trilingual visual album, Kisses. Her release strategy was modern and innovative: she announced the release of the album on her Instagram profile, with a dedicated post to each song on it. The album’s concept is fascinating; the songs on it are all different as if they were written to be released as singles. To link them together, she explained that each song is meant to each represent a different part of her personality. This marketing tactic worked like a charm. Each song is accompanied by a music video posted to YouTube, with the whole album collecting nearly 300 million views. With this song-as-single approach, each song was able to garner more attention in terms of sales, streams, and views.
Another way in which Anitta maintains a constant presence is through the regularity of her performances. In 2018, she had 135 shows, 10 of which were outside of Brazil. She ensures that her ticket prices stay relatively low, for her fans to be able to attend multiple shows each year. In a world that is defined by online media, people value live music more than ever before – consider the growth in the popularity of music festivals worldwide. Anitta’s ability to engage her fans both on-, and off-line has proved to be one of her greatest strengths. Her live shows are always well-documented, and her fans constantly share videos of her performances online.
Outside of her artistry, Anitta has found many avenues to get her image into the market. She was one of the judges in La Voz Mexico (the Mexican version of American talent program, The Voice), which has a colossal following in Latin America. She has also given lectures detailing her innovative business and marketing techniques at events such as Harvard University’s Brazil Conference in 2018. That same year, she even released Clube da Anittinha, a children’s cartoon series based on Anitta’s friends and family. The program is broadcast on Gloob, one of the most popular children’s TV channels in Brazil. And finally, in 2019, she released a Netflix series, Vai Anitta, which documents the creation and execution of her collaborative masterpiece, Checkmate. From the persistence of her work to the diverse range of her endeavors, Anitta has pushed to ensure that her image is omnipresent in the popular cultures of Brazil and Latin America.
There is no question that Anitta is a brand worth studying. From the slums of Honório Gurgel to receiving nominations at the Latin Grammies, Anitta is on the road to becoming one of the world’s biggest stars. Her story is real, and her music is excellent; her marketing strategies have been proven to be nothing short of genius. She shows that to succeed, an artist must explore the infinite possibilities that the music industry has to offer while being true to their purpose. Be it in business or music, Anitta makes boundaries seem nonexistent. She tells us that to be an artist of the world, we must engage with all cultures. And through each success, she has continued to show the world that Brazil’s music is more alive than ever and opened the door for future generations of Brazilian musicians to follow her lead.
From revolutionizing a genre to breaking cultural boundaries, to conquering markets across the Americas, Anitta has redefined what it is to be a star in a global age. She is an undeniable icon of Brazilian excellence; but more than that, she is a shining example of how much is possible for an international artist to achieve. Through brilliant writing, strategic collaboration, and a deep understanding of her target markets, Anitta’s brand is unparalleled. Match that business sense with outstanding artistic talent, and an unbelievable work ethic: Anitta is what you get.
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