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Brazilian star Anitta wants 'baile funk' to go global like reggaeton

The singer-songwriter has strategically introduced the style that started in Brazil's favelas through her collaborations with Cardi B, J Balvin and others.
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Four years ago, the Brazilian singer-songwriter Anitta climbed to the top of Brazil's music industry, winning some of its biggest music awards and becoming its foremost pop star. But with that stardom, she said, came a pivotal realization.

Brazilian music has not had a big moment since the 1960s, when bossa nova's samba and jazz influences became popular around the world. Now, Anitta, 27, sees an opportunity to catapult Brazilian culture to the global stage through "baile funk," or "funk carioca."

Anitta has conquered the music industry in Brazil and in Latin America by strategically introducing baile funk throughout countless collaborations and her previous four albums.

Throughout her career, Anitta has stayed true to her musical roots and landed collaborations with such stars as Madonna, J Balvin, Maluma, Snoop Dogg and the Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso, among many others.

Baile funk started as an underground music style from Brazil's low-income informal settlements, known as favelas, during the 1970s and the 1980s. Its contagiously vibrant rhythms are a unique blend of hip-hop subgenres from Miami and Rio de Janeiro, combined with samba, Afrobeat and Latin music.

Baile funk remained a somewhat clandestine genre until it started crossing over into the mainstream in the 1990s, and it became a cultural phenomenon in Brazil after the 2000s. Despite its popularity, it has been the subject of crackdowns, and musicians have faced criminal charges around the music's lyrics about provocative topics like crime, drugs, violence and racism.

"There is a lot of prejudice with people that do funk music," Anitta said after she finished recording a special performance for Time as an honoree of the magazine's second annual TIME100 Next list, which highlights 100 emerging leaders. "That's why, for me, it's so important to embrace it and to say, 'Yeah, I'm a funk person.'"

Anitta's TIME100 Next performance included a medley of her newest song, called "Loco," with hits such as the Portuguese song that catapulted her to stardom in Brazil, "Vai Malandra," and the bilingual track "Me Gusta," featuring the Grammy-winning rapper Cardi B and the Puerto Rican singer Myke Towers.

"Me Gusta" was Anitta's second top 10 entry on the Hot Latin Songs chart after it debuted at No. 5 on Oct. 3, and it also gave her her first entry on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it debuted at No. 91.

Anitta was born Larissa de Macedo Machado in Honório Gurgel, a lower-class neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. She broke through in Brazil in 2013 focusing on baile funk and singing mainly in Portuguese.

She later branched out into Latin urban music genres, such as reggaeton, starting in 2016, after she learned to sing in Spanish.

"I didn't want to be, like, just singing in Spanish because everybody's doing it. I want to know what I'm doing. I want to understand about the culture. I want to be able to communicate and not only, like, sing the song and that's it," Anitta said, explaining why she learned the language first.

Since then, Anitta, who is trilingual, has become the leading artist of a new generation of Latin American musicians who are mixing Latin sounds with Brazilian culture and American pop music.

She described how she started to travel and compare countries' music industries. "I saw how hard it is for Brazilians to get over here," she said about the U.S., "or in other markets."

The biggest challenge was to figure out how to blend international sounds in a way that appealed to Brazilians, who "are very locked in what is Brazilian," while introducing baile funk in a way global audiences could appreciate.

Most recently, she collaborated with Cardi B and Myke Towers for her hit "Me Gusta," which is the newest single on her highly anticipated album "Girl From Rio," whose release has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Her coming fifth album was executive-produced by the OneRepublic singer-songwriter Ryan Tedder, who has worked on Grammy-winning albums by Adele and Taylor Swift. It will mark her debut at Warner Records in the U.S.

Anitta is looking to further break into the U.S. market in an increasing openness to global sounds like K-pop, Afrobeat and reggaeton.

She said her new album will be a big mix. "We're trying things. ... We're just having fun trying new stuff and see what happens."

Her hope is that in a few years, baile funk will become as recognizable as reggaeton is worldwide.

But for that to happen, artists in Brazil must be united, she said.

"They just need to be more like a team, like I see the other artists here with reggaeton. They are very supportive with each other," she said. "That's what I try to say to all of the artists that I know in Brazil. As much as we help each other, it doesn't mean we are getting weak. It's the opposite. As soon as we are helping each others to go big, it's better for everybody at the same time."

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