How Anitta Became The Queen Of Latinx Music

She collaborated with the biggest names in reggaeton, including Maluma in 2016’s “Sim Ou Nãu” and J Balvin in 2017’s “Downtown,” a Spanglish song about oral sex, a recurring theme for her. In the late 2010s, a new wave of Latinx women were coming up through the ranks of reggaeton, like Colombian Karol G, Mexican American Becky G, and Dominican Natti Natasha, singing about pleasure on their terms. (On “Mayores,” for instance, Becky G sings about being into older men, and on “Sin Pijama,” a playful romp about men’s fantasies, she and Natti Natasha ride a carousel in lingerie.)

Anitta jumped on the bandwagon, featuring Becky G on “Banana” and, in turn, featuring on Natti Natasha’s “Te Lo Dije.” On Kisses, her first album where she sings in English, she also collaborated with hip-hop stars like Swae Lee, creating a multigenre persona that confidently bridged hip-hop, funk carioca, and reggaeton.

Still, amid all the collaborations, it was important for her to create her own message. “I want to show more of me,” she told Rolling Stone in 2018, “that I can do something by myself and reveal my personality alone.”

And 2022’s Versions of Me, her latest album, became her most sprawling and defining statement to date. It toggles between rendering Anitta an American-friendly pop star even as it disrupts the typical expectations of serious artistry for women. Take the cover, a series of busts illustrating her various surgical alterations. When she promoted the album on Kelly Clarkson’s daytime show this summer, the host asked, “Why did you call your album ‘Versions of Me’?” It was a softball question, possibly meant to elicit a faux-deep answer about the many facets of being a woman.

But Anitta pointed to the album cover’s central image. “The one in the center is me right now,” she said. “And then … the others is me, one intervention, one plastic surgery before.”

“Oh, it’s because of that,” Clarkson said, then paused, momentarily taken aback.

Anitta’s stardom doesn’t easily translate into a feminist narrative. She sidesteps moral panics around body modification, neither celebrating cosmetic surgery as some feminist choice nor apologizing for it. Instead, she renders it almost comically banal. And she does the same with sex and relationships. For instance, on the English-language single “Boys Don’t Cry,” and Versions of Me’s title track, she sang about being a bad girlfriend in punk and pop mode.

In other songs, she does something even more complicated. On the single “Girl From Rio,” she interpolated fellow Brazilian Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Girl From Ipanema,” the ’60s hit about a girl muse walking on the beach. Anitta rejiggered the song by making herself the rapping narrator — the girl from Rio — sharing real news from her own life, including discovering she had a brother she didn’t know about, and singing about the Rio de Janeiro she featured on “Malandra,” where the girls don’t look like white models. In the Cardi B collaboration, “Me Gusta,” the duo sing about sapphic action; and Cardi celebrates men who eat “cuca,” and being Afro Latina.

“Envolver” reclaimed perreo, or reggaeton dancing, from a woman’s perspective, with lyrics about how her twerking on a guy keeps him coming back. She’s since released “Lobby,” a new English-language single with Missy Elliott, another ode to sensuality, with winking references to oral sex, and on her most recent EP, November’s À Procura de Anitta Perfeita, she went back to her Portuguese roots.

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