If you measure popularity by Instagram followers, then Brazil’s Pabllo Vittar is easily the biggest drag star in the universe — she’s got a following that’s almost triple the size of RuPaul’s.
The 23-year-old entertainer stepped onto the Brazilian pop music scene in 2017 with the release of her debut album Vai Passar Mal, and since then she’s been credited with sparking a drag renaissance in Brazil.
Last month, Vittar became the first drag queen to be nominated for a Latin Grammy Award for “Sua Cara,” her collaboration with Major Lazer and fellow Brazilian star Anitta, in the best urban fusion/performance category. (Beyoncé is a fellow nominee, and last year’s winner was “Despacito” – no pressure there.) This week, she was nominated as best Brazilian act in the 2018 MTV European Music Awards.
Now, she’s enjoying the success of new album, Não Para Não (which translates to “No, Don’t Stop”), which hit the top of the iTunes charts in Brazil in less than two hours after it was released last week. The video for second single “Disk Me,” released simultaneously, hit five million views on YouTube in less than two days. And within hours of its release, all ten tracks of the album chartered in Spotify Brazil’s Top 40 most streamed songs.
Yet despite all her accomplishments, Vittar is trying her best to stay grounded. She still lives in Uberlândia, a city of about 580,000 inhabitants in the western state of Minas Gerais, to be close to her mom and sisters. (“I couldn’t live in Rio or São Paulo, you know? That’s just for work” she explains.) And she rarely uses the pronoun “I” when referring to her role as a LGBTQ symbol of resistance, emphasizing the larger community and drag tradition she’s a part of. A quick scroll down her Instagram page shows the fabulous costumes and wigs that fans expect from Vittar, but also, sporadically, the classic Grindr selfie: a shirtless guy in front of a mirror in Diesel underwear – a gag-worthy moment for her more than 7.4 million followers.
Two days before the album’s release, Billboard caught up with the drag phenomenon to chat about her new sound, speaking up politically, and her Drag Race favorites.
First of all, congratulations on your Grammy nomination.
Ah, obrigada! [“Thank you!”] I was so happy! And last night we also learned about the MTV [EMA nomination], which I’m really excited about.
What was your inspiration for Não Para Não?
The creative process for my second album started about a year ago. I wanted to highlight everything that I’ve experienced, musically speaking, from the city where I used to live, Belém do Pará, to my trips to Maranhão, which is the state where I was born, and also my inspirations from abroad. I wanted to get everything together and put it in an album. There’s tecnobrega [“cheesy techno,” an 80s-inspired genre of music popular in Northern Brazil], forró [Brazilian country music originated in the Northeast states], international pop, pagode [a subgenre of samba that originated in Rio de Janeiro] — there’s all of that. It’s very eclectic, and it’s very me.
Do you know what your next singles are going to be?
Yes, I have an idea. But I’m waiting for the album to be released to see the reaction of the fans. I like to see what their favorite tracks are going to be, so I can do something very cool for them.
The first single, “Problema Seu,” reached 40 million YouTube views in less than two months. But I heard there was some physical drama involved…
I hit my eye with my knee and had to postpone the filming of the video for a week. Babado! [Gay slang that roughly translates to “OMG, I can’t even!”] But I actually think that [what happened] was meant to be. I used all the time that I had when I was out of commission to rehearse, and everything worked out. The video came out beautifully.
Is that your favorite video you’ve made?
I like all of my videos, but “Problema Seu” was a lot of fun to shoot. It was two days with a lot of action, and I could never really stay still. The entire time I had to keep running, or kicking somebody, or climbing something, or passing through laser beams. I felt like a Teen Titan, and whenever I got really tired, I pretended to be an iconic actress shooting a super iconic film.
You also performed that song at the Multishow Brazilian Music Awards last month, where you were dressed as an angel and lowered onto the stage from the ceiling. Were you scared?
I’m [terrified] of heights, I’m not going to lie. But when you want to make a strong statement, you need to try something new and give it your all. When I proposed the idea to the Multishow team, they jumped on it. We rehearsed a lot, and even though we had some audio issues, I was very happy with the result. I proved to myself that I was able to do different things. I felt fulfilled as an artist, but I got scared. I got really, really scared.
You got a little political when you screamed “Ele não!” [“Not him,” the slogan of the movement against the far-right, anti-gay, Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro] at the end of the performance. Was that planned?
No, that just happened! I was a little frustrated with the audio issues – in the middle of the performance I couldn’t hear myself – and with some other stuff that had happened earlier in the day, and that was it. I simply couldn’t control it. It came from my gut. If I had a uterus, I’d say it came from my uterus. It was very liberating, and it felt great.
What was the reaction like?
Oh, it was awesome. Everybody started screaming “Ele não” too. It was really cool to be reminded that I wasn’t alone. [My fans] always show me their support, and it’s really good to see that they are always there for me.
What did you think of Brazilian pop star Anitta’s initial refusal to join the #EleNão movement?
Well, she clarified later, saying that she wouldn’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t want to see [the LGBTQ community] happy, or even alive. [Note: Bolsonaro has said that he’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.] If she was sincere, I believe her. I think her career won’t suffer, though. She keeps growing as an artist, and I’m a huge fan of hers, despite what some people say and some made-up stories [about a purported feud] that keep popping up.
There was one incident, however. Last month, a leaked phone recording of Anitta speaking unflatteringly about someone hit the Internet, and many fans suspected she was dissing you, though you’re not named directly.
I was really sad with the leaked audio. I was hurt because she’s somebody whom I truly like. She’s a direct influence in my music as an artist and as a person. I was really busy during the week when the whole thing happened, and I was a little isolated and focused on my work. But, yes, I was sad. Anyway… It is what it is.
Who else has influenced your music?
Well, everything influences what I do. My friends, people whom I meet in my day-to-day life, songs that I hear, new artists that I’m introduced to. Everything influences me. I don’t really have one single source of inspiration. Even photos that I see on Instagram. One of them, as a matter of fact, influenced the name of my album. I’m a little all-over-the-place when it comes to finding my creative process.
For a time, you had a picture of RuPaul’s Drag Race star Naomi Smalls in the header of your Twitter page.
Naomi Smalls is too funny! That photo is from one of her rehearsals. I love her so much! I love it when she posts comments on my social-media accounts. It makes me gag, because she’s a great inspiration for me as drag queen. I’m a tall girl, and when I first saw a super tall queen wearing heels, I said, “Damn, look at her height!” She’s everything. It sucks that I didn’t get to meet her [when she came to Brazil] because of our schedules. But one day it’ll happen.
Three years into your career, how do you think that the drag scene in Brazil has changed?
Well, I think we helped make it more mainstream, but it’s not like this scene started with us. Before us there was already a very robust drag scene, but it was better known in the LGBTQ universe. However, it did already exist. In fact, that scene is what made me into who I am today, and that’s why I have absolute respect for all the drag queens who came before me and who are still around doing incredible work.
Do you have a favorite queen in particular?
Oh, I have many! There’s Striperella, Silvetty Montilla, Natasha Princess, Marcia Pantera, Veronika … Too many! If I tell you all of them, we’d be here until tomorrow. These people are iconic to me, and I’m simply like their daughter. It makes me really happy to know that the girls and I [as Brazil’s new generation of drag queens] somehow made drag more popular and are able to spread this message and this culture.
There’s always chatter about whether you might make an appearance as a guest on RuPaul’s Drag Race in the future.
Oh, no. There’s nothing going on. If she calls me, and if she wants me to come, I’ll do it. But so far that hasn’t happened yet.
How does it feel to have more than three times as many Instagram followers as RuPaul?
To me it’s just a number, you know? It’s really just a number. I do have more social engagement, sure. But, please, that’s about it. Look at everything she’s done since the beginning of her career. She’s the one who opened the doors.