Versions of Me, Anitta’s fifth studio album, is the Brazilian pop artist’s biggest attempt to break out into the United States’ music scene. Featuring genres like reggaeton, pop and funk carioca, this is a record to dance to or, as it’s called in colloquial Portuguese, “descer até o chão.” Through an array of uptempo dance tunes, Anitta invites listeners to meet the different facets of her personality as she explores her vocals in Portuguese, English and Spanish. Even considering its cohesion and commercial success, this album’s biggest accomplishment is that it serves as a global showcase of Anitta’s resilience and visionary attitude — resembling her own breakthrough in Brazil ten years ago.
Anitta is Brazil’s most prominent pop artist. Born and raised in Honorio Gurgel, a lower-class neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, she’s already experienced notable success in the first decade of her career. In 2013, 2014 and 2015, she released her first three studio albums: Anitta, Ritmo Perfeito and Bang. Her 2015 single “Deixa Ele Sofrer” was the first Brazilian song in history to reach the top of Brazil’s daily chart on Spotify in what was considered a rebirth of Brazilian pop, a genre that is still not the most popular among Brazil’s general public.
While maintaining her strong fanbase in Latin America’s biggest country, she started to expand her career to the rest of the continent in 2017, culminating in the 2019 visual album Kisses. Though it features big Brazilian names like Caetano Veloso and big American names like Snoop Dog, Kisses is a Latin Pop album mostly sung in Spanish. Singing in three languages and collaborating with international artists were not new elements in Anitta’s discography, but Kisses was her first album to unite them.
Now, Anitta’s biggest goal is to strengthen her fanbase in the United States, and Versions of Me is here to serve that purpose.
The album debuted in mid-April with 9 million streams on Spotify, overcoming Camila Cabello’s Familia as the biggest album release by a Latin woman artist in 2022. With its release, Anitta reached roughly 32.9 million monthly listeners on Spotify — the most she has ever had — and broke the record for the highest number of listens for a Brazilian artist on the platform.
However, this album’s most notable accomplishment — and perhaps the one that will remain for history — is not its massive debut, but how it illustrated to the world Anitta’s astounding resilience. Because this is who Anitta is in essence: a powerful woman born in such a situation of poverty she had to work just to buy clothes for an internship, but who did and will do everything to achieve her dreams — even if that means battling for a project only she has faith in.
Judging by how successful Versions of Me has been, one might think that Anitta followed a smooth plan from her first studio session to the release of the album. However, this was not the case; although a triumph, the album went through several restructuring processes. The more Anitta and her label Warner Records disagreed on what they wanted for it, the more it seemed like it would never come to life.
Originally named Girl From Rio, the record was planned to be released after Coachella in April 2020, where Anitta was scheduled to perform. It would be her introduction to the United States — a performance at one of the country’s largest music festivals and an album in quick succession. But with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was canceled, forcing Anitta to rethink what the next step in her career would be. The album was reshaped for the first time, and Anitta decided she would include tracks in Spanish and English instead of exclusively English as she initially planned.
In September of that same year, Anitta dropped “Me Gusta” featuring Cardi B and Mike Towers, a song that blends both languages with Brazilian rhythms in the background. In contrast to its simple lyrics, the music video is composed of various striking elements — colorful tropical outfits, African-Brazilian musicians playing drums and historic locations in Salvador, one of Brazil’s richest cultural centers. Boosted by this powerful music video and by the collaboration with Cardi B, the song peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 91. “Me Gusta” was the perfect lead single for Anitta because it put her in the brightest spotlight she had achieved thus far and because it clearly portrayed what she had in mind for her album visually, lyrically and sonically.
The next single and then-title track “Girl From Rio” was released in April 2021, following a series of posts Anitta made on Instagram which provided deeper insight into Rio’s cultural background and some of the inspiring women born in the city. The photos in black and white allude to the colors of Copacabana’s sidewalk, one of Rio’s traditional postcards, helping to tie together the cultural elements that helped to build the city’s image to the world. One of these elements is the “Garota de Ipanema,” the most famous Brazilian song ever, which was responsible for creating the idea that the girls from Rio are the most beautiful in the world. Over a trap beat that samples this iconic song, Anitta sings lyrics that provide glimpses of her experience as a Black woman growing up in the favela:
Let me tell you ‘bout a different Rio
The one I’m from, but not the one that you know
The music video switches back and forth between scenes of Anitta in a stereotypical Rio beach like the ones described in “Garota de Ipanema” and scenes of her in Piscinão de Ramos, a lower-class beach she frequented as a child. Exploring differences between the two Rios, the goal of both the song and music video is to deconstruct the image created in the 1960s of the stereotypical rich model-thin girl from Rio who shows off her body in Ipanema. A poor girl with “big curves,” as the lyrics say, who goes to Piscinão de Ramos is also a girl from Rio.
Maybe because of the big interval between one single and the other, or maybe because the song was leaked hours before its release, or maybe because it is a solo song, “Girl From Rio” didn’t make it onto the biggest U.S. weekly chart and didn’t do as well as “Me Gusta” on streaming platforms. Warner Records decided to hold the album from being released, sparking revolt among Anitta’s fans, the Anitters, who accused the record label of sabotaging her by not promoting the song as it deserved.
Despite the support from her fanbase, Anitta didn’t have many options — she had to create another potential hit. “Faking Love” from October 2021 promised to bring her back to her “favela funk” roots, but with new elements like English lyrics and a feature from American rapper Saweetie to bolster its appeal to international audiences. Anitta was crowned as one of the queens of this genre, also called funk carioca, early in her career, when critics and fans attributed her as the artist responsible for bringing it into the Brazilian mainstream. Considering Anitta’s specialty in the genre and the firepower of a rising artist like Saweetie, there seemed to be no mistake for this track — it would be a hit!
However, “Faking Love” sounded more like filler than a song promoted to be the biggest of the era. It’s fair to assume the general public didn’t fall for it as well, considering it was less successful than the two previous singles. This, added to its debut on the same day as Adele’s “Easy On Me,” made it even more forgettable than its generic lyrics and production had already done.
Consequently, Warner Records declared the album lacked a chart-topping song and demanded it be completely redone. Scrolling through comments on Twitter and YouTube, it was easy to find infuriated fans complaining that the label didn’t support Anitta the way they thought she deserved. Although “Girl From Rio” and “Faking Love” were not the songs of the year, shouldn’t the success of “Me Gusta” be enough for the album to be released? It didn’t have a notably high peak on Billboard, but for a song by a non-native English speaker like Anitta, shouldn’t charting among the top 100 songs in the United States be enough to be considered a hit? If they wanted more, shouldn’t they have gone further in promoting the songs than just sending them to radio stations?
For Warner, the answers to all these questions were “no.” The project was rejected and Anitta had to start over from scratch.
For this second journey, she was joined by Max Martin, an exciting collaboration for Brazil’s national pop scene. For the first time, Brazilians witnessed their biggest pop artist work with one the biggest pop producers in the world — the man behind songs such as “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears, “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift and “No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande. A new lead single was announced to convey the new aesthetic of the album’s second iteration, which was drastically different from her previous singles.
“Boys Don’t Cry” is a synthpop track that latches onto the 1980s sound that has characterized a number of recent U.S. hits like Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia and The Weeknd’s Dawn FM and After Hours. The music video contains hidden references to some of Anitta’s favorite movies, like Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone, Resident Evil and Titanic. Still, the song didn’t become the hit Warner wanted it to be.
At this point, even some of the fans questioned why she was putting so much effort into reaching the United States considering she already had a solid fanbase in Brazil and the rest of Latin America. Anitta was venturing on seas unexplored by any other modern Brazilian artist — her lack of success didn’t represent objective failure but provided the sweeping realization that maybe a singer from Brazil was just not able to attract the U.S. audience.
Everything changed this February when “Envolver” — a song released in November as a gift to her Hispanic fans — started to make some noise on TikTok as part of the “Anitta Challenge.” Anitta faced resistance to drop this song from Warner Records because the label didn’t see value in releasing a reggaeton track in Spanish while trying to promote an album targeting the U.S. English-speaking audience. However, Anitta wrote the lyrics, directed the music video and created the choreography, proving she trusted in the song’s potential to become a hit — even if not immediately.
“Envolver” had an insignificant debut that reflected the lack of investment the song received compared to pretty much everything else she had released since 2020. But during a series of concerts Anitta did to celebrate Carnaval, Brazil’s most popular holiday, a fan named David Neves recorded her dancing to the song and posted it on his TikTok account. Called “El Paso de Anitta,” the dance move consists of twerking in a push-up position. The challenge was to replicate this move. It was enough for the song to go viral.
With “El Paso de Anitta,” the artist envolviò the world to dance to the same beat. The song appeared on Spotify charts across multiple countries in Latin America and Europe including Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Portugal and Spain, which was enough to put it among the most streamed globally. However, the real rise came when Brazilians realized that “Envolver” could become the most listened to song in the world if they engaged in streaming it. Fans created playlists and organized daily streaming parties until the song reached the top of Spotify Global on March 22.
Anitta became the first Brazilian to reach the top of Spotify Global and the first Latin woman to do so with a solo song. In the following week, “Envolver” was number 1 on the Billboard Global 200 (excluding the U.S.) chart.
This smash success was what Warner needed to finally give a green light to the album.
Versions of Me was released on April 12, containing all five singles. To unite such different songs, Anitta divided the tracklist into three blocks.
She starts serving the reggaeton that made her famous in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America with “Envolver” as the opening track. Other highlights of this block are “I’d Rather Have Sex,” which plays with shaking bed sounds in its production, and “Gata.”
“Love You,” which successfully combines a simple catchy chorus with a vocally powerful bridge, is the first song of the pop block. This part also includes “Boys Don’t Cry” and the title track. “Versions of Me” is Anitta’s most Katy Perry-like song and jokes about how Anitta can get crazy about an ex to the point of smashing his car’s windows. Rolling Stone played with this verse saying that, if this song doesn’t become a hit, “somebody at Warner Records needs their windows smashed.”
The ending block is not defined by a genre, but by its encapsulation of Anitta’s Brazilianness. “Me Gusta,” “Girl From Rio” and “Faking Love” join “Que Rabão” — a funk in Portuguese — and the cute “Love Me, Love Me.”
Together, these three blocks form the simple yet well-executed concept of the album: three languages, three main genres, many versions of Anitta. The name change — she explained in an interview with Andy Cohen — came because she realized that, after all the singles released, all the performances on late-night shows and award shows and all the collaborations with big names, she didn’t need to introduce herself to the U.S. audience anymore — she needed to make them love her. For that, there’s nothing better than an album explaining all the versions of her.
Anitta’s path to release her fifth studio album curiously resembles her national breakthrough, a story of resilience that played out almost ten years ago.
When she started in 2012, it seemed impossible for a national pop diva to attract the bigger Brazilian public’s attention due to the genre’s unpopularity. But in 2013, Anitta enchanted a large audience with her strong attitude on stage and in real life thanks to “Show das Poderosas,” a song that combined elements of pop and funk. The most interesting part is that, similarly to “Envolver,” “Show das Poderosas” was a song entirely created by Anitta without support from her record label.
More than once, nobody believed in Anitta. More than once, she had to swallow haters saying she was not good enough. More than once, she had to shake off people commenting that her goals were unrealistic. More than once, she had to hear fans and executives calling her efforts a waste of time. More than once, she had to face her label trying to discourage her work. More than once, she succeeded. That’s what resilience is in essence, that’s what Anitta is in essence.
“Show das Poderosas” paved the way for many Brazilian pop artists to achieve national success. Nearly ten years later, “Envolver” paved the way for these same artists to achieve international success. History repeated itself.
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