In May 2018, when BTS‘s Love Yourself: Tear became the first album primarily sung in Korean to top the US Billboard 200 chart, Sam Wolfson published with The Guardian in 2018, “English is no longer the default language of American pop“. In addition to K-pop, the article mentions how Spanish-language music infiltrates US music charts through reggaetón and Latin American pop artists.
Five years on, some of the most-listened songs worldwide feature Korean and Spanish lyrics. But while some Latin American music genres like reggaetón and Mexican corridos are enjoying a big moment in the spotlight, the movement is not benefiting Brazil in the same way.
Isolated in Latin America as its only Portuguese-speaking country, Brazil has never replicated the worldwide success of bossa nova in the ’60s or of the sertanejo viral trends of 2010/2011. When would it be Brazil’s time? Why hasn’t the country that has just returned to the Top 10 music markets in the world been able to break a global pop star? (Or at least one who’s primarily a musician, since the closest to a global, cultural unanimity Brazil ever had was Xuxa, a television show host who recorded children’s music.)
While it may be hard to predict what’s missing for Brazil to reach worldwide stardom, at least one thing has the potential to make this happen. Crafted in the favelas of Brazil on an improvised basis tempered with the best of Brazil’s wittiness, funk or baile funk is already loved overseas as a niche genre, inspiring musicians and genres around the world, from M.I.A. to Madonna to Björk, from Argentinian trap to K-pop. It has even made some viral moments, such as MC Fioti’s “Bumbum TamTam” in 2017 and DJ LK da Escócia’s “Tubarão Te Amo” in 2022. It also had a moment in the world’s biggest music award ceremony, in 2021, when Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion featured a Brazilian funk remix of their hit “W.A.P.” in a Grammys performance.
But as crooked as the idea of “mainstream” is nowadays, Brazilian funk has yet to reach wider acknowledgment beyond local borders. Internationally, it is described as “Brazilian electronic music” by some, and to many, it is even confused with afrobeat. These comparisons are not without substance, but could Brazilian funk get its own spotlight?
As music markets “glocalise”, the stars could align for Brazilian funk. As of 2023, at least five things show that they might be.
1. TikTok Is Brazilian Funk’s Ally
TikTok’s popularity comes to hand with Brazilian funk’s potential for global stardom. These two were meant for each other.
If pretty much all popular music is shaped by TikTok today, the content app’s aesthetic building trajectory has always mirrored the genre born in Rio de Janeiro favelas. Both thrive off raw collages, remixes, a taste for speed, and rejection of linearity. It’s no wonder Brazilian funk songs and dance challenges are wildly popular on TikTok.
“TikTok sheds more evidence on dance,” dancer and choreographer Aline Maia tells PopMatters. “People from [favela] communities have more creative freedom to upload their content [on TikTok], and the movement created around TikTok certainly makes funk grow because dance is an ally to it.” Interestingly, Maia’s choreography for the funk track “Tá OK”, which went viral on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter, features criticism of TikTok culture while also paying homage to “passinho”, another variant of Brazilian funk dance.
2. The Funk and Reggaetón Alliance
If the success of reggaetón could be a benchmark for funk, it would only make sense that the Brazilian genre could benefit from collaborating with it. From Anitta to Ludmilla, many Brazilian funk/pop stars have been trying to do that. Their efforts might finally be paying off.
In 2023, the groundbreaking success of “Tá OK” (a reimagination of the “tamborzão carioca” variant of Brazilian funk that took the country by storm in the 2000s) caught the attention of Colombian reggaetón stars Maluma and Karol G, who joined Dennis DJ and MC Kevin O Chris for a remix released on August. The track mixes funk and reggaetón and lyrics in Spanish and Portuguese. While it has not yet lived up to the original track’s success, its very existence proves that the funk and reggaetón alliance is not a one-sided wish. Karol G even performed her part of the song in the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs).
It makes sense that Spanish-speaking stars would want to add Brazil to their success roster, but they haven’t done much to embrace the peculiarities of the Brazilian market until now. Collaborations such as “Tá OK” and Ludmilla and Emilia’s “No Se Ve” add a new, more optimistic page in the story of the relationship between these two genres.
3. Subgenres’ Rise: Beat Bruxaria, Hyperfunk, Megafunk, and Phonk
Funk is as versatile as any genre born from the need for freedom. It can take cultural turns depending on where it’s made. Funk made in Rio de Janeiro can completely differ from funk made in São Paulo. Funk made in Recife blends with brega and turns into brega funk). It also has generational characteristics (from the Miami Bass-inspired style of the ’90s to the tamborzão carioca of the ’00s). In 2021 and 2022, artists like FBC, VHOOR, and Deize Tigrona thrived in conceptualistic albums that betted on nostalgic sound approaches to funk.
There’s no way to predict what the future of funk will sound like, but the work of producers like DJ K and DJ Arana hints that it shall get gloomier, with increasingly deeper bass and vocals and an influence of horrorcore aesthetics. Subgenres such as “funk bruxaria” (which translates as “witchcraft funk”) add a Todd Phillips’ Joker–like temper to Brazilian funk. On the other hand, hyper funk, Brazilian phonk and megafunk showcase funk’s rooting resemblance to electronic dance music.
It’s a different approach than the shiny, almost family-friendly funk stamped on Brazil’s touristic efforts. But it’s captivating foreign audiences nevertheless – even inspiring artists such as Poland producer 6YNTHMANE to release tracks like “Brazilian Dança Phonk”. At the time of this writing, the track is charting on Spotify’s Global Viral Top 50,
While these subgenres of funk remain underground and niche, their influence is bound to grow. For example, Pabllo Vittar’s After (a remix album of Noitada) converses with the deconstructed breeds of funk with funk mandelão. Even “Tá OK”, which is mainstream-aimed, features a murky chord progression that feels familiar to Silent Hill fans.
4. Bibi Babydoll Is Making Waves in East Europe
If we were to choose one accolade to represent the success of Brazilian phonk in East Europe, it could be personified in Bibi Babydoll. Not even the war in Ukraine could stop “Automotivo Bibi Fogosa” (a collaboration between the Brazilian singer and DJ Brunin XM) from being a hit.
Between July and August 2023, the track topped the Ukrainian Spotify charts for several days in a row. It went viral in Russia, too (through TikTok and the local streaming platform Yandex), placing Bibi Babydoll in the intriguing position of being a common denominator between the invading and the invaded country.
“Automotivo Bibi Fogosa” not only continued their Europe charts takeover (making waves in Spotify charts of Portugal, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Romania, and Lithuania) but also made it to almost every other continent in the world.
As Anitta rises towards becoming her generation’s most known Brazilian pop star overseas, she carries the discussion of the potential of Brazilian funk with her.
Despite breaking as a reggaetón artist by topping the global Spotify chart with “Envolver”, the funk singer has meticulously strategized her international expansion to deliver Brazilian funk to foreign audiences at just the right pace, in just the right measure. As she made it to stages such as Coachella and Coachella and the VMAs she could finally add longer touches of Brazilian funk to her then Spanish-language-oriented performances.
In the 2022 VMAs, funk was just a detail in Anitta’s performance of “Envolver”. Fast forward to 2023, when she: (i) got to perform a whole funk track (“Funk Rave”); (ii) won the Best Latin award with the same track; (iii) brought funk beats to K-pop through a joint performance with Tomorrow by Together.
Anitta’s obsession with planting the flag of Brazilian funk overseas puts her in a complicated position. She sets expectations too high, attracting support and criticism from her local peers and listeners. But it wouldn’t be the first time the story of a genre’s rise gets confused with the rise of one of its icons, like reggae and Bob Marley, or more recently, K-pop and BTS. The difference lies in how intentional Anitta is.
Brazilian funk always finds a way to reach foreign musicians organically, but no Brazilian artist has ever made it a mission to make funk a global hit quite as hard as Anitta. For that alone, she deserves credit. She may not be the first or the main name that will give Brazilian funk its breakthrough, but hers is not a name that can be erased from the discussion of whether or when it will happen.