“Get out, Bolsonaro!” shouted Pabllo Vittar to a roar of cheers. Sweaty, caked in makeup, and flanked by a small army of backup dancers, Pabllo Vittar stood triumphant on the stage of Lollapalooza Brazil in front of tens of thousands of fans. They were chanting the phrase back at cathartic volume.
Vittar expressed what many people felt regarding Bolsanro’s fear-mongering administration, which has levied a multitude of forests in the name of big business and bungled their response to the coronavirus pandemic leaving over 650,000 Brazilians dead in its wake. During their set, Vittar even broke out a towel that featured an image of left-leaning ex-Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro’s chief rival in the upcoming election this year.
The response? Bolsonaro’s party went to the supreme court to outlaw “political demonstrations” by performers, specifically citing Vittar’s actions (as well as that of other performers like Marina and rapper Emicida) as “premature campaigning,” and future “outbursts” will carry a fine. The world stage has been swift to denounce the legal temper tantrum as yet another case of outright censorship by Bolsonaro’s increasingly fascist regime.
In many ways, this is a day in the life of Vittar, who has quickly risen to the top of the pop world and become one of the most recognizable drag queens on the planet. While Phabullo Rodrigues da Silva identifies as a gay man who found his true calling under his drag stage name of Pabllo Vittar, few could’ve guessed that their rise to pop music’s upper crust would be so swift and that Vittar would use their platform to such powerful effect. Vittar has previously cut sponsorship deals with brands who have supported Bolsonaro, and fans continue to make inexplicable mashup videos of their rivalry.
Yet Lollapalooza Brazil is just one venue of many. After being unable to perform in quarantine, the ever-prolific Vittar has stormed Coachella and is hitting a litany of other venues across the United States. There’s no new album or Major Lazer collaboration to promote: just Vittar finally meeting up with their English-speaking fans on their turf.
Decked out in a Balenciaga sweater shortly before performing at their first weekend of Coachella, Vittar could barely contain their excitement when speaking to PopMatters about seeing their American fans. “It’s so challenging for me,” they noted about finally hitting multiple dates in America. “I’m excited about that: I want to feel the emotions, to live something different. Everything has changed for me: I’m doing new songs, compositions, and productions. I want to live!”
While Vittar is no stranger to trying out new ventures, having just hosted the singing competition show Queen Stars Brazil with their friend Luísa Sonza, Vittar feels most comfortable trying something new. With Vittar’s new song “Follow Me”, they once again make a stab for the Western market with all-English lyrics and a guest spot with rising futurepop star Rina Sawayama. “I received this song one year ago,” Vittar notes, “and the moment that I listened to that, I [knew I] wanted to do something that made me feel confident and happy. Flashy and plastic visuals.”
“I love slower beats too,” they continue, “but in this moment, on this tour, doing the biggest festivals and big concerts, I need to make my people dance.”
It’s been a long journey for Vittar, who released their first proper solo single, “Open Bar”, in 2015. Vittar’s voice is next-level powerful, and their artistry is only improving, with their Brega-powered album Batidão Tropical scoring a rare 9/10 at PopMatters. Vai Passar Mal, Vittar’s debut full-length, came out in 2017, although Vittar sometimes has a hard time looking back.
When asked how their relationship with their songs has changed, Vittar admits that “I don’t know if [it’s] changed, but [the songs] have grown up. I miss the old Pabllo: everything was fresh, everything was new. Now, I’m grateful for all the experiences and collaborations and things I’ve done. It’s different.”
When pressed on if there are certain older tracks they’re excited to bring out to the stage, Vittar playfully admits that “There’s so many lyrics I’ve forgotten, though. Fuck!”
Yet as excited as Vittar is to show off many new sides to their performances, Vittar is keenly aware of where they sit in Brazil’s current political climate. While Vittar’s popularity has opened the doors for many drag performers to rise to national prominence, they have also fully accepted their role as a queer icon.
On one side of the spectrum, people like Bolsonaro will continue to do everything in his power to prevent performers from speaking their minds. When asked if they have faced any queer discrimination despite being a global star, Vittar is blunt: “I do, but I can say that I am a bit more protected now! People don’t have the courage to say it to my face anymore, only through the internet and most of the time with fake accounts, so I just don’t care anymore.” (Sometimes it even gets silly, with some insisting there’s a rivalry between Vittar and RuPaul, which the latter recently stated was deeply untrue.)
On the other side of the centavo, global fans from different countries and speaking different languages have been reaching out to Vittar through their DMs to say how much they mean to them. “I feel so grateful because I always receive so many messages from kids, from people like me, saying that ‘When I grow up, I have the same dream as you, Pabllo.’ ‘You have inspired me. You have changed your life with my music.’ ‘I’ve embraced myself; I’ve become confident.’ Everything makes me feel — I don’t know. I always thank God for my life, for changing their lives. This is more important than my job. Dancing is good, and performing is good but changing people’s lives takes on more importance.”
When pressed, Vittar can’t think of one specific fan story that stood out but admits that “I’ve received so many messages of like ‘I’ve started talking to my mom again’ or ‘Now my daddy is a huge fan of you and takes me to your concerts.'”
As Vittar powers on through their world tour, talents as sharp as ever (“My makeup skills are better!”), they have a moment to reflect on performance highlights and admit their best show may have already happened: “Lollapalooza Brazil. It was amazing. My mother came to my show and jumped a lot. All the dancers were with me, killing every single move. I was feeling my Britney Spears side and was so very happy.
“I’m so happy to be able to do my concerts, and I love my fans so much for all the support and the love and the kindness,” she continues. They smirk a bit as they say this because they know the truth: when she’s not irking wannabe dictators, Vittar is changing the world one shaking ass at a time.