The international image of Brazil is often related to its famous beaches, a summer that never ends, Carnival, and football. What you probably don’t know is that South America’s largest country and nowadays the eight economy in the world is experiencing massive growth in LGBT awareness. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the performing arts, such as musicians, actors, and drag queens, are making impressive achievements in a troubled political environment. Stronger than ever, with millions of followers on social media, many LGBT artists have become very influential, making it difficult for Brazil’s enormous conservative population to silence them again.
What can explain this LGBT “Big Bang”? The story of Pabllo Vittar, a drag singer from the Northeast of Brazil, a region that suffered for years with poverty, hunger, drought, and public politics lacks, can shine some light into this question.
Propelled to fame by savvy use of social media, Vittar, that released her second studio album in October, “Não Para Não”, has shot to the top of Brazilian pop music and has become the face of an era. With her success seen and heard virtually everywhere, her impact on contemporary Brazilan culture has been too strong to be denied, even by Brazil’s monopolized mainstream media.
At first, Vittar’s music began to grow through the LGBT community. With campaigns and word of mouth, the singer started to be played by radios stations historically dominated by male and heterosexual artists. The following step was appearances on all the top mainstream TV shows; then came international collaborations such as in Major Lazer’s hit “Sua Cara” and Charlie XCX’s “I Got It”; now winning music awards, being the first Drag queen to be nominated to a Latin Grammy, touring sold out concerts and gaining new fans every day. It didn’t take long for Pabllo to be crowned as world’s most followed drag queen, surpassing even the mother of them all, RuPaul.
Vittar’s recognition in a society of intertwined prejudices as Brazil is a significant breakdown of barriers. However, it was her insertion into the collective imagination of the public that became the most transformative part of it all.
Since people didn’t know how to easily define her through the reigning heteronormativity, she turned as the subject of many day-to-day conversations. People wanted to understand; and for the first time in recent memory, an LGBT artist, a drag queen no less, has had such a cultural impact on an entire nation. Undoubtedly, a difficult path and one where homophobia has always been part of the process.
Vittar, like many artists before, endured comments of hatred, suffered malicious acts and experienced even the threat of arrest. Yet nothing could minimize Vittar’s determination and courage to blaze a trail towards acceptance and prestige for the legions of other LGBT artists that were feeling her impact.
If Vittar symbolizes this movement of LGBT awareness on a large scale, it is the atypical mix of the Brazilian population that gives this movement an intense and unique flavor. Originating from all corners of this continental country, with black or white skin, in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of life experience, born in the favelas, ghettos or jungles of capitals from Maceió to Rio de Janeiro, and singing Rap, Funk, Bossa Nova and Reggae, these LGBT artists compose a multifaceted rainbow.
Linn da Quebrada, a transsexual singer raised in a religious family in a favela in São Paulo, sings about themes that fuel the debate: her own identity, body understanding, gender impositions, and black issues.
Our body is seen as a wrong body, deprecated, with which no one wants to relate. To society, we’re this, but with my music, I want to say that we can love and desire. Being a black ‘bixa’ -an offensive word reappropriated by the LGBT community and roughly translated as “fagot”- is resistance, is power and is affection,
she said in an interview.
The political awareness present in da Quebrada’s music is a mark of this new generation of artists who are conscious of the kind of life they have. They feel empowered and no longer exhibit the need to live in a dark closet. This is notable because, according to the ONG Grupo Gay da Bahia, 445 LGBTs in Brazil were victims of murder motivated by homophobia in 2017, one of the highest rates in the world. This violent context makes the growth in LGBT empowerment even more impressive given its newfound influence over artistic expression.
Potyguara Bardo is a brand new artistic voice on the queer scene.
You don’t hit someone and expect that they won’t cry for help,
the singer comments to GUSMen.
You don’t expect that they won’t try to defend themselves when attacked. If they want to kill us, the only thing that we have to fight back with is our voice. A voice we can use to express our right of being. We fight as we exist, as crazy as it is.
Bardo, a 22 years old drag queen from Natal, released her first album, “Simulacre”, in August. The recordings, carefully conceived by Bardo and her team of supporters, are an existential statement about all the peculiarities of being.
My most recent album is a psychedelic trip set in a postmodern world, where nothing is quite as it seems,” she explains. “At the same time, it’s an explosion of many rhythms that inspire me… we have a lot of Brazil there but also plenty of global pop music influences.
It was the art, the urgency to be and externalize thoughts and feelings that boosted the work of this young artist, part of a generation raised in a period of socio-economic openings and advances in Brazil. A process, however, harshly interrupted by a political coup that in 2016 deposed the first democratically elected female president, Dilma Rousseff.
More then ever the situation on the country made me wanna look inside myself and not outwards
, said Bardo.
Because of that, It was easy to focus on me. But at the same time, as selfish as it may sound, I think finding the root of my inner problems made it possible to share it with the world. Or at least make people that are going through the same sort of experiences not feel so lonely, sharing what I’ve learned from these problems and maybe helping someone.
Brazil has already proven itself as a country of extremes and social inequality: of great apparent sexual and creative freedom in counterpoint to a tsunami of conservatism. And, in a time where a far-right, self-proclaimed homophobic, racist and sexist politician has won the presidential election, the presence and engagement of the LGBT community have never been so urgent nor essential.
While the rise in violence and the continuous demonstration of disrespect for queer identity are monsters living outside their closets, on the streets, and on Internet, the art that emanates from the soul of these LGBT artists has made it clear that they will not be placated; that this art will thrive, whether they like it or not, and will force itself into the struggle against fascism, hatred, and fear.
As Potyguara Bardo said, “we fight as we exist.”
(Check out this special playlist of Brazilian LGBT artists… you’ll love it!)
An article from Pedro Rhuas