Anitta, ‘The Girl From Rio,’ on Interpolating the Classic ‘Ipanema’ Melody for a U.S. Pop Breakthrough

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The song that is widely held to be the second most-covered song of all time — after the Beatles’ “Yesterday” — is “The Girl From Ipanema,” aka “Garota de Ipanema,” whose ubiquitousness was so taken for granted for decades that the very appearance of its opening bars could make it a musical punchline in comedies from “The Blues Brothers” to “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Yet few people under 40 would probably recognize the early 1960s Brazilian bossa nova turned American pop smash, even though more contemporary artists like Amy Winehouse and Diana Krall have joined the vintage likes of Stan Getz & Astrid Giiberto, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald in putting their own spin on “Girl”-watching.

But its legacy as an inescapable 20th century earworm may be about to stretch into the 2020s after all. The Brazilian singer Anitta, who has long been pegged for breakout status in the United States, interpolated the melody of “Garota de Ipanema” into her new single, “The Girl From Rio,” and all signs are pointing toward it being her English-language breakthrough. An American superstar may be being born even as a slightly dusty classic is getting an overdue and probably inevitable rebirth.

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Getting the rights to use the original tune was no easy process, though. It involved some personal diplomacy on the part of Anitta, who wanted to use the song in her unofficial role as a cultural ambassador for Brazil, as well as to give her career a turbo boost in territories she still hasn’t yet conquered on the road to racking up 54 million Instagram followers and 5.5 billion YouTube views.

So far, the effort seems to be paying off in America. “The Girl From Rio” was the most-added song at Top 40 radio upon entry, and this week it moves up to No. 23 at Top 40 and to No. 31 at Rhythmic Top 40. Listeners are curious about what they hear: Anitta just became the first Brazilian artist in history to have a song enter the top 100 of U.S. Shazam. It’s prefacing a Ryan Tedder-executive-produced album of the same name, due this fall, that will be her first since signing with Warner Records, where she’s very much a 2021 priority project. As her manager, Brandon Silverstein, says, “This song is doing what we wanted to do. Where it goes, only God can tell at this point. But we’re bullish about it.” Not hedging any bets, the label has just released a remix with a verse from one of the major American hip-hop stars of the moment, DaBaby.

It may not hurt that, although “Girl From Rio” is obviously aimed at a teen and twentysomething audience — as can be seen in a music video that displays a level of flesh on Brazilian beaches that might have seemed shocking in Stan Getz’s heyday — it’s also going to have some incidental over-60 appeal, for whatever that’s worth. Anitta doesn’t think that’s nothing.

“If you’re a teenager and you hear the song on the radio, then go to your house and you play it, your parents are gonna be like, ‘My son or my daughter is listening to this — wow!'” Anitta tells Variety. “The young, they don’t know this song. So it’s great to introduce such an iconic, historic song to a new audience and create a conversation between old and young. I really like to provoke these situations, where you can create and motivate talk about music that goes a little more deep.”

But the rights-holders to “Garota de Ipanema” were not pushovers, and there was some doubt the recording would have the chance to become Anitta’s U.S. breakthrough. Says Silverstein, who set up her session with the writer-producer team Stargate as one of his first acts upon taking on her management in mid-2019: “Yeah, there were some concerns, of course. But every day we have concerns in life, and that’s our job, to figure things out and make great things happen. This is an incredible record that we wanted to make sure saw the light of day. When Anitta gets her mind set on something, she is a powerhouse, and she gets stuff done.”

Anitta tells the story this way: “The main idea was from Stargate. I got to the studio and they told me, ‘We have this idea of getting the “Garota de Ipanema” song and turning it into a big smash for you.’ And so when I heard the (riff)… it’s not an actual sample — they played it — but of course it’s completely a reference to the original song. So it was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so Brazil.’ And then we decided, while ‘Garota de Ipanema’ talks about a very fancy and chic (neighborhood in) Rio, we would bring the other version of my country and my city, which is the hoot, the streets, is the place I come from.” (Anitta has referenced her home area of Honório Gurgel in other songs before.) “So when we started writing, I brought all the things that are in my culture and all the things that I saw in my entire teenage-hood and childhood.

“And afterward, it was taking them a lot of time for them to figure out the rights. Because it’s not only Tom Jobim, it’s Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes (who wrote the original Portuguese lyrics). And the other people that did the other versions feel like they’re part of it, but actually were just using the melody. So I reached out to the families, and they are amazing people, the families of Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. At the end of the day, we are friends now; the niece of Vinicius de Moraes is a friend. And I explained to them everything I wanted for the culture. Because it’s not just about me or Stargate; we didn’t actually care about percentage and these kind of rights situations. We only cared about putting this great art out.”

So she gave up most of the publishing on the new song? “No, I don’t have anything. But I’m fine with that,” she says with a laugh. “And that’s not a secret. If you go to to Spotify and see the credits, we are not there. But it’s all good. We are all happy with this, because the reason the message can exist and the main reason this song exists is because of the original one. So for me, it’s okay. My brother that works with me and my manager are always trying to convince me to care a little bit more about percentages and rights. Because I’m always like, ‘Okay, okay. I don’t care!’ I’m not a person that cares about that.”

(The publishing spread didn’t extend to those who have done other adaptations of the song over the years, including the English-language one: “If it had been five years and someone wanted to do another version of ‘Garota de Ipanema,’ this person doesn’t need to call me. It’s just the original writers,” she notes.)

Says Silverstein, “From the get-go, we felt, and she felt, that this song told her story the best. So sometimes it’s not just about business. It’s about the love of music, and giving your fans the best version of you. And sometimes you have to give to get that, and we chose to do that on this one.”

For Anitta, it’s truly personal. “It’s everything I wanted since the beginning, to be representing my culture and my country. Even when I’m singing, it doesn’t matter if it’s not in Portuguese” — she also sings in Spanish, English and the very occasional Italian and French — “I try to bring as much as I can of my culture. And I think the last time we had a big moment of momentum of Brazil was the bossa nova thing. That’s why we chose ‘Girl From Rio’ to be the very first one that we were working at radio for real, because it’s sending a message: ‘Hi everyone. I’m Brazilian.’ And every time I’m in the studio, even if we are cooking a different type of rhythm, I always like to make the producers listen to Brazilian stuff a little bit and understand a bit more about my culture, so maybe in the next work we can mix both worlds.”

Speaking of mixing worlds, the music video for “Girl From Rio” very much indulges its split personality. The bulk of it is realist street or beach footage, with plenty of shots of women of different shapes and sizes to reinforce the lyrics: “Hot girls where I’m from, we don’t look like models / Tanned lines, big curves, and the energy glows / You’ll be falling in love with the real Rio.” But a significant part of the video is also given over to studio footage of Anitta as a deep redhead, looking like a glamorous screen siren out of a ’40s or ’50s Hollywood movie musical, although for her the reference was more ’60s… and specifically influenced by a recent Netflix period-piece series.

Before the video was filmed, she says, “I was watching the series that had just came out, ‘Ratched,’ on Netflix. I showed the stylist and I said, ‘I want to play with these colors, with this hair.’ I love the whole aesthetic of the ‘60s. What we did there was inspired by the performances that Carmen Miranda used to do in the studios with paintings of Brazil and Rio in the back. That was my favorite part, actually. The other (scenes) were more like a no-filter situation, so there’s not as much to care about. I direct my videos and everything together with whoever I choose to be the director with me, so it’s very nice to take care of the details” in the part of the video that required more attention to period image.

It’s not just paying tribute to her original neighborhood that is personal for Anitta in “Girl From Rio.” The song even includes a stanza about her finding out for the first time that she had a grown sibling. That might seem like an odd detail to throw into a song that otherwise doesn’t dwell on family, until you find out the immediacy of it.

Says Silverstein, “She literally found out she had another brother that day in the studio! As you can hear in the lyrics, they just threw it in the song, which is the best way for things to happen.”

Anitta remembers being in the studio working on the song when she looked at her cell phone, “and someone sent me a message with this link to a news story on a Brazilian site saying that I could possibly, probably have another brother. And I was like, what? And I couldn’t focus on the song anymore. And Stargate looked at me and they were like, ‘You are not here. You’re not focusing. What is going on?’ And I said, ‘Okay, I’m sorry. Maybe I have another brother.” And then I found his Instagram and sent him a DM, and he told me that his mother met my father before my mother, and they had a one-night stand. She got pregnant and never saw him again. And then I was in an interview on television with my father, and she was watching TV with her son and she said, ‘Oh my God, this is your dad.’ It’s like a movie, right?

“My dad didn’t even know he had a son. And there was no doubt for us, because he looks exactly like my father. Of course after, we did a DNA just to make sure. And my brother has a daughter, my niece, and she is my copy — she dances, she sings and it’s crazy. He told me that nobody in his family could understand who his daughter was like: ‘This kid doesn’t look like anyone. She dances, she sings; everybody here is like shy and introspective, and she’s a star. What is going on?’ And when they figured out I was the auntie, they were like, ‘Okay, now it makes complete sense.’ And this all happened when I was there in the studio. So they said, ‘You should put this in our lyrics — right now.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do it!’ And we put him in the music video, and we are so friends nowadays. Having this moment in my song and everybody listening to this, it’s too crazy and too amazing at the same time.”

Of the album due in the fall, Anitta says to expect a melange. “I’m already preparing myself, because I know people are gonna say the sounds and the songs don’t connect that much, because it’s not a bunch of songs that they feel alike,” she says. “The reason why is because Brazilian culture is very different (within itself). People may be a little bit confused, but if they went to Brazil and they saw how mixed and kind of confusing sometimes it is, they would get it. Brazil as a country is so big; it has the size of a continent and it’s 230 million people. Like ‘Me Gusta,’ the song I put out with Cardi B (in 2020), it’s a big mix of Brazilian rhythms, but I’m singing the whole time in English and Spanish. There’s a bunch of different cultures in my country, so I cannot represent it without mixing those cultures. I am a very mixed person.”

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