With great international projection, Brazilian drag queens are a cultural phenomenon born in a country marked by social tensions. More than artists, they have established themselves as the voice of a community that has seen their culture move from the ghetto to the mainstream with the help of streaming platforms. If YouTube was the springboard of many in this regard; Spotify, Deezer and now Amazon Music represent the consolidation of a whole segment in Latin America.
Pabllo Vittar and Gloria Groove, the two drag queens that stand out in terms of visibility in Brazilian music, spoke exclusively with LABS about how they plan their production for streaming platforms and the importance of fans for the boom of drag art in the country.
From ghetto to charts
There is nothing new about men dressing as women in artistic performances. In ancient Greece, femininity was already tapped by actors in clothing and make-up, as women could not attend the stage. Since then, drag art has continually changed and gained more visibility, either in the 1960s and 1970s during civil rights mobilizations in the United States, or in the dances of New York’s outskirts in the following years.
As entertainment, drag music, a music genre historically linked to Electronic Dance Music (EDM), was a rhythm restricted to the circle of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transexuals (LGBT). In the nightclubs, drag queens were responsible for parades and performances – usually dubbing of renowned songs in the voices of great pop divas.
But it was with the RuPaul’s Drag Race reality show that drag art was taken to the mainstream. Launched in 2009 and led by RuPaul Andre Charles, an icon of drag art, the show brings together drag queens in a contest marked by challenges in sewing, music, dance and humor. In the last five years, the attraction has gained global proportions. Usually, former participants become big celebrities and embark on world tours, attracting legions of dedicated fans wherever they go.
“Names like Pabllo Vittar, Gloria Groove, Lia Clark, Aretuza Lovi, Kaya Conky, Mia Badgyal and many others have gained ground in this scenario, inspired by the great names of RuPaul’s show, such as Adore Delano, Alaska, Shangela, Willam, Courtney Act, and, of course, by RuPaul herself,” analyzes Artist Marketing & Label Relations manager at Deezer in Brazil, Fábio Santana.
In Brazil, the boom of drag art was peculiar, not only for the sonority, linked to popular rhythms of the country like brega and funk, but also for their presence in the artistic mainstream. “With such a booming scene, soon the national drags began to create their own style and perform in many places where the old drag generations had no access, raising awareness and dragging the attention of a young audience,” says Fabio.
To a large extent, the logic of streaming platforms offered shortcuts to the success of a, up to then, stigmatized art, breaking down barriers from a once plastered cultural industry.
Her name is Pabllo
Pabllo Vittar stated in interviews that she began cross-dressing (dressing as a woman) thanks to the RuPaul’s Drag Race in the mid-decade. By 2017, it was already a national phenomenon: together, the clips of K.O. and Corpo Sensual (Sensual Body), released that year, reached about 650 million views on YouTube. In the same year, the collab with the Brazilian singer Anitta and the group Major Lazer on Sua Cara, hit 450 million views on the video platform.
These numbers, leveraged by the almost religious dedication of the fans, showed that Pabllo–and drag art–was not just a fad. Currently, the artist collects records: she is the most listened drag queen on Spotify, with more than 4.3 million monthly listeners, and the most followed in the world on Instagram, with almost 10 million followers.
She was the first drag queen to win an award at the MTV European Music Awards (EMA), and was the first Brazilian artist to perform at the awards ceremony.
On Spotify, Pabllo’s performance is impressive. In 2017, she beat a record by placing three of her songs in the Top 5 of Spotify Brazil. With the release of her second to last album, Não Para Não, in 2018, she was able to insert all tracks in the Top 50 Brazil on Spotify, with four songs placed in the Top 10. It was the most listened Brazilian album in the first 24 hours on the platform in 2018.
The singer’s last album, called 111, will be released in two parts on the platforms. The first one was released in October and the second one should be made available to the public in 2020, a promising year for the drag queen, who already confirmed its presence in the Brazilian, Argentine and Chilean editions of the Lollapalooza festival.
The engagement around Pabllo on streaming platforms was soon noticed by Amazon, who invited the artist to release a song exclusively on Amazon Music. Flash Pose, the singer’s first English song and a partnership with Charlie XCX, was released firsthand on the platform. In addition, the launching party of Alexa (Amazon virtual assistant) in the Portuguese version featured an exclusive Pabllo’s show.
“Nowadays we need to be aligned with these strategies. I have a very efficient team that helps me in controlling all these procedures. In addition, we live a very fast consumption of music with platforms. Releasing an album in parts is still a way for all songs to be enjoyed by the public in the best way,” says the artist.
Pabllo shares with Gloria Groove the leading role in the ranking of the most listened Brazilian drag queens songs on streaming platforms. Data from Deezer obtained exclusively by LABS indicate that the two singers are the main of the genre in the country.
The 10 most listened drag queens songs in 2019:
- 1st – Coisa Boa – Gloria Groove
- 2nd – Provocar – Gloria Groove, Lexa
- 3rd – Garupa – Pabllo Vittar, Luísa Sonza
- 4th – Seu Crime – Pabllo Vittar
- 5th – YoYo – Gloria Groove
- 6th – Disk Me – Pabllo Vittar
- 7th – Problema Seu – Pabllo Vittar
- 8th – Flash Pose – Pabllo Vittar, Charli XCX
- 9th – Apaga a Luz – Gloria Groove
- 10th – Parabéns – Pabllo Vittar, Psirico
In an interview with LABS, Gloria Groove comments on how carefully she treats her productions in the streaming age. “Knowing how to work the dissemination strategies and the new pace in which the public consumes is the real trick,” she says.
While Pabllo’s sonority–born in Northeastern Brazil–relies on rhythms such as forró and brega, Gloria’s songs emphasize rap, largely because of her roots, the outskirts of Sao Paulo. This trait, however, does not prevent the singer to go through the most diverse rhythms, from funk to R&B to pop.
“The market is reshaping every day and we are there in the midst of turmoil trying to learn as we do, after all, the Brazilian pop music that we are betting on today is still under construction, because it is not the daily music of the Brazilian people,” analyzes Gloria.
Fans and activists
Admittedly engaged and warm, Brazil’s fan communities are directly responsible for projecting Brazilian drag queens. In a country full of social and cultural tensions involving LGBTs, support for drags is a form of political participation. “These [fan community] practices are similar to activism practices. We have the idea of community, collective, mobilization, organization, ” analyzes the Brazilian researcher Adriana Amaral, an expert in fan culture.
Fábio also sees a strong compatibility among drag art and the profile of the Brazilian public. “With a lot of makeup, fun clothes and songs that are almost always linked to the fun and life of young Brazilians, especially LGBTs, the drag queen has gained a very important spot of representation. Nowadays the influence and the model they dictate for the new generations is undeniable,” he highlights.
For Adriana, Pabllo Vittar carries a mix of social and cultural traits that lead to identification, even among non-fans. “There are several identities: national, gender, a supposedly peripheral music, but one that mixes with transnational pop. There are several layers to analyze Pabllo’s case,” she says. The artist expresses her love to fans, affectionately called Vittarlovers. “They are divine! They support all my work and are the foundation for everything I launch. I love my fans!” Pabllo says.
Gloria Groove also highlights the relevance of fandoms in a streaming-dominated market. “In an era where the artist can no longer count on selling physical content, in addition to the dissemination thought and performed by the team, our greatest strength comes from the joint efforts and streaming party that the fans themselves promote. That’s what makes all the difference in the bottom line,” she says.