Popstar and drag queen, Pabllo Vittar, lights up Notion's special edition digital cover to celebrate Pride. We spoke about her global success, plans for new music, and staying true to herself.
“Next Generation Leader”, “cross-cultural icon”, or just an endless string of fire emojis are only some of the phrases used to describe Pabllo Vittar, pop artist and drag queen extraordinaire. They are well-deserved, too. At just 25 years old, the Brazilian singer-songwriter has already been nominated for a Latin Grammy, won an MTV EMA Award, and broken multiple Brazilian streaming records with her album releases. She is the world’s most-followed drag queen with almost 11 million followers on Instagram alone. Not just that, but she continues to break barriers by successfully bringing drag art into the mainstream media through her music. As you can imagine, Pride is unequivocally part and parcel of Vittar’s identity.
Celebrating Pride at home, however, is not necessarily how Pabllo Vittar had imagined this year’s festivities to go. Just last year, the pop artist performed in cities across the United States and spent 24 hours with Vogue to showcase how she celebrated Pride. This year, the pandemic put a halt to festivities around the world, and Vittar is back home in Brazil with family instead. “I’m just going through this time in my hometown. I’m trying my best to stay healthy and productive, but I’m also not pushing myself too hard. I’ve been writing some new songs, working as much as I can, working out a lot, and just spending some quality time with my family,” she tells me.
Vittar is close to her family, and extremely conscious of the fact that she’s lucky with such an accepting environment. While Brazil may be home to one of the biggest Gay Pride events in the world, there’s quite a lot of homophobia and transphobia still plaguing the country. “I’m extremely lucky – I suffered a lot of bullying at school, but I had the most loving and supporting family. They protected me, and also never tried to change me or anything like that – I could always be myself, my whole life! That’s not the reality of most LGBT people in Brazil, sadly.”
It’s this awareness of how important that is – having a supportive environment, being surrounded by people who love you for who you are – that’s integral to Vittar’s commitment to Pride. For many, Pride is as much a celebration of self-acceptance as it is an opportunity to find and connect with your chosen family or community. So instead of letting Pride pass by, Vittar decided to also invest in quality time with her own global family – the LGBT community. Her special Livestream Pride event called ‘Pride with Pabllo and Friends’ raised money for The Trevor Project and saw Vittar perform many of her own hits to fans around the world. “OMG, it was amazing,” Vittar starts. “Every year I celebrate pride by touring, but this year we couldn’t. That’s when we thought of inviting some friends and artists that really support the LGBT community from around the world, and take this important celebration to all the people that are alone in their houses during this pandemic time!”
In a way, the fact that everything had to take place online made it easier to include guests from all around the world. Most of them Vittar also met through social media herself. “That’s the easiest way to start speaking with anyone nowadays, right?” she adds. As a result, the event truly embraced the global spirit of Pride.
It also goes to show that many people feel seen and represented by Vittar. The additional responsibility that comes with being regarded as an ambassador for both Brazilians and the LGBTQIA+ community at large isn’t something she’s afraid of, though. “I really don’t feel any struggle with it,” Vittar says, choosing instead to highlight that it’s much more a collective movement that she’s happy to be a part of. “I know it is a lot of responsibility but I’m not alone in that. The LGBT community is working hard and we are occupying our spots with good work, talented artists and amazing people – together!”
Nonetheless, Vittar recognises just how important her visibility is, and how much her successes are also successes for the community at large. Seeing the response from fans makes her “feel really happy and honoured.” It makes her all the more determined to be a role model for a younger generation, she says. “I love to be myself, and that I can be a gay feminine boy and drag queen on Brazilian TV, and all over the mainstream media in my country. Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries for the LGBT community and, especially for the younger ones, it is important to see someone like themselves in the spotlight to realize it’s okay to be who you are!”
With the confidence Vittar exudes, you’d almost start to think there’s nothing she can’t do. According to Pabllo herself, that couldn’t be further from the truth. “I’ve worked in fast food, beauty salons, call centers – I’ve even done one year of college – but to be completely honest, I sucked at everything,” Vittar laughs. “I don’t know what else I could be doing, instead of singing.”
Her fascination with singing started from an early age, as she grew up listening to her mother’s records. “It was a lot of the divas like Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Tina Turner – and also a lot of Brazilian rhythms,” she explains. But it wasn’t until she was 18 that she first got into drag as performance art. “My first time in drag was on my 18th birthday a few years ago. I was always attracted to the feminine world my whole life, but what really got me interested in drag was watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race for the first time. I realized then that drag art was something I could do to express myself!”
Aside from the looks, another important part of drag is choosing your drag name. For Vittar, the name reflects both herself and the legacy of those who inspired and helped her get into drag in the first place. “Pabllo is my real name, it’s just written differently. Vittar is the last name of a Brazilian drag queen that was an inspiration to me, and she helped me a lot in the beginning of my career.”
But before Pabllo Vittar was Pabllo Vittar – she was Pabllo Knowles. Vittar laughs when I bring this up, hastily adding that she still loves Beyoncé a lot. “The reason was Beyoncé of course, I love her! But I was too young when I named myself, and it just didn’t make sense after a while.” It’s not uncommon for drag queens to change their names, especially when they’re only just starting out.
And while Vittar is already quite the global household name, she doesn’t feel like she’s very experienced at all. For example, while she’s a big fan of RuPaul and emphasises the impact the show’s had on not just her but on the visibility that drag queens have today, she baulks at the comparison. As a fan, Vittar would “love to be a guest, but I don’t feel like I have enough history to host my own drag show. I’ve only been doing drag for about 7 years now, and I’m just a baby drag with a lot of work to do and a lot to learn!”
She’s adamant to use her platform for good, moving beyond mere visibility in mainstream media by actively pushing for equal rights. Vittar made it a point to remind her fans during Pride that “LGBTQ+ rights would not exist today if it weren’t for the Black community and contributions from activists. Pride is a fight against discrimination and a stride towards justice for all.” But these global movements also require local action – and Vittar has become a vocal opponent of Brazil’s current president Jair Bolsonaro, who has implemented policies that endanger and oppress many marginalized communities. Vittar has cut ties with brands that (tacitly) endorse Bolsonaro, and makes frequent use of her concerts and Instagram to share the protest slogan “ele nao” – not him.
When asked about what people can do, she stresses the importance of Brazilians using their right to vote. “The most important thing is voting in the next election and to not have him in another term! While we still have to live with his policies, each and everyone of us must create a support group to help each other and to know that we are not alone in this,” she shares.
Nevertheless, while activism is yet another facet to the diamond that is Pabllo Vittar, she makes a conscious choice to separate it from her musical output. “I usually don’t talk about any issues like that in my songs, and I intend to keep doing that – I’ll tell you why. I use my voice and my platform to talk about all those issues, but when it comes to music, I try to create something that will bring joy and fun! The world we live in is a hard place to most people, and having a few moments to forget about all of that, to just have fun, is really important.” It’s hard to avoid activist fatigue, Vittar confesses. “There needs to be balance, but there’s no exact formula for that. I’m always giving my all in everything I do, but when it starts to affect me in a bad way, I just stop and take my time.”
Still, while her songs may not be activist in nature – they kind of are, anyway. Vittar’s not just bringing drag into mainstream media, but she’s also paying homage to Brazilian music with every release. Aside from the divas she grew up listening to, Vittar tries to mix in all sorts of inspirations into her music. “I’m obsessed with Brazilian music and rhythms, but the Latin and global music are also a huge part of my life. I love listening to new producers and getting to know what’s going on in the music scene. I try to mix them up with Brazilian rhythms all the time to try and create something new,” she enthuses.
Vittar’s latest album 111 – named after her birthday – showcases her talent for mixing various styles together. Not only are the tracks sonically diverse, but linguistically varied too. The record features English and Spanish lyrics alongside Portuguese, without ever losing the playful, signature sound of Vittar. “It’s something I plan to do a lot in the future,” Vittar gushes. “By incorporating these languages, I feel I can express myself even better and connect more easily with my fans around the world.”
But as much as Vittar is proud of the album and its success so far, she’s still planning on releasing a new and improved deluxe version later this year. “My 111 album was leaked earlier this year, and I had to release it,” she explains. “Now I’m finishing up what I really had planned with my team, and we’ll release it later this year, the way it was supposed to be. I’m already working on a new EP/album as well, but I can’t say much about that for now!”
As she continues to reinvent herself, and explore other musical styles and genres, there are a couple of artists on her shortlist that she’d love to work with – Rosalía and Arca. Perhaps they will make an appearance on the deluxe album, as Vittar has teased more international collaborations in the near future as well.
One of Vittar’s most successful collaborations to date was her feature on Major Lazer’s “Sua Cara”. It was a bit of a full circle moment for the star, since her first song “Open Bar” was actually a Portuguese rework of Major Lazer’s “Lean On”. Elaborating on their friendship, Vittar says that she was always a huge fan of their work. “Diplo supports me a lot on socials, and a few years after “Open Bar” we did “Sua Cara” together with Anitta. It was a song that is extremely important to me and my career. Diplo also produced two more songs for my albums after “Open Bar”, actually!”
Even in these creative partnerships, Vittar ensures that she is working with pioneers that are either part of the LGBT community, or are strong allies. Just this March, Diplo praised queer artists for their fearlessness, pointing to their role in changing the way music exists. Similarly, Charli XCX – who features on the song “Flash Pose”, is a vocal supporter of the LGBT community. As of this year, Vittar is also starring in a Calvin Klein campaign, posing in both masculine and feminine clothing. Finding brand partnerships that shine a light on gender expression through fashion is very significant, she finds. “It’s important to show that we don’t have just one kind of beauty in the world. There are tons of different bodies and people and we are all human and beautiful.”
Vittar embodies Pride, in everything she does – be it explicitly through activism, or implicitly by just occupying space and being seen. “To be able to be my true self”, is her response when asked what she takes most pride in, personally. As a phenomenal singer and performer, she deserves her career accolades, but it’s not her main goal. Instead of focusing on awards, she says that she tries “to focus on what makes me happy – my main goal is to keep touring, and releasing music and videos for my fans.”
Rather, it’s the sentiment of liberation and freedom that come with Pride that is ingrained in her definition of success. “There are so many amazing moments in my career so far that I never imagined would happen that early. But what makes me proud is to see all my work is paying off somehow, and that I’m on those huge global events to represent my community!” Vittar knows that every individual career win is a collective win for her community and that matters. It’s bigger than her, but she’s more than capable of rising up to the challenge and inspiring others along the way.