Last weekend, Rock In Rio, the Brazilian rock juggernaut, since expanded to a global franchise, hit Lisbon for the first of two consecutive weekends in the Portuguese capital.
Portugal and Brazil, of course, share a history, culture and common language, and the links between the two places were particularly evident when Anitta, the Brazilian pop megastar, hit the stage on Sunday.
At Rock In Rio, line-ups are kept pleasingly simple: four acts, one major stage and lots of fun things to see and do during the day at the lush site. Saturday, headlined by Muse and also featuring Haim and Bastille, was for rock and indie fans. Sunday, headlined by Bruno Mars and also featuring Anitta and Demi Lovato, was for pop heads.
And it was Anitta, second on the bill, who owned the day. Presently being launched in the UK too, she’s been called ‘the new J-Lo’ (Daily Star) and ‘hot’ (Liam Payne). The most obvious – and laziest – comparison is with Shakira. But where Shakira ploughed the way for Latin pop more than a decade ago, Anitta’s brought it right up to date for the post-‘Despacito’ pop lover. Her set is Beyonce-like in scale, a pop powerhouse performance involving costume changes, sets, visuals and dancers. But she’s subversive too: when she salsas (while singing) during one of her songs, it’s with a female partner. Her dancers are a body-positive, gender-balanced, racially-balanced bunch quite unlike the identikit troupes we’re used to seeing. For the Portuguese audience, Anitta is among the few crossover transatlantic megastars to sing in Portuguese, rather than Spanish, and her message is one of empowerment: the song that blew up in Portugal, and that afforded her the 80,000-plus audience baking in the early evening sun, is ‘Show Das Poderosas’, which clumsily translates as ‘Powerful Girls Show’. It certainly was that, and Anitta brings her twerk-tastic, undeniably fun, bossa-nova-meets-beats powerhouse to the UK tomorrow (June 28) with a show at Royal Albert Hall. Expect her to conquer the UK this year.
This, it’s fair to say, left Demi Lovato with a tough job. Where Anitta’s show was a riot of fun and colour, Demi’s was about earnest performance chops focusing on a tightly honed backing band and Demi’s vocals, which are certainly an acquired taste. Stripped down ballads such as ‘Give Your Heart A Break’ and ‘Sober’ found Lovato playing guitar or piano solo, while poppier hits such as ‘Sexy Dirty Love’ saw the stage fill with spanking S&M dancers. A cover of ‘Éscame La Culpa’ by Louis Fonsi had Demi duetting with a video of Fonsi on the stage-side screens. Despite the challenge, and the sense that we’d just watched a spritely Latin pop sensation be juggernauted by a soulless, corporate US pop machine, some members of crowd were shedding tears of adulation as Demi did her closing Adele bits.
A quirkier pop star, Bruno Mars, rounded off the weekend with a disco pop show full of fireworks, crowd participation and dancing horn sections. Inspired by the onstage spectacles of Michael Jackson and the all-dancing soul and funk revues of James Brown, Mars’s show had him playing the 80,000-strong crowd against each other in a festival-wide bounce-off and dropping global hits such as ‘Marry You’, ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’ and ‘Uptown Funk’.
With a synthesised soul voice promising “it’s gonna get hot and sweaty”, Mars and his band The Hooligans took the stage for an opening run of Jacko-style disco tracks such as ‘Finesse’ and the title track from his third album ‘24K Magic’. “We’ve come a long way to dance with you,” Mars told a packed Parque da Bela Vista ahead of ‘Treasure’, and dance he did, his entire band throwing themselves into synchronised routines right down to the horn section.
Following a frantic ‘Perm’ in which Mars performed a kind of wonky moonwalk and encouraged the two sides of the vast crowd to out-bounce each other, the set slid into boudoir funk for the guitar-led ‘Calling All My Lovelies’, featuring a shredding guitar solo from Mars and a segment where he appeared to call the 1980s on a chunky retro mobile phone and scream a message for a lovely. Then the pace rose again for ‘Chunky’, the funk pop equivalent of Spinal Tap’s ‘Big Bottom’, and ‘That’s What I Like’, adorned with firework fountains.
The Jacko/Disney ballad ‘Versace On The Floor’ gave way to a section with a retro rock’n’roll feel, with the infectious guitar pop of ‘Marry You’ and ‘Runaway Baby’ channelling the spirit of Richie Valens and Jerry Lee Lewis between blasts of horns and extended drum solos. A second big ballad, the piano led ‘When I Was Your Man’ which Mars called “a song that means a whole lot to me”, fed into a lengthy classic piano solo from keyboardist John Fossitt before a final run through Mars’s biggest hits ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’, ‘Just The Way You Are’ and his Marc Ronson collaboration ‘Uptown Funk’. It was, of course, joyous – but you can’t help feeling Anitta won the day.
Rock In Rio Lisboa continues this weekend with The Killers and Katy Perry headlining.
Reporting: Dan Stubbs and Mark Beaumont