Pabllo Vittar: The drag queen-superstar fighting for equality in Brazil Pabllo Vittar is one of the biggest drag performers in the world. In her native Brazil, the LGBTQ icon uses her platform to fight for equality — and against injustice.

Pabllo Vittar: The drag queen-superstar fighting for equality in Brazil

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Yesterday in Sao Paulo, Brazil, thousands went out to celebrate the city's Pride parade for the first time in two years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PABLLO VITTAR: (Singing in Portuguese).

SHAPIRO: Pride is a celebration that embraces everyone. But in Sao Paulo, one person stole the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VITTAR: (Singing in Portuguese).

SHAPIRO: Pabllo Vittar is one of Brazil's biggest and brightest pop artists. She's also a political rabble rouser, a queer icon unafraid of challenging the government's treatment of LGBTQ people in Brazil. In April, NPR's Michael Levitt caught up with Vittar backstage before a concert here in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi.

MICHAEL LEVITT, BYLINE: It's hard to overstate the excitement in the meet-and-greet line at Pabllo Vittar's show.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I'm bedazzled, really. I have no words, actually.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I get so starstruck. I mean, she's my hero. She helped me come out. You know, she's just everything to me.

LEVITT: And that admiration goes both ways.

VITTAR: I almost cried, too. Because I think this is a very personal, you know. These people are my angels. I love so much when he comes to me and share with me all the passion, makes me feel alive.

LEVITT: When we sit down to chat, Vittar's midway through her show prep. She's in full makeup and hair but wearing a set of comfy pre-show sweats. For Vittar, the process of changing from person to performer is a bigger undertaking than it is for most pop stars. And that's because Pabllo Vittar is also a drag queen. She goes by she/her when in drag but otherwise accepts any pronoun. That transformation is crucial, not just for her performance. It's where she gets her confidence. She says she's normally shy. But then...

VITTAR: In the moment when I start my makeup, when I put on my wig and I feel the vibrations, I feel much stronger. I feel no fear. I feel brave. I feel my personality change.

LEVITT: But she still thinks of herself as a singer first. And you can hear why.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NAO E PAPEL DE HOMEM")

VITTAR: (Singing in Portuguese).

LEVITT: Since 2015, Vittar has released four full-length albums, collaborated with A-list musicians like Diplo and Lady Gaga and now tours all over the world. Her musical style is pop through and through, but it has a distinctly Brazilian flavor to it...

(SOUNDBITE OF PABLLO VITTAR SONG, "AMOR DE QUE")

LEVITT: ...Like the song "Amor De Que," que being short for the Portuguese slang term quenga. It's about having a lot of love, too much love for just one person.

VITTAR: Quenga is like, you know, how can I say? Like, you kiss everybody and make love with everybody, but you don't lie to anyone, you know? You tell the people, OK, I'm with you, but I'm like to be free. And I like to kiss other guys, other girls. And this is - mean quenga.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR DE QUE")

VITTAR: (Singing in Portuguese).

LEVITT: But it's not all about romance. Vittar's also become something of a political figure in Brazil, speaking out against discrimination and injustice.

VITTAR: I'm a human being. And I know the struggles of my country, of my community.

LEVITT: She's even tangled with Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. In March, on stage at a festival, she donned the flag of his political opponent and shouted...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VITTAR: (Speaking in Portuguese).

LEVITT: ...Get out, Bolsonaro. In response, the Brazilian president filed a lawsuit against the festival, claiming that Vittar and others were spreading propaganda. But she seems undeterred.

VITTAR: I use my voice, my platform for, you know, try to change something. And I see we have so many changes, but it's not the end.

LEVITT: Soon, we hear the stage crew setting up. It's almost showtime.

VITTAR: Thank you. I want to prepare myself.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Go, go.

LEVITT: And with two air kisses, she steals away, back to her dressing room to complete her transformation. Michael Levitt, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOLLOW ME")

VITTAR: (Singing) Have you ever felt like, like you're not enough? Have you ever broken down...

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