‘I wasn’t worried about what gringos wanted!’ Ludmilla, Brazil’s next pop superstar | Pop and rock

In between her two-weekend debut at Coachella earlier this month, while the first concert was going viral, the Brazilian singer Ludmilla did business meetings, spent a day in Miami and kicked off new music projects. This interview took place on her way back from a short trip to the mountains surrounding the Hollywood sign, a call squeezed into a schedule that will end with a party: “I deserve some fun too,” she says.

She is following the guidebook to pop stardom, with her sights on an international career. Performing a repertoire of Portuguese-language songs, drawing from Brazil’s raw baile funk sound as well as pagode (a modern branch of samba), Ludmilla has already won a Latin Grammy and become the most listened-to Black artist in Brazil, and one of the only women of Afro-Latin heritage anywhere to reach a billion streams on Spotify and do a set on Coachella’s main stage. One of her admirers, Beyoncé, sent over a voice note to introduce it: “From Rio to Coachella, ladies and gentleman, Ludmilla!”

Another shot from Coachella. Photograph: Hayden Stills

“This is a new, strange scenario to me,” she says. “To me it’s not possible that in a country like Brazil, with so many Black women and more than 500 years of history, I am the first Black woman to sell out a stadium; the first one to reach one billion streams.”

At Coachella, in front of a giant LED cube and flanked by a dozen dancers, she started out with the energetic Rainha da Favela (Favela Queen) and a suite of baile funk tracks, then melodious pagode as her wife, the dancer Brunna Gonçalves, hit the stage to share a kiss with the singer. The final stretch featured Ludmilla’s latest singles in Spanish, like the merengue Piña Colada, and another nod to her beginnings with Favela Venceu (Favela Won It).

“I felt such a relief once the show ended, it was like getting rid of a building on my back,” she says; she had invested 8m Brazilian reals (£1.2m) on stage props, musicians, dancers and pyrotechnics. “I had 45 minutes to show the world who Ludmilla is. I sing in Portuguese and this can be hard for an international audience. I had a goal and I reached it – this week I’ve received several invitations for collaborations.”

Born in 1995, Ludmilla was raised in Duque de Caxias, one of the most populous suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Baile funk was filling every corner of Rio by the end of the 90s, and became her bread and butter. In 2012, she released her first single, Fala Mal de Mim, under the moniker MC Beyoncé. She dropped the alias two years later, but never left the Bey-hive – hence the Coachella shoutout.

“Today, I’m more secure of who I am,” she says, while stressing her beginnings. “I’m a pagodeira, and I love R&B, but I’m also a funkeira. Baile funk comes from our communities, from people like me who started singing because we were trying to have a better life. We weren’t worried about what gringos wanted from us. Black people must take the baile funk movement by the hands.”

Fifty-five per cent of Brazilians are Black or mixed race, but white people occupy many of the prominent positions in music, from performers to executives. “When I first started as a singer, I was a victim of racism and I used to suffer in silence,” she says. “But now I know how important I am and how I can help women like me. After I performed at Coachella, on the first weekend, I saw many Brazilian people crucifying me on social media, just because of racism. This is a struggle I can’t just give up. But it’s annoying – a white singer doesn’t need to speak out about this.”

The day after Ludmilla’s second Coachella performance, Brazilian social media flooded with further controversy: sharp-eyed viewers noted a quick frame projected on Ludmilla’s stage backdrop displaying a street sign that championed Jesus Christ over Tranca-Rua, a key figure of Afro-Brazilian candomblé and umbanda religions. Some people accused her of propagating religious intolerance – violence towards Afro-Brazilian religions has been growing as evangelical Christianity becomes more and more popular – while others argued the picture was just a raw, real glimpse of today’s Brazil.

Ludmilla kissing her wife Brunna Gonçalves on stage. Photograph: Steff Lima

She defended herself robustly on Twitter and referred to Erika Hilton, a Black and transgender Brazilian MP whose words also introduced Ludmilla’s concert at Coachella: “This is my house and in my house I will not tolerate any kind of hatred.” When I ask her about it, she’s now guarded – “I don’t have a religion, and I believe that prejudice is profoundly sad” – but opens up a little more when discussing Brazilian politics.

Ludmilla has been married to Gonçalves for four years, a wedding that took place in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. Despite same-sex unions having been ruled as legal by the Brazilian supreme court in 2011, the country’s lower house MPs drafted a bill in 2023 stating they would be contracts rather than marriages. “It’s not the best scenario, but we have evolved and we can’t step back in this matter,” she says. “Lots of bisexual and lesbian women told me after my Coachella concert that they felt represented.”

Among her quickly stacking pile of admiring messages, there are a few that Ludmilla is keeping close. “It was an amazing surprise to meet with Lauryn Hill and hear beautiful words from her – she said she was proud of me, that I’m amazing.” In a few years, you sense that she might be the one giving out the blessings. “Coachella was the kickoff of my international career, and I’m really excited to discover this new world.”

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