It is a truth universally acknowledged that you will find, on any YouTube video and any Instagram or Twitter post by a celebrity, at least one comment with the words “Please Come to Brazil.” The ubiquitousness of the phrase to the ecology of the internet can be summed up by a version of the Mike Wazowski Explaining Things meme in the metal music community on Reddit: Mike is the guy always explaining why their favorite band has to visit Brazil in the comments. The same meme could be applied to most, if not all, fandoms.
It all started as a plea from a fan: Brian Feldman traces the phrase to a 2008 exchange between a fan and French entrepreneur and blogger Loïc Le Meur on Twitter. This first tweet went unanswered, but soon other Brazilian fans started tweeting at their favorite artist with the invitation. “It became a catchphrase fans post on their favorite artists’ pages,” says Viktor Chagas, a professor at Fluminense Federal University and a member of the website Museu de Memes (Meme Museum), a curatorial space for Brazilian memes funded by his university. “[Brazilian fans] start addressing their favorite artists and demand a performance in Brazil.”
The catchphrase morphed into collective action. Fans started flooding their favourite pop stars’ social media pages with posts begging for a visit to Brazil. This trend coincided with the growth of crowdfunding platforms like Queremos!, where fans can crowdfund a performance by their favorite bands and artists. The platform boasts of bringing bands like Vampire Weekend and Foster the People to Brazil during a time where Brazilians’ buying power was booming. From 2000 to 2012, Brazil was one of the fastest-growing major economies in the world, with an average annual GDP growth rate of over 5%. Before, Brazil was a rare destination for bands and pop stars but the country’s economic growth transformed it into a desirable and profitable location to perform—thus legitimizing the persistent request.
Over the years, the meaning of the phrase became more complex and layered. Fabrício Andrietta, a content creator and video maker who has contributed to the Please Come to Brazil Instagram page since 2013, tracks the meme back to Tumblr where Brazilian fans were “mocked by gringos because Brazilians were always begging their idols to come to Brazil.” The earnestness of the request came across as cringey to non-Brazilians. “The gringos appropriated it to make fun of us, and we took it back and now we use it to make fun of ourselves,” Andrietta explained. The reclamation transformed the meme into a self-deprecating inside joke that articulates Brazilian culture and seeks validation from international icons. “[Please Come to Brazil] became a meta meme about the imaginary of Brazilian culture,” Chagas said. “The idea of coming to Brazil becomes an articulation of the relationship between Brazilians and international artists, which is what we call complexo de vira-latas.”
Chagas is describing an unequal power dynamic between Brazilians and their international idols. Complexo de vira-latas, which can be loosely translated to “mongrel syndrome,” is a collective inferiority complex allegedly suffered by Brazilians with regards to countries in the developed world. Simply put, it’s the tendency of the Brazilian population to overvalue culture from the Global North and undervalue local artists and productions. The expression was coined by writer Nelson Rodrigues in 1950, who defined the concept as “the inferiority in which Brazilians put themselves, voluntarily, in comparison to the rest of the world.” “Mongrel” also has racial connotations, referring to Brazilian belief that most Brazilians are racially mixed and therefore, lack cultural refinement. Rodrigues described a country that struggled with low self-esteem: “Brazilians are the backwards Narcissus, who spit in their own image. Here is the truth: we can’t find personal or historical pretexts for self-esteem.”
Perhaps that was the case in 1950, but in 2021 Brazilians have found their self-esteem. More recent iterations of “Please Come to Brazil” shift from “subaltern negotiation” to an affirmation of Brazilian culture. The plea morphed into tongue-in-cheek memes that showcase the strangest and funniest parts of Brazilian culture, as if saying: In Brazil, we don’t have much, but we love it here and so should you. “It’s as if we moved on from complexo de vira-lata and into an affirmation of our culture, an affirmation of the culture in the Global South, because we know how to laugh at ourselves,” Chagas explains.
Andrietta describes the current spirit of the meme as an invitation to experience Brazilian culture because Brazilian culture deserves to be experienced and validated. “It’s a way of saying ‘please, for the love of God, come to our country to see all the good things we have,’” he said. The Please Come to Brazil Instagram page models this affirmation well. Posting screenshots, videos and memes of funny moments in Brazilian pop culture, like daytime TV host Ana Maria Braga trying to blow her birthday candles with boxing gloves, the page sums up the Brazilian love for national culture and the overwhelming desire to share our weirdness with the foreigners.
This relationship between Brazilians and cultural production from abroad dates back to colonial times. According to Aianne Amado, whose dissertation for her Masters in Communications at the Federal University of Sergipe focused on the meme, Brazilian fan culture and its relationship with imperialism from the Global North, it all started when the Portuguese royal court ran away from Napoleon to Brazil in 1808, bringing with them a wealth of Portuguese culture. “When the Portuguese court came to Brazil, they automatically occupied the top of the hierarchy,” Amado explains. The presence of the Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro, Amado says, created a colonial hierarchy of culture that is still hard to shake today. “Sérgio Buarque de Hollanda argues that, since that time, when a Portuguese theater group came to perform in Brazil, it would become the biggest event in someone’s life, and today that hasn’t changed much. When Justin Bieber comes to Brazil, it becomes the biggest event in that fan’s life.”
After the Second World War and the ascension of the United States as a superpower, the Brazilian appreciation for European culture that was leftover from Portuguese colonialism was overtaken by North American cultural imperialism. During the Brazilian dictatorship (1964 to 1985), the Department of Press and Propaganda (DIP) collaborated with the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA). At the time, DIP would allow American productions sent by OCIAA to be broadcast on TV, which worked to persuade the Brazilian people of the “superiority” of North American industrialization. American media and pop culture were used by both governments to seduce Brazilians into a consumerist relationship with American cultural productions—and it worked.
Decades later, “Please Come to Brazil” is the contemporary manifestation of Brazilian fans’ reaction to that imperialism. So much so that Amado’s dissertation came from a personal place of discomfort with her own love for American pop culture. Her discomfort is representative of the relationship politically conscious fans have with North American culture: Brazilians might love, for example, the Marvel universe but be keenly aware of how our own culture is left unappreciated in comparison. “I know everything about the mainstream culture in North America but I don’t have the same familiarity with Brazilian mainstream culture,” Amado explained. “Today, that bothers me because of the question of imperialism, which I am critical of, but at the same time, I can’t stop listening to the songs, watching the TV shows, and I often ask myself, why?”
But it’s more complicated than a complex of inferiority: it’s about a Brazilian dependency on imperialist validation of Brazilian culture rather than complete devaluation of local productions. “I think it’s a consequence of our colonization,” Amado says. “I don’t think it could be any other way. And we do value our culture, it’s just that we need our culture to be validated by [people from the Global North] as well, because we were taught that their approval is valuable to us.”
Amado adds that the phrase and the idea that Brazil is the best place for our idols to visit is also a consequence of fandom culture, which mostly runs on social capital rather than economic profit. “The capital that is exchanged is that of recognition and it’s not just about local fandoms, but also about international fandoms,” she said. Because of this global fandom dynamic, Brazilian fans are always trying to get noticed as the best fandom in the world: “We want our idols and cultural producers to know us. For us, it’s very satisfactory when an idol says in an interview that Brazil was the place that most impacted them. That validates us.”
In speaking to scholars and fans who use “Please Come to Brazil”, the LGBTQ community kept coming up as a force behind the popularization of the meme. Many of the sub-celebrities featured in the Please Come to Brazil Instagram page are either LGBTQ or LGBTQ icons like Narcisa Tamborindeguy, a socialite from Rio de Janeiro whose over-the-top outbursts often result in virality, especially in LGBTQ meme pages. Danniel Zui, the creator of the page, says in Brazil, the phrase is indeed mostly used by LGBTQ folks. “Outside of Brazil, everyone uses it because they’re making fun of the Brazilians, but here, it’s mostly LGBTQ people who use it,” Zui said. The references to the intersection of queerness and Brazilianness on the page go from subtle (a photo of a lost cat called Britney Spears) to blatant (an ironic photo of an ugly rainbow colored suit).
In 2017, the ultimate validation for LGBTQ fans in Brazil was delivered by American drag queen Alaska Thunderfuck who dropped a music video and a song called “Come to Brazil.” Thunderfuck really did come to Brazil to film the video and featured Brazilian dancers and producers in the production. “[The fans] kept insisting that [Alaska] had to come to Brazil,” Zui says. “And Brazilian fans were very welcoming to her so she decided to pay homage to her Brazilian fans. It’s an ironic homage.” The lyrics of the song perfectly locate the meme in the intersection of fandom and Brazilian LGBTQ culture: “Britney, Mariah, Shanaya, Celine / They all want to come to Brazil, baby / Rihanna, Ariana and Gaga and me / We all want to come to Brazil, baby.”
Amado says the support of the meme by LGBTQ people might be about belonging to online fandoms that can’t be discussed with homophobic parents or friends. RuPaul’s Drag Race, for example, has a huge following in Brazil which resulted in an online fandom space for queer experimentation. “People watch these shows and they start liking them but they can’t talk about it with their parents,” Amado explained. “Fans have an interactive dynamic with other fans. And this sense of exchange creates a feeling of belonging which has a direct impact on LGBTQ folks.”
As a Brazilian queer who also loves American pop culture and hung out in the Brazilian Lady Gaga fandom for a few years in my youth, I think Amado’s theory sounds accurate. Additionally, when I was growing up, finding LGBTQ representation in Brazil was a difficult task. Often LGBTQ folks depended on imports from the Global North like Queer as Folk and The L Word to engage with queer content. Today, this is no longer the case. Thankfully LGBTQ folks in Brazil today have many national queer icons that often surpass North American ones. Pop star Pabllo Vittar, for example, is currently the most followed drag queen on Instagram with 22 million followers, almost five times RuPaul’s follower count which stands at a comparatively measly 4.2 million.
In the midst of a pandemic that killed over half a million people in Brazil due to far-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s catastrophic handling of the crisis, it’s probably more difficult than ever to convince pop artists and bands to come to Brazil (and given the correlation between traveling and the spread of new variants, perhaps nobody should be coming to Brazil right now). Unlike in the years of economic boom in the 2000s, Brazil’s image abroad is disastrous. Today, Brazil no longer holds promise for economic expansion, and the country is being managed by a racist, misogynistic, homophobic right-wing demagogue who said Covid-19 vaccines might turn people into alligators.
Even then, the meme can help clarify the difference between Bolsonaro’s nationalism and the nationalism that exists within Brazilian fandoms. Fueled by white supremacy and an adoration for anything and everything from North America, Bolsonaro and his supporters are tearing down the country Brazilians love, trying to sell it off to international agribusiness conglomerates for profit. Bolsonaro’s relationship with the Global North is one of submission, truly reminiscent of Rodrigues’s concept of mongrel syndrome. “Bolsonaro and his supporters suck up to the United States,” Amado explains. “But fans, we know Brazil has so much to give, and we also know that people outside of Brazil don’t necessarily see that or pay attention to our country.”
When Amado puts it like that, the omnipresence of the meme makes much more sense. The constant reminder that Brazil is a worthy destination proliferates because Brazilians are eager to share our culture with people who have the power to uplift it. We know we are deserving of recognition and that Brazil, like many other Global South countries, suffers from invisibility and irrelevancy because of a global power imbalance. Presently, the plea should be taken metaphorically: we are simply letting you know that Brazil is still here—suffering and under hardship, but still here. And perhaps, when the risk of Covid-19 variants subsides, our favorite pop stars and bands will come to Brazil once again.
Nicole Froio is a Colombian-Brazilian journalist, researcher and writer. She writes about pop culture, feminism, inequality, Brazilian politics and news, digital cultures and books. Follow her at @NicoleFroio.