"Come to Brazil!!" Is the Meme That Will Never Die
From honest plea to punchline: why Brazilians give so much of a shit about pop stars visiting their country.
Photo via Pixabay
If you've ever read the comments under music videos on YouTube, chances are you'll have seen a few desperate pleas to "COME TO BRASIL!!!!!" In fact, over the years, #cometobrazil has become somewhat of an internet joke; an all-caps demand you'd imagine screamed out in a voice hoarse from singing along to whatever artist it's directed towards. As a sort of punchline, it's enjoyed by Brazilians like me. But it's also used by non-Brazilians as a way of taking the piss out of our desperation to see the bands we love. Our enthusiasm on social media and overall dedication has earned us not only a lasting reputation, but documentaries, a song by Alaska Thunderfuck, and multiple acknowledgements by artists – including a recent collaboration between the Brazilian ex-pop star and "woman from that meme", Gretchen, and Katy Perry. Yet, while most of the term's use by non-Brazilians is playful and harmless, there's a little hint of developed-world condescension that doesn't really sit well with me. Maybe it's hard to understand why we care so much. After all, it's just a gig, right?
Well, not really. For a lot of people in Brazil, 'big gigs' are way more than just concerts because they don't happen very often. "Accessibility is the main thing Brazilian fans struggle with," says Aline Moraes, a 27-year-old from the São Paulo countryside who says she's currently part of multiple fandoms. Earlier this year, she travelled all the way to the US to see Cher. "You see a band doing 50 shows in one tour in the US. They get to Brazil and they only do Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Brazil is a gigantic country, with over 200 million people. The tickets are expensive, and you have to pay for somewhere to stay, travel. Then you get to see the gigs and people comment 'wow you're excitable'. Man – people take a billion years to come to Brazil. We have to take time off from work, there's people who miss school, lose their jobs because they want to see their favourite band. So of course we're excited. Europe is tiny and there are many more opportunities – if you miss a gig, you can just go to a different country."
I was 16 when Green Day came to Brazil in 2010. I'd been a fan for about five years, much of that time spent memorising lyrics like a loser and soaking in every interview I could find online – a process that gradually cultivated a weird, sort-of-American accent I can't seem to shake off to this day. Before then, they'd last set foot in the country in 1998. So when that 21st Century Breakdown tour was announced, I stayed up for the 6AM tickets drop, eyes glued to the screen while smashing refresh on the keyboard and steeling myself against the website crashing (which it obviously did). When the day to see them finally arrived, I skipped class and queued for more than 18 hours under the scorching São Paulo sun, and even then, my friends and I weren't among the first 200 in line. The actual show was chaotic. The sound system was shit and everyone was packed in so tightly that my ears rang for days and my ribs ached for weeks. But that night felt like victory because Billie Joe had finally come to Brazil.
But this "GET OVER HERE" mania doesn't just boil down to the fact that gigs are rare. They're also crazy expensive. For some perspective, the cost of a two-day São Paulo Lollapalooza ticket, one of the main festivals in the country, is 920R$ (£225.33) without accommodation – around the same price as a Glastonbury weekend ticket. But the monthly minimum wage in Brazil is way lower, standing at about 937R$ (£229.50), as opposed to the declared UK average of around £1,200. Considering these numbers, the massive class divide and the fact that Brazil is currently undergoing a severe economic crisis, it's not hard to understand that to be a fan here right now, you need a combination of funds and next-level dedication.
I'm not suggesting there aren't super-fans outside of Brazil, because there definitely are, and their dedication deserves just as much recognition as ours. For us, though, the process of queueing for a minimum of three hours, staying awake until a ridiculous time to buy tickets and learning every lyric in a setlist doesn't really place you under the category of a superfan – it just makes you someone who enjoys music. It comes hand-in-hand with the idea that you may never have a second chance to see any band – even if it's one you just "kind of" like.
Lucas Rafael Agostinho, a 22-year-old from Porto Alegre, is the founder of MadonnaBrasil, Latin America's largest Madonna fan-site. He's only seen her live once, but is already planning a trip to the US for her next tour – a decision he tells me is more cost-effective than seeing her in Brazil, and helps avoid disappointment in case the country is not in her itinerary. "I know people who have never been to a Madonna gig, and they've been fans for over 20 years," he tells me. "It's really complicated – they don't even like talking much about the concerts, because they get very sad that they've never been able to see her."
That deprivation, combined with our natural intensity, playfulness and openness to expressing affection, has inevitably led to us gaining a reputation as the more intense, extra fans out there, both online and IRL. Not all non-Brazilian fans take well to that, sometimes expressing their distaste abrasively, as is standard on the internet. To that negativity, Lucas has a response. "I am not bothered by the impression some people might have of Brazilian fans," he says, "because if it weren't for them talking about us – good or bad things – we wouldn't have gotten where we are now. You can criticise, and we're gonna do it even more – if Madonna herself asks us to stop, we'll respect it and stop. But if you're not her, then we'll carry on."
With great social media power (and an insane ability to mass-mobilise) also comes not only a bit of drama, but great responsibility, as I'm told by Gigi, who founded Bangtan Brasil, the first Brazilian fan-site dedicated to massive K-pop group BTS. After many successful collaborations with other fan-sites all around the world to celebrate the group, Brazilian ARMYs (the name used by BTS' fanbase) have also earned a reputation as overachievers when it comes to online voting – a high-pressure position to be in, according to Gigi, but a welcome shift from the negative perception that existed before. "Brazilians don't usually have a good reputation, especially when you take into consideration our tendency to go to extremes", she tells me. Case in point: before BTS' last visit to Brazil in 2016, there were fans who queued in the venue for five months, taking turns to go to work, school, and then go back to the line.
"People tend to be a bit scared of us," Gigi continues. "That was our reality before too. They were scared BTS would get cornered here, that the gig would be disorganised. We went through a phase where no one liked us. But it's done a 180 shift now." Outside of the BTS fandom, the responses to the hashtag from outsiders can get still get quite ugly. "Sometimes the people who make fun of #cometobrazil use it to be aggressive and xenophobic," Aline Moraes says. "Last year we had the announcement of a series cast reunion happening in a convention in Brazil. I saw so many people saying horrible things about us using the hashtag. I saw people saying that Brazilians are dirty, that we would hurt them, that we didn't deserve it – because we were too much. They ruined a very happy moment for us."
It's important to note that most Brazilian fans are 100 percent aware of our own intensity. And, save for a few unfortunate exceptions, most fans are also aware that there are limits – something they will tell you is that the intent behind the persistent #ComeToBrazil nagging is hardly ever malicious, even if sometimes it can get comically overbearing. In my experience, this love isn't performative or done on the premise of expecting praise from the artists. A lot of the time, it's about feeling like you're part of something.
"I do think we kind of deserve the #cometobrazil meme because there are some people who really do overstep and are tactless," says Isabela Rosengarten, a 24-year-old music fan from São Paulo who often bashes out the plea on social media. "But when people make fun of it I get a bit pissed too because no one knows what it's really like. It's like family – I can criticise it because I'm Brazilian. But if you're not, you stay in your lane. I learned english to sing blink-182; we really do put our entire hearts into it and embrace other people's culture. If I have to memorise lyrics with my broken English, I will because I want to sing along to every single song in the set. We do our homework – and we do it for ourselves."
You can find Biju on Twitter.