A personality that is a symbol of modern day Greece. A force to be reckoned with. A trendsetter. A superstar. An icon. These are simple ways to describe one of the most influential personalities in Greece today: Anna Vissi, the most successful singer for the last 35 years in a nation in transition. A nation on the line between Eastern and Western Europe and bordering on the Middle East. A nation joining the European Union and the Euro Zone while embracing and adopting many of Middle Eastern traditions and culture.
Anna Vissi, simply put, is Greece and, like Greece, is constantly evolving. However, Anna Vissi is far from simple. She has performed all over Europe and in the United States. She has represented Greece in the Eurovision Song Contest three times. She performed at the Olympics in Athens. She has sung in front of heads of state and royalty. In addition to Athens and her birthplace in Cyprus, Anna has lived in London, New York and most recently, Los Angeles. She absorbs her surroundings and creates her own unique style of music that evolves over time.
Anna is constantly growing, changing and redefining herself and her music. Her audience ranges from the pre-teens to the 50- and 60-somethings. Her wide appeal demonstrates her talent, but more importantly, her charisma.
I met with Anna recently in Los Angeles, where she is again exploring a new side of herself and challenging conventional wisdom. She shared a few thoughts on everything including music, fame, men, romance and the successful woman. I hope you enjoy this glimpse of her raw persona.
Anna: What I’ve learned by observing people, my fans, really, is that I need to sing about things that are meaningful and passionate. And do it from a woman’s point of view. That’s what characterizes this new International album. We started putting out singles last October on my Website, which has been serving as my virtual home.
M: What would be an ideal next 10 years for you?
A: Well, I went crazy with work over the past few years. So, I said to myself, from now on it’s going to be fewer, more enjoyable projects, and I’ll take my time with them. Live performances around the world, maybe some sort of reality show, a sort of behind the scenes piece, but true and uncensored, with the funny, the ugly and the embarrassing.
M: What about your personal life?
A: That, you can’t plan. I don’t want any relationships, because after just coming out of one, I want to take some time off to be free to do projects. Relationships are distracting, so for now I’d rather not get involved. But that may sound silly. Love hits you like a rock, suddenly, no matter where you are and contrary to whatever you thought your plans were. If it’s going to happen, it will. So I cannot plan my personal life. I’d rather be single and just date for the rest of my life, but no one can guarantee that!
M: How do you relate to your wider fan base outside of Greece, especially to those with a Middle Eastern ethnic background?’
A: I guess it happens automatically through my songs and the sound of my music. When people from the Middle East come to Greece, they come to my shows. And I’m happy because they’re expressive people. They come and talk to me. They get on the tables along with the Greeks and enjoy themselves. Our sounds, especially the percussions and the clarinets, are very similar, so people relate to that.
M: How would you define the Anna Vissi formula? This thing that manages to captivate people!
A: I guess the number one attractive thing is that I’m a woman and an individual. Not a brand of some sort. I’ve succeeded in what I’ve set out to do, so I’m a successful woman. And usually when a woman is so successful, she becomes attractive to others. A successful woman is kind of sexy. When a woman knows what she’s up to, what she stands for, when she holds her feet firm on the ground, to me, she’s sexy. She’s not afraid to go out on a limb, not afraid to dare. And when people witness that bravery, they’re taken by it, especially if she’s also able to deliver the goods. I think it’s sexy and cool.
M: I never thought of it that way.
A: Well, we live in a man’s world you have to admit. God bless him, I admire Pavarotti, for example. And I admire Maria Callas. But they’re very different. Maria Callas became a different kind of legend. Is Pavarotti also a legend? Of course. But, she was “the woman.” She is still “the woman.” Especially in my mind. She was Greek and she lived a sort of fairytale. Becoming Maria Callas was much harder than becoming Pavarotti!
M: It was hard, but it was also a fairytale!
A: Yeah, my story is also kind of a fairy tale, but in a different way. Anna Vissi came from the small island of Cyprus. Her father was a grocer. She used to work in the store, and then the parents brought her to Greece. She went to school and she had to work and the family was together. And, she started making her records. It was never about money or fame for me, never! That’s why maybe God sent me both, fame and money. But, even if I had to do it for free, I’d keep doing it. It’s not the money, it’s nothing but me closing my eyes and singing. That’s what it was all about. And it is still.
M: What about the look? I mean, you pick up a magazine, and there’s Anna Vissi, and I’m sure probably nine out of ten women are thinking, Wow, this dress, what is it? Where did she get it?
A: What I’m wearing right now is from downtown L.A., baby.
M: You’re kidding me!
A: It’s from a discount store in a place called the Alley. Probably it cost us 30 bucks. I can wear a dress from $30 to $3,000. I wore Versace that cost me $30,000 in the 90s. It was great, but it doesn’t always have to be the expensive stuff.
M: What has been wonderful and what not so wonderful about your fans all these years? Fans are a little tricky sometimes.
A: It’s because they get so excited. It’s great to have so many passionate ones. They got used to seeing me photographed in a certain way with my hair long, always in sexy or glamorous poses. So when I chose a not so glamorous shot for my most recent album cover, the singer instead of the glamour figure, they freaked out!
M: Your fans freaked out?
A: Almost everyone hated the cover. It doesn’t affect me, but I also don’t want to make my fans feel betrayed. At the end of the day, though, artists need to do what they feel is best, not what their fan base thinks best.
M: It’s a shame though, isn’t it, to put something down just because it’s not more of the same?
A: Yes, because you come out of that studio, after working so hard, and instead of getting some sort of positive vibe, you get criticized for putting out something new.
M: And the irony is that after some time, they come back and love, love, love the new stuff!
A: That’s exactly what happened to me my whole career.
M: Okay, now let’s have the same conversation, but about the media. What is it that you like and dislike about the media?
A: You know, I don’t think people have a choice in the matter, to like or dislike the media. I think it’s a necessary evil, and it doesn’t have to be, really.
The media can serve a noble purpose at times, especially if you use it to put a message out there that’s true, informative, that can help both the public and the artist and, ultimately, the media itself! So I’ve always made it a point to be polite to media folks. And when you’re polite with someone, even if there’re the most aggressive of journalists or paparazzi, they see their own reflection in your politeness and are forced to reciprocate by being polite themselves.
Sometimes I see people on TV, in an interview or something, and I have to say that they’re novices, they’re celebrities of the month or the year, and they try to play the role of a diva, of this unavailable, unreachable artist in order to create a buzz around their name. I disagree with that. I think that the media, if acting honestly and in good faith, can be the bridge between artists and their fans. To face the media with honesty and try to be as real as possible, that’s the best way to go about it. The sooner you give them what they want, the faster they’ll leave you alone—that’s how I’ve come to view the whole media necessity!
What advice would you give to other women trying to succeed?
M: As a very successful woman, what advice would you give to other women trying to succeed in today’s world?
A: First, to get over the fact that they’re women.
M: So you’re saying, don’t buy into the “men know better” thing?
A: Yeah, this is a man’s world, but it would be nothing without women
M: So what should today’s woman be all about?
A: Confident! Focused! Togetherness! Don’t get distracted by silly temptations. Keep away from drugs and the rest of that stuff. And no favors for women in exchange for sex. There shouldn’t be any of that! You don’t have to be flirty in order to be successful!
M: So what is sexy in a woman?
A: The sexiest thing is her brain. It’s about how solid she is!
M: It’s also a behavioral thing, isn’t it? An aura of some sort!
A: Absolutely! And don’t expect that a man would help you just because you’re a woman. Or that they’d help you at all.
M: Because all a man really wants is to go to bed with you?
A: Ah, probably, at least 99 percent of them.
M: If you had the chance to go back and change three things about your career and your personal life, what would those be?
A: I don’t think I would have agreed to represent Greece at the Eurovision song contest a couple of years ago. It was the wrong timing, the wrong song, the wrong everything! I also think it might have been cool if, back in the early seventies, my family had immigrated to the States instead of to Greece. Hopefully I would have made it in the American market first, and now I would be making a move back to Greece, to a smaller, more intimate market instead of the other way around. I also would have had a second child.
M: Okay, anything that’s linked to matters of love. Is there anything you’d change in that department?
A: Come on, you don’t want to change those kinds of lessons. No, no, not when it comes to matters of love. I wouldn’t change anything there. Love is crazy, and when it comes to matters of love, I live every moment as it comes and with no regrets. I take sane and insane moments, all of it as it comes. Because that’s the nature of love.
M: Excellent! Let’s move on: Youth, beauty and sex.
M: (Laughing) You don’t want to answer this question?
A: Of course I want to answer this question. Now we’re talking!
M: Well, youth, beauty and sex is what sells today. Do you agree with that statement? A: It depends on how you’re trying to sell it and to whom? Because, no, I don’t think that youth or beauty or sex is what sells today. That’s kind of like racism, isn’t it? If you’re not young enough, sexy enough or beautiful enough, then what? So there’s a connotation there similar to racism, and I hate that. Because people with huge talent never get the chance to be noticed or make it because they don’t appeal to the world you’ve just described.
M: According to this sex, beauty and youth formula?
A: Yes, I would encourage people, artists who don’t fit in this commercial formula, to go ahead and rely on their talent and position themselves around that. If they’re really talented, they won’t need the beauty and sex and youth thing.
M: Are you mainly addressing women?
A: I think I’m referring to both. Maybe not the young men, but what do you do if you don’t look like Brad Pitt? What does it mean? Does it mean that you don’t have a chance?
M: Star power can play an important role in charity. What are your thoughts on that?
A: I think it’s the number one thing a celebrity can and should do to pay the universe back for being born with his or her particular talent and for a privileged life. People will notice and witness a more human, a more real side of you. Of course, you don’t do charity work just to be seen doing it! You must really care: otherwise it’s worthless and it looks fake.
M: Last question, then! Tell me something shocking about Anna Vissi, something that hasn’t been written about you before!
A: Difficult question! Well, it doesn’t matter what kind of diet I’m on, or how hard of an exercise regiment I’m following, once a week I must have a bag of popcorn! Isn’t that funny?
A: Yes, popcorn! I’m addicted to popcorn.
M. Anything else?
A: I’m obsessed with things being in their proper places!
M: Me too. I think there’re many people like that!
A: Well, I don’t know how obsessed you are with this, but once, well, not only once, but this particular time, I was having dinner with some friends, and across from me, there was a table next to a wall where a frame was hanging and it was crooked. And there were people sitting at this table, eating unperturbed! It bothered me so much, but I tried to suppress it. It’s an embarrassing thing, you know. Well, half way through the starter, I got up, walked over to this table of complete strangers, reached over their table while they were eating, fixed the crooked frame on the wall and said, in Greek, “I’m so sorry, but this is the only way I’ll be able to finish my meal in peace!” And then went back and finished my meal!
M: Anna, I think you’re a winner!
A: What have I won?
M: The rewards of a brilliant, talented mind that can’t exist without a touch of eccentricity.
A: I can live with that!