Celebrity, femininity and flamenco: on MOTOMAMI, Rosalía is not the pop star you think she is

Expect the unexpected with Rosalía. In the first seconds of his new album MOTOMAMI, she sneers, “girl, what are you saying?” on simmering top hats, instantly breaking the mold of his last two albums and signaling a new era of experimentation. At MOTOMAMIRosalía is both more playful and vulnerable than ever, offering meditations on love, fame and femininity.

Three years after his groundbreaking second album El Mal Querer, MOTOMAMI breaks with Rosalía’s flamenco-pop rootsincorporating salsa, reggaeton, bachata and trap. On “G3 N15,” a sentimental ballad that reaches a powerful climax fueled by synthetic organs, she warns, “It’s not El Mal Querer, it is the wrong desire. Bad Desire would have been an appropriate title—MOTOMAMI explores the dark side of having everything you’ve ever wanted.

Rosalia describes MOTOMAMI both as a concept album and a self-portrait; the album follows the rise and fall of an artist exploring her femininity and fame. Both lyrically and sonically, the album oscillates between brash assurance (“moto”) and heartbreaking vulnerability (“mami”), never settling too long into one genre or emotion. In an interview with rolling stone, said Rosalía, “the disc is structured in binaries, two types of contrasting energy.” In the hands of a lesser artist, this contrast could read as an awkward and disorienting uncertainty. Corn MOTOMAMI is far from uncertain – instead, its binaries create a tension that makes the album like no other.

“BULERÍAS”, the album’s fourth track, is most typical of the older Rosalía, embodying her respectful yet experimental approach to flamenco by interpolating Camarón’s “Bulerías de la Perla” and “Yo Nací en Argel” of La Niña de los Peines. In the song, named after a particularly fast form of flamenco, she accepts her designation as the new face of flamenco. On a muted version of the traditional applause forming the compás, she sings: “I’m just as much of a cantaora / As many as one cantaora / When I’m wearing a Versace tracksuit / Or dressed like a bailaora.” Midway through the song, the applause warps and merges into a powerful, industrial drum beat, reverting to a traditional bulería compàs a few moments later. “God bless Pastor and Mercè / Lil’ Kim, Tego and MIA,” she sings. These musical icons, ranging from reggaeton to hip hop to flamenco, all have a clear influence on “BULERÍAS” and the album as a whole.

Rosalía continues to blend old and new on “DELIRIO DE GRANDEZA,” a cover of Justo Betancourt’s 1968 salsa ballad of the same name. Over a sped-up, bass-driven version of the original, Rosalía beautifully captures the song’s longing and heartache. After the second chorus, the song transitions into a muted snippet of Soulja Boy’s verse to Vistoso Bosses’ “Delirious,” complete with string-like synths. Rosalía’s voice carries a powerful sense of loss, capitalizing on the inherently nostalgic quality of Soulja Boy at its peak. Soulja’s playful, carefree verse sounds like a voice from the past, while Rosalía sings of a more painful present; “I hope in time / That you’ll come back looking for an illusion of love / And that you’ll come back to me, I hope.” Like much of the album, “DELIRIO DE GRANDEZA” tells the story of a desire that turns toxic – whether it’s fame, sex or love that Rosalía seeks, the satisfaction never lasts long.

Of course, it would be impossible to speak of MOTOMAMI, and Rosalía herself, without addressing her often controversial relationship to her influences. At a time Los Angeles and El Mal QuererRosalía—who is white and Spanish—received considerable criticism for creating pop steeped in flamenco, a genre historically linked to the struggle of the Spanish Roma people against oppression. In response, she said El Mundo, “Music has nothing to do with blood or territory. Never. I studied flamenco for years, I respect it more than anything and I know its origins. I know it comes from the mixture of ethnic groups, which is a fusion of gypsy, black, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish sounds… Flamenco does not belong to the gypsies. It does not belong to anyone, in fact. And there is nothing wrong with experimenting with it. . It’s clean.” Likewise, Rosalía’s use of dembow rhythm and Puerto Rican slang on singles like “Con Altura” and “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi” has sparked debate about the role Spanish artists should have in the reggaeton. Rosalía’s argument about the muddled origins of flamenco could be applied to reggaeton – while the genre originated in Panama, it is almost universally associated with Puerto Rico and was crucially shaped by Medellín’s music scene in the mid-1980s. 2000s. If anything, Rosalía is clearly aware of the origin of her source material; during an interview with genius, she breaks down “SAOKO”, the album’s second single. Named after a Puerto Rican slang term with African origins and incorporating the Wisin and Daddy Yankee song of the same name, the song incorporates the signature dembow beat along with elements of jazz. “The inspiration is Puerto Rico, clearly Puerto Rico,” she says. “The artists from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are the best to do it.” While Rosalía’s recognition underscores her admiration for reggaeton and its origins, it is difficult to extract her music from a context of fetishization of Latinx culture in Spain. Whether she accepts it or not, the question of cultural appropriation in a globalized world is central to Rosalía’s work.

It might be tempting to characterize MOTOMAMI as extremely elegiac, but the album retains an undeniable sense of humor and fun, especially in “CUUUUuuuuuute”, “CHICKEN TERIYAKI” and “HENTAI”. Each of these songs represents a very different facet of Rosalía’s repertoire, including deconstructed club, reggaeton and in his words, “Disney Ballads,” respectively. This experimentation isn’t always successful — the almost nonsensical chorus of “CHICKEN TERIYAKI” feels like a cheap bid for TikTok fame, especially given the simplistic dance included in the chorus. Musical clip. Still, these interludes feel gamey, and at best reinforce the album’s message without feeling didactic. On “CUUUUuuuuuute”, against machine gun fire and a drum line, Rosalía reminds her peers to “keep it cute, homie, keep it cute / the best artist here is God”. The aggressive and disorienting energy of “CUUUUuuuuuute” offers a moment of release before the emotional heavy hitter “COMO UN G”. It’s easy to be distracted by the delicacy of Rosalía’s voice, and songs like “CUUUUuuuuuute,” which employs otherworldly vocal distortion, bring attention back to her talent as a producer.

In “COMO UN G”, an ode to lost love, Rosalía’s “motorbike” and “mami” energies finally collide. “I don’t fall in love with nobody, I swear, like a G,” she sings, “I don’t write love songs either, but in this one, I bend over backwards for you .” Rosalía both embraces and fears her vulnerability, pleading with God to “save me, save me / Again, again / Send me, send me / Angels, angels” while simultaneously imploring her ex: “Don’t pray not for me, I want you to know that I’m fine / I have my faith, my weapons. Despite her loss, she finds that her love is powerful enough to both destroy and heal her, and living “like a G” means reconciling those two realities.

On the album’s dazzling closing track, “SAKURA”, Rosalía finally finds peace with fame – “you can’t be a star forever and shine / I’ll laugh when I’m 80 and look back. ” Mastered to emulate a live stadium performance, “SAKURA” instantly feels like a time capsule from Rosalía’s retirement tour (hopefully not coming for a while). Much like the name of the song, the cherry blossom, the grandeur and adoration of the audience that accompanies it are fleeting. Rosalía is careful not to give too much weight to this phenomenon, acknowledging both the beauty and the destruction of her predicament. “Flames are beautiful because they are not afraid to burn,” she sings, “and fire is beautiful because it shatters everything.”

All along MOTOMAMI, glory and loss are inextricably linked. His musings on the precarious nature of stardom manage to be relatable, rather than woe betide me, while also opening up fascinating new ground sonically. If the theme of the album naturally lends itself to less cohesion than El Mal Querer and Los AngelesRosalía proves once again that she is “a genre maker… a titan and a modern princess.”

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