Latin singers: From flamenco to Spanglish: why Rosalía’s latest album is causing a stir | United States
When the Spanish singer Rosalía appeared live on the Spanish radio network Cadena SER to present her album El mal querer in November 2018, everyone wanted to see what she had to say. Even the La Ventana radio show crew were eagerly awaiting the interview, which radio presenter Carles Francino said had never happened before, not even with such distinguished guests as Spanish prime ministers. , Nobel laureates or actor Richard Gere. Rosalía was 25 at the time and had two albums to her name. Her responses captivated interviewers who praised her in hyperbolic terms, comparing the Barcelona-born entertainer to the legendary Spaniard copla singer Miguel de Molina. Francino said she triumphed because she was “very good and very different” – paraphrasing iconic Spanish poet Jaime Gil de Biedma.
And Francino wasn’t the only one singing Rosalía’s praises. In a pre-recording, Martín Guerrero, the general manager of Casa Patas, a flamenco hotspot in Madrid, said Rosalía was “electrifying, exciting and unique”. The comments section under the YouTube video of the interview, which has more than 500,000 views, is also filled with posts praising the singer. “From her vocabulary and her way of thinking, I thought she was a very composed woman, who knows what she is saying when it comes to music, history and musical knowledge. ain’t your average girl. She’s a genius,” one YouTube user wrote.
Francino, perhaps sensing what was about to happen to the pop star, ended the interview with a request, “We only ask one thing of you, Rosalía: don’t change.” He couldn’t ask for anything more difficult.
A little over three years later, the public eagerly awaits his third album, Motomamiwhich will be released in 2022. Rosalía previewed what’s to come, sharing snippets of songs such as Candy and Saoko on social networks. But the single that got the most attention is hentai, a slow piano-accompanied ballad whose lyrics aroused bewilderment and disbelief. The song’s sexually explicit nature and Rosalía’s use of Spanglish quickly became fodder for internet memes and jokes. In the track’s 20-second clip, Rosalía sings “Te quiero ride como a mi bike” or “I want to ride you like my bike.” The educated and cultured singer, who quoted centuries-old poetry, sounded like someone completely different.
“It’s as if the person who makes the songs for [children’s band] CantaJuegos came home drunk and excited and opened a notepad,” one Twitter user wrote. “Rosalía now makes music by taking random words from the dictionary,” read another post. The backlash was so great that, hours later, Rosalía herself even tweeted about it. “People who are upset with Hentai lyrics, are you okay?”
It was not a sudden change. Since his first album Los Angelesin which the singer refers to the flamenco singers La Niña de los Peines and Enrique Morente, as well as the poet Federico García Lorca, in the explicit and visceral hentai, five years have passed. During this period, Rosalía grew from 24 to 28 years old and she experienced a global pandemic that kept her in Miami and away from her family for the first time. She has traveled across Latin America and rubbed shoulders with the greatest figures of the international music scene. A few months ago, she released a collab called Linda with Dominican rapper Tokischa. The lyrics of the feminist air – “Our besamos pero somos homies” or “we kiss but we’re buddies” – surprised her fans for her simplistic nature. “It’s true that there was no bad rhyme in his first two albums, his lyrics were excellent. On the other hand, in his last songs there are terrible rhymes”, explains Jorge Carrión, the coordinator of the book La Rosalía, try sober el buen querer (or, Rosalía, essays on ‘el buen querer’).
It is impossible to separate Rosalía’s new music from her travels through the Americas, which she herself has documented in detail. Like many other stars today, she has chosen to overshare on social media, where she uploads posts about every milestone she takes with no apparent communication strategy. His surprising friendship with American personality Kylie Jenner and the rest of the Kardashian family, which seems very close, was one of the first shocks. She was seen surrounded by entrepreneurs such as Dave Grutman and Jonathan Cheban, living an opulent life (Spain’s far-right Vox party accused her of being a millionaire and having a private jet) and alongside celebrities such as Christina Aguilera, Drake, Naomi Campbell and Hunter Schafer from the American hit series Euphoria.
Living in Miami, Rosalía began to express herself like other Spanish singers who emigrated to the United States before her, such as Julio Iglesias and Alejandro Sanz. The Argentinian newspaper Clarin described his accent as “indecipherable, a mixture of Spanish, Catalan, Andalusian and Caribbean, peppered with words in English”. In an interview with a Dominican newspaper, Rosalía explained that her friendship with the Kardashians began when she started hanging out with Kendall in Los Angeles, which she named using the English acronym LA instead of Kendall’s full name. the city as you do in Spanish.
Rosalía’s consistent use of social media clashes with her previous image as an avant-garde artist who had released two albums exploring issues such as bereavement and gender-based violence. In her Instagram and TikTok accounts, we see a cheerful, exhibitionist and sexual young woman, who often shares half-naked photos of herself and is seen with incredibly long fake nails and heavy makeup. She’s obsessed with her pet chihuahua and loves cars and motorbikes – so much so that she bought a €60,000 Ford Ranger Raptor upholstered in pink with “La Rosalía” embossed on the headrests. Sometimes she adopts a certain childish attitude as if she were a character from one of the animated series that she likes. On TikTok, she shared a photo with the message: “POV: When you steal Raul’s phone and he has FaceID.” The post, written in Spanish and containing spelling mistakes, was difficult to understand for those unaware of her relationship with singer Rauw Alejandro, which became public at the end of 2021.
This free-spirited image marked his music, both in his collaborations and in what we heard about. Motomami. Even the name of the album seems to herald a new, lighter and fresher era. In the video announcing the album launch, Rosalía can be seen covered in red sequins in a bejeweled bikini, motorcycle helmet and stilettos. The clip’s music is more reminiscent of other contemporary pop artists such as Charli XCX, SOPHIE, Arca or Grimes than the flamenco that launched his career.
The debate around Rosalía’s transformation is not new. The jump of Los Angeles for El mal querer had already raised the question of whether the shift from music that paid homage to traditional flamenco to music that was an explosive mix of genres with global reach was part of a sincere and organic transformation, or whether it was hiding a strategy premeditated and commercial. Rosalía has a team of women behind her, including her sister Pili, who is the artist’s stylist, her mother Pilar, the administrator of the company Motomami SL, who manages the financial aspect of her career, and her manager Rebeca León, who is a superstar herself in the Latin music industry. But Rosalía has always defined herself as a controlling and detail-oriented artist who conceives large-scale projects. She even studied sound engineering in order to better control the creative process. “I don’t do it for simple strategic reasons, but rather taking into account the reason I make music: to share it. The priority is to be connected in every moment that I live and that it is a means of communication, not a monologue,” she said in an interview with the Spanish magazine. MondoSonoro in 2018.
Despite his reservations, book coordinator Carrión is still interested in Rosalía’s latest project, which he describes as daring. “I feel that she has both discovered so many new popular genres in Latin America and what it means to be a global artist. She started collaborating with the leading figures of reggaeton, trap and others urban musical genres and this led to a fusion [of styles],” he says. He agrees with Sara García, comedian and creator of stand-up Riot Comedy, who has closely followed Rosalía, her music and her relationship with Madrid singer C. Tangana for years. “She has drawn a ‘Miley Cyrus’ and makes songs that have nothing to do with the aesthetics, rhythms or soul of El mal querer. She sends us signals that Motomami will have nothing to do with what we have seen before.
These signs were still there. Rosalía may be multifaceted and can’t be pigeonholed, but if there’s anything that defines her, it’s the way she incorporates everything she knows into her music. Her first album was marked by her studies in flamenco, while the second mixed this knowledge with personal elements such as the R&B music she listened to as a teenager and the noise of motorcycles, which her parents always owned. When she achieved success, she wrote Millionaria in her mother tongue, Catalan, and now she writes about the volatility of fame and sexual pleasure with her partner. She also talks about her own chameleon nature in Saoko (“A butterfly, I transform myself / Drag queen make-up, I transform myself”).
It is likely that the reservations about his public image on social networks, the people around him and the lyrics of his new songs are only the manifestation of prejudice, a generation gap and a certain dose of sexism. We’re just not used to seeing a genius being happy, naive, sexual and exhibitionistic and blowing kisses in photos next to Kylie Jenner. Rosalía’s greatest talent is breaking the mould.