Photo: Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto/Getty Images
How Rosalía Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star
Meet Rosalía. The young Spanish singer is getting noticed globally for her modern take on her country's tradition of flamenco music, rife with passion and infused with her electronic-infused and pop-ready flair. Her unique sound is something the world is showing its ready for and feels almost as if it should belong in a new genre shaped by her alone.
The 25-year-old is from Sant Esteve Sesrovires, a suburb of Barcelona in the Catalonia region in Spain. She began studying music since age 13, the same age she first fell in love with traditional Spanish flamenco music. She learned flamenco formally at the Taller de Músics in Barcelona, which only accepts one student a year, and received a degree from the Catalunya College of Music, where she developed the concept for her latest album as her graduate thesis.
Music clearly runs through Rosalía's veins, and her desire to perfect her art and make it her own is admirable. Reflecting on the first time she heard flamenco, "It was like getting pierced by an arrow—it was the purest thing I had ever heard," feeling called to the sound and later realizing, as she told Pitchfork, "I have the power to communicate something, and I'd like to develop that. This is what I want to do with my life."
She self-produced both of her albums and released her debut, Los Ángeles, on Feb. 10, 2017, when the buzz began, even resulting in a nomination for Best New Artist at the 2017 Latin GRAMMY Awards. On May 29 she released the lead single "Malamente" for her sophomore album El Mal Querer, which just dropped on Nov. 2, and the excitement around Rosalía has only continued to build, in Spain and far beyond.
This year she is in the running for five Latin GRAMMYs, the second-most nominated artist behind reggaeton king J Balvin, even though nominations went out before her second album was released, with just its lead single eligible for consideration. Pointing to the record's wide appeal, "Malamente" is up for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best Urban Fusion/Performance, Best Alternative Song and Best Short Form Music Video.
The momentum the rising star has built in just a year in both Spanish and English language markets is quite impressive. She has been garnering a diverse, growing group of music fans, including other musicians. She worked with the likes of Pharrell Williams and J Balvin; "Brillo" is featured on Balvin's hugely popular Latin GRAMMY-nominated album Vibras.
Other musicians such as James Blake and Dua Lipa have noticed her as well and are on her growing list of fans—Lipa shouted her out when we asked her who she wanted to collaborate with a few weeks back. Rosalía told Pitchfork how "working with Pharrell was a dream….Collaborations like that are where you come up with sounds that maybe you wouldn't have found otherwise." The future looks bright for the young, innovative singer—keep reading to get a taste of her sound and style.
Rosalía released "Malamente" as the lead single from El Mal Querer, and the music world has paid attention; the music video has 29.8 million views on YouTube to date. It is a great introduction to Rosalía and her sound, with flamenco-inspired clapping, or palmas, over a catchy, electronic beat and a mix of both haunting vocals and spoken word; her singing and clapping is interspersed at several points with an echoing repeat of words "mira," or look—indeed the world is.
She recently addressed the personal and cultural significance of the video's visuals themes, like the motorcycle "bullfight"— a controversial subject in Spain, as bullfighting was banned in Catalonia in 2010 and later overturned by the Spanish government in 2016 for reasons of "cultural heritage."
Her aim was for the video to reflect traditional and modern elements of her Spanish culture, as she does in her music by having Nico Mendez, the director of both videos ("Malamente" and "Pienso en tu Mirá"), "visually translating this musical idea, which is about tradition but also about experimentation, with the current sound of electronic music. So on one hand it has this classic side, and on the other this current and transgressive vision." she explained to Billboard. "I told him I wanted to do a video that had to do with Spanish iconography, with all of the images that make up our culture."
"Pienso en tu Mirá"
This song also features a steady dose of palmas, which play a part in much of her music. The video features more artist references to her Spanish heritage, semi-trucks, which were a regular feature of the industrial suburb she grew up in, a bull mounted on the wall, a miniature singing flamenco girl in the style of a Lladró, cermamic figurines made (and popular) in Spain. In her videos we get a taste of the star's edgy, hip fashion sense, which is at times very street-style inspired and at others almost VIP-entrance-to-the-club ready. The young star is in artist and experimenter in all senses of both words.
"[For this new album] I felt that I wanted to experiment with electronic music, to develop an idea that I´d had since I was 17. The idea of flamenco and sampling. Because electronic music forms part of my background. I wanted to develop a project that had the voice at the forefront, a lot of harmonies, very rhythmic, nothing like Los Ángeles," she said.
"Catalina" is the one single she released from Los Ángeles and gives you a taste of her sound on that album, with a somewhat more traditional take on flamenco, without electronic sounds. She describes her experimentation on the album as focused mainly on playing with the way the guitar is used, with both the sharp chords of the guitar and her piercing vocals shining through on this song, offering a sample of a slightly more "pure" flamenco version of Rosalía's music.
"That folklore is part of who I am, and that's the key: I don't want to lose my roots. I think that's what gives you your identity," Rosalía said. "Rather than trying to adhere to some kind of global pop standard, it's much more interesting to look to my roots and to the popular music of where I'm from. Not now or ever will I put flamenco aside."