Rosalía, back with the album ‘Motomami’, sees no borders
LOS ANGELES — Rosalía, the Spanish experimental pop phenom renowned for her lightning-fast reinvention, often finds herself solving complex musical problems of her own making. How, for example, could she mix reggaeton with jazz? Or flamenco with Auto-Tune?
How could she slam digital machine gun drums programmed by Tayhana, an Argentinian producer in Mexico City, in a flare song meant to sound like Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”? Or twist a traditional Cuban ballad known as a bolero using an obscure sample of Soulja Boy?
“Almost like a joke, right? Rosalía spoke about her once-abstract proposals recently, during an afternoon at the North Hollywood studio where she recorded much of her new album, “Motomami,” which manages to include all of the above.
Now, three full outings in a career built on those kinds of cultural collisions, she’s used to her collaborators looking at her with some confusion.
But Rosalía, 29, is not one to embrace open creative noodles, confident that something new will turn out. Instead, she tends to work from concrete daydreams, imagining in detail a finished product that combines as many of her artistic touchstones as possible while remaining true to herself and original enough to transcend mere homage.
“I love all styles,” she said, in a generalization that also sounded like an understatement. “For me, everything is on the same level.” Or in other words: “Context is everything” – fundamental influences reanimated by a personal point of view. “I just want to hear something I’ve never heard before. This is always the intention.
Even when Rosalía doesn’t literally use a sample — or a sample of a sample, like on her new song “Candy,” built on Burial’s chopped-up rollout of a Ray J track — she still borrows. “It’s been ages since we as humans when we’re creating, we’ve been sampling,” she said. “From ideas comes another idea. When I see that Francis Bacon makes a painting based on that of Velázquez, I think it’s sampling.
“As long as you do it with respect — and with love — I think it still makes sense,” she added.
This breadth of creative ambition has made Rosalía one of the most watched, revered, scrutinized, copied and counted young artists in the world, despite the fact that she never had Top 40 success in the United States. United. She has billions of plays on YouTube and Spotify, including those from collaborations with The Weeknd, Travis Scott and Billie Eilish. She hung out with the Kardashian-Jenners; made cameos in both a Pedro Almodóvar film and Cardi B’s “WAP” video; and covered fashion magazines across continents.
As “Motomami” approached on Friday, Rosalía appeared with Jimmy Fallon – teaching him how to ride the R on her behalf – and also on “Saturday Night Live”, where she performed alone and entirely in Spanish.
“At the end of the day, its impact on culture is so much greater than the accumulation of its streams,” said Rebeca León, director of Rosalía. “I see all the girls copying her so literally. Not just girls in the Latin world – everywhere.
The singer’s previous album, “El Mal Querer”, arrived fully formed in 2018, showcasing Rosalía as a confident avant-garde updating the flamenco music she studied as a teenager in Catalonia for a globalized digital age. . (“Los Ángeles,” her 2017 debut, was a more traditional flamenco collection, though it ended with a cover of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s “I See a Darkness”).
In the world of Rosalia
In just a few years, the Spanish singer from Catalonia has become one of the most revered, scrutinized and counted young artists in the world.
But Rosalía’s widespread anointing as a global pop icon, a la Beyoncé or Rihanna — plus the worldwide commercial explosion of Spanish-language genre music — meant that “Motomami” was dissected before it even existed. A column that ran this year in “El País” included concerns that she had “pulled a ‘Miley Cyrus,'” going from lyrical allusions to Lorca to simplistic, dirty rhymes and oversharing on social media .
The truth is that Rosalía wants it all: to be erudite and avant-garde, sexy, silly and absurd. In an intense but laugh-rich Spanglish conversation, she drops references to Jung’s “el inconsciente colectivo” – the collective unconscious – and his obsession with TikTok; in the lyrics, she pledges allegiance to Niña Pastori, José Mercé and Willie Colón but also Tego Calderón, Lil’ Kim and MIA
On “Saoko”, a tribute to reggaeton pioneers Daddy Yankee and Wisin which opens “Motomami”, the singer is direct about her collagistic and changing objectives: “Yo me transformo,” she growls – I transform. “I contradict myself,” she adds in Spanish. “I am everything.” Elsewhere, Rosalía raps “Think I’m Dapper Dan,” the former high fashion bootleg remixer.
If there are traces of defiance – or defensiveness – in Rosalía’s delivery, it’s because she hasn’t always been praised for using a versatile sonic and linguistic toolkit. .
After facing accusations of cultural appropriation for her projects based on flamenco, a style associated with the Roma people of southern Spain, Rosalía embraced the traditionally Afro-Caribbean sounds of reggaeton, dembow, bachata and more. She’s also racked up awards in Latin categories, despite her European roots, leaving her — along with artists like Colombia’s J Balvin — to blame for the music industry‘s tendency to highlight white artists in black genres.
Yet Rosalía also doubled down, declaring “Motomami” largely inspired by the Latin music she danced to with her cousins as a teenager, and met the world again as a budding pop star. Recorded in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Barcelona, the album is a “self-portrait”, she said, and it shows a sponge-like artist in motion constant.
“I was in a new environment, in a new context – how won’t that affect my sound?” she says. “I want to to affect my sound, my pen. Because it affects me personally. So how will this not affect the rest?
Student or volunteer teacher, fan or ambassador, depending on the audience and the circumstances, Rosalía came alive with the idea that anything should be banned, especially if she openly cited her influences. “I’ve listened to Don Omar, Ivy Queen, Lorna, Yankee, Zion & Lennox since I was at least 13,” she said. “It’s part of my experience.”
“I can’t think of making music the right way or the wrong way,” Rosalía continued. “For me, creativity isn’t about that – it’s not about good or bad, right or wrong. It’s beyond that. It sounds free or it doesn’t sound free Does it seem urgent and does it come from a need or not?”
She added, “I understand that other people might see it in a different way, but as an artist, that’s how I see it.”
Now, as she suddenly takes her place at the pinnacle of international culture, Rosalía said she can really start thinking about how best to give back to the communities that fuel her work: “I’ll find my way, it’s sure, because I care.”
Tokischa, a young dembow Dominican innovator, is one of the only guests on “Motomami”, alongside stars like The Weeknd and James Blake. She is also now a client of Rosalía’s food manager, León.
Less urgent, in an age when niche superstars speak directly to their divided audiences, is what was once known in international music as crossing over to the English-speaking world.
“Fringe is becoming mainstream,” said Jenifer Mallory, executive vice president and general manager of Columbia Records, which is releasing “Motomami.” “I don’t think we see as many street pop stars anymore. It all has this interesting edge, this unique left quality.
Weeks of work with Pharrell Williams and her Neptunes producing partner Chad Hugo resulted in two songs by Rosalía on “Motomami,” including the title track and “Hentai,” designed as a Disney-esque ballad but with raw lyrics. and explicit. “Contrast is such a beautiful thing,” Rosalía said. But she had no intention of landing an old-fashioned smash.
Previously, it was Pharrell who was unsure of his place in Rosalía’s universe. “She asked me to be on one of her songs and I was so intimidated,” he said.
While Rosalía has released an album of single singles in the four years since “El Mal Querer”, she has intricately charted “Motomami” as a full body of work with a distinct palette: no guitars (dominant like they were in his earlier music), “super aggressive” drumming, and lots of keys but minimal vocal harmonies. Irony and humor were new additions to his thematic arsenal, sex and bluster appeared.
“Almost franticshe said of her vision – a roller coaster ride through the highs and lows of love, fame and family, especially during pandemic isolation. “That’s exactly how it feels all the time, being in that context, doing that job.”
And it is work. As the singer, songwriter, producer, performer and chief artistic director of her project, Rosalía is both a broad collaborator and author overseeing every deliberate detail.
“I don’t care how small your contribution to the song is, I’ll put it in the credits. That’s how confident I am as a musician,” she said. “But I know it’s detrimental to put myself in the spotlight as a producer. Because as soon as people see men and a woman on a list, they assume – you know what it is.
“I saw what happens to Björk. I have seen other women who have been through this,” Rosalía added. “But the time I spend – 16 hours a day for months – it’s crazy.” She scoffed at the audacity to doubt “feminine creative forces”.
“How? ‘Or’ What? Is it? Always? Event?”
But her belief in the fruits of that labor – her knowledge that there is no opportunistic machine, no just-out-of-frame string-puller – means she will bravely take whatever licks and praise that may come. to be in charge and try to stay on point.
“I wish it was easier for me, just go to the studio, sing a little and go,” Rosalía said. “But time will tell.”
She scoffed again, looking more and more sure of herself. “Time will tell us.”