LOS ANGELES – Rosalía, the experimental Spanish pop phenomenon with a reputation for reinventing hyper-speed, often finds herself solving intricate musical problems of her own making. How, for example, could he fuse reggaeton with jazz? Or flamenco with Auto-Tune?
How could he slam the digital machine gun battery programmed by Tayhana, an Argentine producer in Mexico City, in a torchlight procession destined to resemble Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”? Or alter a traditional Cuban ballad known as a bolero using an obscure Soulja Boy sample?
“Almost like a joke, right?” Rosalía recently said of her once abstract proposals 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.
By now, three full-lengths in a career built on these kinds of cultural collisions, she’s used to her collaborators looking at her with some confusion.
But Rosalía, 29, isn’t the type to embrace a permanent creative cut, confident that something fresh will turn out. Instead, she tends to work from concrete daydreams, imagining in detail a finished product that combines as many artistic touchstones as possible while still feeling true to herself and original enough to transcend mere homage.
“I love all styles,” he said, in a generalization that also seemed an understatement. “For me, it’s all on the same level.” Or in other words: “Context is everything” – fundamental influences revived from a personal point of view. “I just want to hear something I’ve never heard before. This is always the intention. “
Even when Rosalía isn’t literally using a sample – or a sample of a champion, as in her new song “Candy”, built on Burial’s fragmented distribution of a Ray J track – she is still borrowing. “We, as human beings, have always tried when we create,” she said. “Another idea comes from ideas. When I see Francis Bacon doing a painting based on a Velázquez painting, I think it’s a sampling. “
“As long as you do it with respect – and with love – I think it always makes sense,” he added.
This breadth of creative ambition has made Rosalía one of the most followed, revered, scrutinized, copied and relied upon young artists in the world, despite never having a Top 40 success in the United States. She has billions of plays on YouTube and Spotify, including her collaborations with Weeknd, Travis Scott and Billie Eilish. She dated the Kardashian-Jenners; you made cameo appearances in both a Pedro Almodóvar film and Cardi B’s “WAP” video; and she has covered fashion magazines on all continents.
In view of “Motomami”, due out on Friday, Rosalía appeared with Jimmy Fallon, teaching him how to pull the R. in her name – and also on “Saturday Night Live”, where she performed solo and entirely in Spanish.
“Ultimately, its impact on culture is much greater than the cumulative of its flows,” said Rebeca León, manager of Rosalía. “I see all the girls copying it so literally. Not just girls in the Latin world, everywhere.
The singer’s previous album, “El Mal Querer”, arrived fully formed in 2018, presenting Rosalía as a self-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.”)
Inside the world of Rosalia
In just a few years, the Catalan Spanish singer has become one of the most revered, examined and counted young artists in the world.
But the widespread anointing of Rosalía as a world pop icon, à la Beyoncé or Rihanna – as well as the worldwide commercial explosion of music in Spanish that pushes the genre – meant that “Motomami” was dissected before it even existed. A column that was published this year in “El País” included concerns that she had “pulled a ‘Miley Cyrus'”, going from lyrical allusions to Lorca to simplistic and dirty rhymes and excessive sharing 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 laughter-filled Spanish conversation, she drops references to Jung’s “el olé colectivo” – the collective unconscious – and her obsession with TikTok; in her lyrics, she swears allegiance to Niña Pastori, José Mercé and Willie Colón but also to Tego Calderón, Lil ‘Kim and MIA
In “Saoko”, a tribute to the reggaeton pioneers Daddy Yankee and Wisin who opens “Motomami”, the singer is directed on her collagist and shape-shifting goals: “Yo me transformo,“Growls – I transform myself. “I contradict myself,” he adds in Spanish. “I am all.” Elsewhere, Rosalía raps “I think I’m Dapper Dan”, the smuggling remixer of high fashion.
If there are traces of defiance – or defensive – in Rosalía’s delivery, it’s because she hasn’t always been praised for helping herself with an all-purpose sound 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 has embraced the traditionally Afro-Caribbean sounds of reggaeton, dembow, bachata and more. She has also racked up awards in the Latin categories, despite her European roots, leaving her, along with artists like J Balvin, of Colombia, to answer for the music industry’s tendency to put white artists in the black genres.
Yet Rosalía also doubled down, declaring “Motomami” largely inspired by the Latin music she danced with with her teenage cousins, and which she met again while traveling the world as a budding pop star. Recorded in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Barcelona, the album is a diary “self-portrait”, she said, and shows a spongy artist in constant motion.
“I was in a new environment, in a new context: how could it not affect my sound?” she said. “I want to influence my sound, my pen. Because it affects me personally. So how will it not affect the rest? “
Willing student or teacher, fan or ambassador, depending on the audience and the circumstances, Rosalía was animated by the idea that anything should be off-limits, especially if she openly mentioned her influences. “I’ve listened to Don Omar, Ivy Queen, Lorna, Yankee, Zion and Lennox since I was at least 13,” she said. “This is part of my experience”.
“I can’t think of making music right or wrong,” continued Rosalía. “For me, creativity isn’t about that, it’s not about right or wrong, right or wrong. It is beyond. Does it sound free or does it sound free? Does it seem that it has urgency and comes from need or not? “
He added: “I understand that other people can see it in other ways, but as an artist, that’s how I see it.”
Now, as she settles into her sudden position at the top of international culture, Rosalía said she could really start thinking about the best way to give back to the communities that feed her work: “I’ll find my way, for sure, because I care.” .
Tokischa, a young Dominican innovator of the dembow, is one of the only guests of “Motomami”, along with American stars such as Weeknd and James Blake. He is now also a client of the power manager of Rosalía, León.
Less urgent, in an age where niche superstars speak directly to their divided audiences, is what was once known in international music as the transition to the English-speaking world.
“The fringe is going mainstream,” said Jenifer Mallory, executive vice president and general manager of Columbia Records, which is releasing “Motomami.” “I don’t think we’re seeing so many pop stars down the aisle anymore. Everything has this interesting side, this unique left-wing quality. “
Weeks of work with Pharrell Williams and his Neptunes production partner Chad Hugo resulted in two songs by Rosalía in “Motomami”, including the title track and “Hentai”, conceived as a Disney-style ballad but with raw and explicit lyrics. . “Contrast is such a beautiful thing,” said Rosalía. But she had no plans for old-fashioned success.
Previously, it was Pharrell who was unsure of his place in Rosalía’s universe. “He asked me to join one of his songs about her and I was so intimidated,” he said.
While Rosalía has released an album worthy of one-off singles in the four years since “El Mal Querer”, she intricately charted “Motomami” as a complete body of work with a distinct palette: no guitars (as dominant as they were in her music previous), “super aggressive” drums, and many keys but minimal vocal harmonies. Irony and humor were new additions to her thematic arsenal, sex and swagger showed up.
“Almost hecticHe said of his vision: a roller coaster that traverses the highs and lows of love, fame and family, especially during the isolation of the pandemic. “It’s exactly how it always feels, to be in this context, to do this job.”
And it’s work. As the lead singer, songwriter, producer, performer and art director of her project, Rosalía is both a broad collaborator and an author who oversees every deliberate detail.
“I don’t care how small your contribution to the song was, I’ll put it in the credits. That’s how confident I am as a musician, “she said.” But I know it’s harmful to stand out as a producer. Because the moment people see men and a woman on a list, they assume you know what it’s like. .
“I’ve seen what happens to Björk. I have seen other women who have been there, ”added Rosalía. “But the time I spend – 16 hours a day for months – is crazy.” She protested the audacity of doubting the “female creative forces”.
“How? And this? Yet? happening? “
But her faith in the fruits of that work – her knowledge that there is no opportunistic machine, no thread puller just out of frame – means she’ll boldly take whatever licks and praise might come from being in charge and trying to stay on the cutting edge. .
“I wish it was easier for me, to go to the studio, sing a little and go,” said Rosalía. “But time will tell.”
She snorted again, sounding more and more confident. “Time will tell.”