rosalia motomami

On Rosalía’s Saturday Night Live debut in March, she sang her pop-bachata hit “La Fama” while wearing a sequoia-sized puffer jacket and beaded mantilla. It was a strikingly dramatic look for a song trembling with betrayal, and it was immediately memed for its resemblance to a quilted comforter and shower mat (the resulting virality was, perhaps, part of the point). But the streetwear-meets-Catalonian tradition look was also a visual cue to her current mindset as a musician releasing her third album: to finesse the gap between classical and contemporary in a big and brazen fashion, with humor and cojones.

Theoretically, a wide-open, globalist approach is not so different from the Spanish superstar’s astounding second album, El Mal Querer, where her electronic take on flamenco shot her to international renown. Because of flamenco’s relative scarcity in the pop world, and because her interpretation of a centuries-old Romani art form was so futuristic, she was regarded as something of a miracle, a performer with a singular gift whose interior was just out of reach. Since its 2018 release, she’s toured the world, covered major fashion magazines, and collaborated with stars like J Balvin, James Blake, and the Weeknd. But on MOTOMAMI, her 16-track follow-up to El Mal Querer, she sounds preternaturally at ease within her talent and finally ready to let us in.

The trappings of fame and a new major label have, in some unlikely ways, freed her to loosen her impulses, and what results is a collage of styles and experimentation that could be messy on paper but is threaded together by her artistic fortitude. She toys with minimalist dembows (“La Combi Versace,” with Dominican star Tokischa), Auto-Tuned dirges, spirited champeta, juiced-up electro, bachata, and glitchy Björkian ballads, with help from an eclectic range of co-producers like Tainy, El Guincho, Michael Uzowuru, Sky Rompiendo, and Pharrell. There may be some more commercial tracks in here—including “La Fama,” a song with the Weeknd about how fame sucks that ironically made her more famous—but overall the vision is clear and the influences cohere. La Rosalía is a musician’s musician, and there’s so much more to her than the austere flamenco singer, powerfully warbling from 13th-century texts.

MOTOMAMI opens with “Saoko,” a smattering of free-jazz drums and a nasty synth bassline that serves as a “tribute” to Wisin y Daddy Yankee’s 2004 single “Saoco.” It’s a disclaimer that she’s swerving freely between lanes: She bears down on the refrains “Yo me transformo” and “Fuck el estilo,” and frankly, kinda eats up the beat, doing her best reggaetonera with a butterfly-grilled sneer. More significantly, it’s a bold statement out the gate—she’s become a kind of problematic fave for many Latinxs, particularly for her experiments in genres like dembow and reggaeton at a time when their Afro-Caribbean roots, long excoriated by racist and classist critiques, have been either erased or subsumed by the popularity of white Latinos. The specter of Spanish colonialism runs painfully deep, and the question has been: What does it mean when a white Catalan woman working in traditionally Afro-Latinx genres attains worldwide acclaim in ways the originators—and her Black contemporaries—have not?