We didn’t go into 2018 thinking that one of pop’s brightest new faces would be merging the genre with traditional flamenco music but here we are. Spanish artist Rosalía is the most exciting new name in pop and she sounds like literally nothing you’re listening to at the moment.
Rosalía is bringing flamenco music to a new generation. She started with 2017’s largely acoustic Los Ángeles but now she’s expanded upon that with her experimental, inventive 2018 record El Mal Querer. It’s a transcendent, exciting project that has drawn co-signs from Charli XCX and caused the usually calm, cool and collected James Blake to flip out.
If we’re going to attempt to compare her to anybody, she’s same kind of eagerness to break down boundaries as FKA twigs had on her debut album but, to be honest, Rosalía goes even further. It takes a visionary to interpolate the melody of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River with an angelic instrumental that borrows from classic flamenco music like she does on BAGDAD Cap.7: Liturgia.
While El Mal Querer shows Rosalía being uniquely inventive and looking to the future, she’s respectful of flamenco’s tradition. She studied flamenco song and was adament in respecting it in its purest form possible on her debut. With this album though, she admitted that she was ready to find “something new” and that’s exactly what she’s done.
We’re not close to being fluent in Spanish or educated in flamenco music but it doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to El Mal Querer. It’s an emotional and exciting listen that bites at all the senses because Rosalía is so invested in every moment of it. She’s approaches each song with an intense presence, something that she’s translating to her live performances which are equally incredible.
“Flamenco is the most honest and visceral music. You have to be sincere when you sing it. If you’re not, it doesn’t work,” she told Billboard and that’s why she’s able to cut through regardless of language. Maldición (Cap. 10: Cordura), one of the record’s slowest and most elongated songs swells the heart. It’s unfiltered emotion delivered by her stunningly gentle and finessed vocal.
The fragility on the album is powerful but she’s equally as powerful on the most forthright, passionate moments. Malamente (Cap. 1: Augurio) has an almost militant strength to it despite its minimal production. It’s one of the best pop songs of the year, bettered only by Pienso en tu mirá (Cap. 3: Celos), the song that’s most likely to translate best internationally. She leads it in with a beautiful verse that could’ve been written by Julia Michaels before completely flipping it with her own flamenco infusions.
So often, artists are made to comply with an international sound in order to create any kind of buzz but it’s testament to Rosalía that she’s doing so without pandering to anyone. It’s an album in a league of its own that is summed up best by James Blake’s description – “what the actual afjhkhhhhhdiquyhqkzjdhjsnbahjkbbsbdhsjajbaFfdfffdffffffffffffffffffff.”