To fully put into perspective just how mind-bending Spanish pop experimentalist Rosalía’s highly-celebrated fusions of genre can be: different online articles have compared her latest to the works of The Beastie Boys, Moby, Lorde and Nine Inch Nails. Rosalía herself has said it was inspired by Nina Simone and J. S. Bach, and actual collaborators include Q-Tip, Pharrell, James Blake and The Weeknd. After catapulting herself onto the scene with 2018’s El Mal Querer, a retelling of a 13th-century Spanish folktale that combined traditional flamenco music with modern pop, hip-hop and R&B, Rosalía’s triumphant return sees her expand her horizons even further. While the sound of the project is even more delightfully unpredictable than before, as jazz piano solos, bachata rhythms and reggaeton beats collide with power-pop balladry and crashing industrial noise, Rosalía has also never dabbled in lyrical content from her own life. It often feels like a traditional flamenco singer was thrown into a time machine and returned with knowledge of pop’s multicultural and genre-free future. The album is split into two intertwined halves, MOTO containing punishingly hard-hitting rap and reggaeton bangers and MAMI featuring more vulnerable and lovelorn melodies set to piano, strings and more classical sounds of Rosalía’s Hispanic heritage in order to highlight the two distinct sides of her personality. By the end of the album, however, it feels like two isn’t nearly enough to define her.
The project’s first two tracks waste no time in showing off the duality of Rosalía. “SAOKO,” which comes accompanied by a video featuring Rosalía as the leader of a biker gang, is a deconstructed reggaeton track with grinding industrial synths and a more aggressive sound than your typical dembow rhythm typically possesses, mixing in some aspects of drill and hyperpop along the way – not to mention a little break for a virtuosic jazz piano solo. Rosalía’s breathless rapping introduces the concept of the project as she lists the multitudes that she can become with ease. “CANDY,” on the other hand, reintroduces her stellar singing voice to the mix on a more romantic track. Featuring another completely distinctive and refreshing sound in the icy synth palates that back her up, the vibrato and gravitas on her vocals continue to evoke the classical flamenco singer thrown into a world of futuristic sounds. “LA FAMA” keeps that energy alive with a traditional-sounding bachata rhythm, bringing The Weeknd on board for a duet about the pitfalls of fame, transforming it into an alluring but lethal lover. While the track comes with a memorable melody line and it’s great to hear The Weeknd singing in Spanish, the true magic is hearing just how beautifully human Rosalía sounds. The Weeknd can be so laser-focused on his pitch that he can come across as somewhat robotic, but the tiny breaks and flaws in Rosalía’s striking tone are what make it so endlessly compelling.
The next two tracks are likely the two most straightforward on the album, although Rosalía tackling straight-up flamenco proves a lot more invigorating than her take on a trendy modern reggaeton banger. “BULERÍA,” which draws its title from a flamenco musical style which is typically seen as the framework with the least rules and the most space for experimentation, is a mostly a cappella performance with audio in the back of people whooping and hollering like she was performing in a club, the minimalistic drums getting increasingly distorted as the track progresses. “CHICKEN TERIYAKI” is certainly a lot of fun as Rosalía drops some more tongue-in-cheek bars, but it stands out in a bizarre way on a highly experimental album. Luckily, two of the project’s most mind-bending tracks follow. While some fans initially reacted negatively to the strikingly angelic singer switching from high poetry to something that’s a little more X-rated on “HENTAI,” the juxtaposition of Rosalía’s natural vibrato and gravitas talking dirty over an orchestral piano ballad becomes yet another innovative – and pretty hilarious – addition to her artistic oeuvre. The brief “BIZCOCHITO” is Rosalía’s most direct take on acid-infused hyperpop yet, as she raps over some garish synths and a breakneck tempo while pitching her voice and adding some playground chants in the background. It’s one of the most insane-sounding tracks you’ll have heard in a long time.
As the album moves into its back half, the newly personal angle of the album comes out in a massive way on the track “G3 N15,” a touching tribute to Rosalía’s nephew. In front of a disorienting, swirling church organ that eventually settles down into a tear-inducing solo that brings out emotion without a single word as all the best solos do, Rosalía laments the pressures of fame keeping her from building stronger relationships with her family and belts out some incredible notes along the way. After a minute-long interlude with Pharrell on production employing his signature style, the track “DIABLO” continues the album’s sonic whiplash as it speeds through a variety of engaging segments. Beginning with twinkly synths and some striking falsetto notes, the track drops into a baby-voiced pitched up reggaeton track and an interlude from James Blake. “DELIRIO DE GRANDEZA” finds Rosalía covering a Cuban song from the 60s and infusing it with a Soulja Boy sample with bright chords in the back like it came from a kids’ music box, while “CUUUUuuuuuute” might be the most out-there track of them all. With bone-rattling percussion that knocks your brain from one side to the other, the punishing rap and reggaeton proceedings are interrupted by a sudden piano-backed power ballad. It all just goes to prove that Rosalía is one of the most daring creatives working right now.
Rosalía essentially continues to give listeners everything they could possibly want as the album winds down. “COMO UN G” feels like more of a typical dark pop song akin to her close friend Billie Eilish on the surface, as Rosalía sings over a pensive and watery piano instrumental, but the album needed a track that didn’t mask Rosalía’s vocals in crazy production techniques and simply let her deliver a powerful and emotional melody. “LA COMBI VERSACE” sees her link up with Tokischa once more, the two complementing each other as extraordinarily well as they did on Tokischa’s single “LINDA” as the sharp sneer bounces off Rosalía’s warmer, rounder voice. The project closes with “SAKURA,” which sounds like an echoey live recording as people chant her name in the background. Regardless, it’s another opportunity for that timeless voice to shine.
It’s hard to imagine many albums that are better than this one coming out this year, as Rosalía takes all the boundless experimentation that made her one to watch and combined it with her vibrant personality for the first time. Rosalía feels like the perfect representative for music’s direction: completely genre-free, and increasingly global in influence.
Favourite Tracks: CUUUUuuuuuute, HENTAI, G3 N15, BIZCOCHITO, LA FAMA
Least Favourite Track: CHICKEN TERIYAKI