With her ambitious fusion of flamenco tradition and urban swagger, the Spanish star is proving that a singular vision can have universal appeal.
When Rosalía was 16 years old, she lost her voice. She had been singing too much without proper technique, and she needed a vocal cord operation. “For a whole year, I was in rehabilitation, just listening to music,” she says. “I learned how to really listen.”
The experience was formative for an artist who has become an international superstar thanks in part to her attention to detail, from the intricate sounds of her genre-bending productions to every shot of her avant-garde videos. To this day, Rosalía always carries her “little pad” or her phone, writing down “everything I’m going to do, my ideas, the next step,” she explains. “The point is to connect with what made me go into this in the first place.”
We’re chatting in early September over coffee and scrambled eggs at a suite in the trendy hotel EAST, Miami, where Rosalía speaks — mostly in Spanish but with a smattering of English — in a voice that speeds up when she’s excited but rarely rises above a murmur. Today, makeup-free and with her dark curly hair flowing loose over her shoulders, she looks much younger than her actual age, 27. Only her long nails, black and laced with glitter, give away the diva within.
In the year and a half since she independently released her single “Malamente,” earning immense critical acclaim for her contemporary, urban-music twist on flamenco, the Spain-born Rosalía has turned every preconception about her country’s iconic musical tradition on its head. She’s a trained dancer who traded heels and long-tailed dresses for platform sneakers, midriff-baring tops and sweats; a traditional cantaora who collaborates with rappers and reggaetoneros; a thrilling live performer who mixes hip-hop and flamenco moves with military precision in front of psychedelic visuals. “Rosalía possesses the very rare combination of a flawless artistic vision and remarkable live performances, and she keeps pushing every musical boundary,” says Ron Perry, chairman/CEO of Columbia Records, which signed Rosalía in the United States in 2018. “She’s a once-in-a-generation talent.”
Columbia, owned by Sony, doesn’t disclose the terms of its deals with artists, but sources say the record company has invested in Rosalía as much as it would in any mainstream superstar — a sum that industry sources say typically amounts to five to ten times as much as major record labels tend to invest in the acts they sign exclusively to their Latin labels or divisions.
She’s already rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in the industry. Since her breakout record, El Mal Querer, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Latin Pop Albums chart last fall, she has performed at Coachella and Lollapalooza, hit the studio with Billie Eilish and Pharrell Williams, graced President Barack Obama’s annual summer playlist and won two Latin Grammys. In August, Rosalía became only the third female Latin artist to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), after Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.
“There’s no one I can remember who has come out this fast — in any language,” says her agent, Samantha Kirby Yoh, WME partner and head of East Coast music. “I don’t think anyone has the attention she has gotten in terms of credibility in so many different genres and mediums.”
Even as recently as three years ago, it would have been hard to fathom Rosalía’s career trajectory. With very few exceptions, Latin artists have garnered mainstream U.S. attention only after achieving great success in the Spanish-speaking world. Typically, major U.S. labels enter joint-venture deals with their Latin counterparts to work acts who are releasing albums or singles in English. Rosalía, however, joined Columbia barely six months after signing with Sony Music Spain, and she still sings predominantly in Spanish — not only a sign of increasingly permeable genre and language barriers, but also of her star power. “She’s bigger than a Spanish artist. That’s what everyone is drawn to about her,” says Columbia executive vp/GM Jenifer Mallory.