Rosalía is everywhere these days. Coachella? Check. Primavera Sound? Check. The Latin Billboards? Check. Latin Grammys? Check. The 26-year-old’s international fame is soaring for a good reason. She’s a talented singer-songwriter who’s breathing a fresh (sometimes problematic) air into flamenco and urbano music.
But, even as Rosalía’s genre-bending work crosses markets and breaks rules, let’s get one thing straight: she’s not Latina.
When Rosalía’s El Mal Querer reached the ears of Latin America, the media quickly started labeling the singer as “Latin.” The move is easily proved by a Billboard video interview for its series “Growing Up Latino,” an experience that, no matter how much Tego Calderón or Juan Luis Guerra the singer absorbed as a young catalana, she’ll never truly know.
As Isabelia Herrera described it in her interview with the singer for Fader, “The Anglophone press has often lumped Rosalía under the monolithic umbrella of Latin music. While she’s collaborated with Latino superstars like J Balvin on a few songs, most of her work draws on a tradition that has little to do with Latin American culture — despite Spain’s deep colonial roots there.”
It’s interesting that Rosalía herself is also confused with the way the media has labeled her. Granted, she’s not the first Spanish artist to be marketed as “Latin.” Yet, she’s still grappling with the idea and prefers others do the work for her. She told Fader, “If Latin music is music made in Spanish, then my music is part of Latin music. But I do know that if I say I’m a Latina artist, that’s not correct, is it? I’m part of a generation that’s making music in Spanish. So, I don’t know — in that sense, I’d prefer for others to decide if I’m included in that, no?”
“Included” is a tricky word, in this case. If anyone is included in today’s urbano music boom is La Rosalía. She started her dive into the scene in her collab C. Tangana “Antes de morirme” and, more recently, her single “Con Altura” with J Balvin and El Guincho. The latter is a chart-topping hit, listed as 17 in Billboard’s Top Latin Songs for the week of June 15.
But “included” also means Rosalía is expecting the Latinx and Latin American communities to embrace her in a way that perpetuates a cycle of appropriation.
I’ve witnessed Rosalía’s transformation from a classically-trained flamenco cantaora to a reggaeton performer channeling Ivy Queen’s early aughts aesthetic. I’ve seen how she’s carefully crafted her persona as La Rosalía (or, dare I say, Diosalía) putting her nails forefront of her personality and artistic character. It’s most visible in her latest single “Aute Cuture,” a hyper-feminine anthem to female power that uses long nails as a symbol of poderío. It’s also visible in the way she’s traded flecos and ruffles in her stage costumes designed by Palomo Spain for vinyl pants and printed button downs reminiscent of 70s salseros.
It’s complicated to be a fan of Rosalía as a Latina woman. On one hand, she makes music that speaks to my cultural references– a flamenco-style version of urbano and pop music that honors the past but is still relevant today. On the other, I feel she’s playing at being Latina, something that she has no business doing because she’s never experienced the real-life oppression, discrimination, and colonization that come with being Latinx. Furthermore, she continues to take up space for other Latinx performers, especially Black and Indigenous artists, that will never get as much attention in an industry that tries to package Latinidad for a mass audience.
What the Latinx community asks of Rosalía is to acknowledge her privilege in being able to take on multiple genres, especially flamenco and reggaetón, without consequences; to recognize the black and brown poor communities of the Caribbean that birthed urbano music; to pay homage to those references but never appropriate. And, to the media, to stop labeling Rosalía as Latina.
Until then, I’ll still be bopping to El Mal Querer because, despite its problematic appropriation, I can’t deny her talent.