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How Rosalía Became Pop’s Most Fearless Superstar
The Spanish artist resisted industry pressures, refused to compromise and made one of 2022’s boldest albums. At the end of an incredible year, she opens up about all of it
BY CAT CARDENAS
Josefina Bietti for Rolling Stone
IT’S HOURS AFTER A SUDDEN RAINSTORM one afternoon in September, and Rosalía is standing with her eyes trained on the placid shore of Puerto Rico’s Bahia Beach. She’s still for just a few seconds, but her mind is stuck on the pure chaos of the previous night.
“Dios mio, it was crazy,” she says, with an edge of gleeful disbelief.
First off, let’s not call it a concert. For almost two hours straight, she played for a sold-out crowd at the historic Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot. Aside from waves of screaming fans, the spectacle Rosalía put on is more akin to performance art than a traditional stadium show, and it’s taken over cities and social media pages with equal force over the past few months. There’s no opener, no costume changes. Rosalía is at the center, her face often slicked with sweat and tears, doing everything all at once — strumming a jet-black guitar, smacking her gum, pounding an ornate piano, ripping her heart wide open. And as her Motomami World Tour has crossed the globe, this has been her life for the past year.
Her show in Puerto Rico was an all-out rager. Assigned seats were meaningless as security guards roamed the floor, trying — and failing — to stop people from spilling into the aisles. The arena seemed like it was going to collapse in on itself when Rosalía shouted to the crowd, “The love of my life is here!” referring to her boyfriend, the Puerto Rican star Rauw Alejandro. After it was all over, she still found the energy to hit an afterparty at a San Juan nightclub with him. A tangle of iPhone cameras captured them dancing to different hits, including Rosalía’s own “Despechá,” late into the night.
Even so, the next morning, when I arrive at her private oceanfront villa in the St. Regis, where a few of her friends are milling around, she’s bright and alert, wearing a navy-blue minidress with a youthful Peter Pan collar. I have a million things I want to ask, yet it’s Rosalía who immediately starts peppering me with questions before I get the chance.
“OK,” she says eagerly, her eyes lighting up with genuine curiosity. “Tell me everything. How did you feel about last night? This was your first time seeing a show, yes? What did you think? I want to know.”
I quickly fill her in, telling her the only other performance of hers I’ve seen was at Austin City Limits, in 2019. Back then, Rosalía was coming off the breakthrough success of El Mal Querer, the intricate concept album she released in 2018. Suddenly, a promising young graduate of Barcelona’s Catalonia College of Music, who’d dedicated most of her life to the punishing art of flamenco, morphed into a boundary-pulverizing avant-fusionist, one known for her encyclopedic range of cultural references, who interpolated Justin Timberlake, exploded into cante jondo, and cited an Occitan novel about a toxic relationship all on the same project (the text — called The Story of Flamenca — actually inspired the entire album, which was her college thesis).
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