A triumph with international implications, Rosalía’s debut American performance highlighted emerging musical trends that warrant discussion as much as they do awe.
The Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
On April 17th, 2019, two major international acts gave highly anticipated performances in Los Angeles. K-Pop sensation Blackpink brought the Hallyu wave crashing down onto thousands of fans at the Forum. At the same time, Rosalía Vila Tobella’s El Mal Querer made its American debut at the lovely and just-spacious-enough Mayan Theatre.
To augment the already high excitement around this tour, experimental soul singer Serpentwithfeet opened the event. I wondered why the venue never billed him as the opener, instead waiting until the day of to announce him. Like Rosalía, Serpentwithfeet garnered acclaim for his unconventional style. He, like the evening’s headliner, manages to appeal to both critical and popular listeners alike despite adhering to his own avant-garde melodies and rhythms.
And, on the night, he sounded fantastic, crafting an entire show on his own. His music, centered around his vibrato-rattled tenor, filled the space with a warm, spiritual energy. At his keys and soundboards, he looked perfectly at ease, though at points he needed to remind the audience to stay with him. Even with that said, Serpentwithfeet accomplished what needed to be done as an opener: build anticipation without overshadowing the headliner.
Not that the evening felt any lack of enthusiasm. Before Rosalía even hit the stage, the crowd erupted with applause at the sight of her team of dancers, vocalists and band. When she arrived, hi-ponytail in and platforms on, El Mal Querer began. Opening track “Pienso en tu mirá” announced her arrival with horns and handclaps, the latter of which played a crucial role throughout the night. What followed was a conglomeration of musical and visual styles, where Andalusian flamenco appeared alongside Soulcalibur sound effects (see “Maldición”).
At the heart of this show lay Rosalía’s voice, a clear, confident soprano capable of piercing through all the pomp and circumstance. For the acapella “Catalina,” a cut off her debut album Los Ángeles, she sang her way through her heartbreak, bringing the audience to rapture not even a third of the way through her concert. To provide her singing a dignified air, a backdrop flared up with neon shapes and cascading gems.
The different levels of the stage played well into Rosalía’s routine, which involved heavy choreography and precise staging elements. Said choreography, devised by LA’s own Charm La’Donna, deserves special note for the way it incorporated flamenco, contemporary hip-hop and the synchronized style of boy/girl groups. Dancers encircled her for dramatic effect on “Bagdad” and “De Madrugá,” even holding her mic while she flew into that effortless soprano. Their silhouettes on “Lo Presiento” looked equal parts regal and mysterious, where a minor flick of puffed sleeves took on an imposing quality. The whole effect drew comparisons to the gold standard of performers, Beyoncé; there was even a well-placed fan that took her hi-pony to new heights.
Peppered throughout the performance were the star’s own collaborations with J Balvin and James Blake, both also collaborators of the aforementioned Queen of Live Music. “Barefoot in the Park” presented a rare English-language moment in the set, while “Brillo” and “Con Altura” showcased the growing Latin presence in her material.
Rosalía’s ability to fuse various genres proved an asset to the Mayan performance, though her work has garnered calls of cultural appropriation. Her tour underscored the global state of genre, where its blending sparks important questions regarding appropriation and authenticity. Fellow Catalonian Bad Gyal attracts a similar barrage of praise and criticism for her take on reggaeton. On the other side of the globe, K-pop shamelessly embodies gangsta culture while espousing racism towards the people who created it. Her own dismissal of Roma influence on flamenco plays into similar concerns and dims her otherwise rising star.
Even still, Rosalía’s star could any day fly straight into the Billboard charts, and this performance and a rousing Coachella set both promise a lengthy career ahead. “Esto es pa’ que quede” she declared: “This one is so it sticks.”