Friday, November 23rd, 2018

Rosalía – Malamente

This song won Best Alternative Song and Best Urban Fusion/Performance, and based on this score, probably should have won everything else too.


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[8.23]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: Flamenco-pop, flamenco-tinged R&B, even flamenco rap and flamenco-reggaetón, are nothing new — past heroes like Rosario, Bebé, Chambao, Papá Levante and fusion legends Ojos de Brujo all have enjoyed international projection and can be considered Rosalía’s natural predecessors in that aspect. Rosalía gladly and effectively acknowledges that tradition while contributing to it with her empowered R&B-flavored chants, and the latin urban sensibilities in El Guincho’s productions. “Malamente” establishes an interesting dynamic between the modern synths and pads and the traditional palmas a compás, which work in counter-rhythm to her cante, for a track that offers a glimpse into the percussive complexities of rumba while feeling at home in one of those alt-pop playlists. It’s a new step in flamenco’s legacy. 
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Crystal Leww: My introduction to Rosalía was her feature on J. Balvin’s latest album, a quiet, downtempo, fluttering track among an album of reggaetón bangers. At the Latin Grammys, she beat his monster of a tune “Mi Gente” for Urban/Fusion performance with “Malamente.” It’s easy to see why: this is slinky and sensual with plenty of interesting flourishes in the production as well as her very own vocal performance. It’s perfect critic bait, as it stands out as driving towards a very specific sound, a re-imagining of a largely left behind musical genre in flamenco. The handclaps, the asides, the breaking of the glass, the reverb, the “tra! tra!” — all of these should take you out of such a quiet song, but Rosalía does just enough without crossing the line. Enric Palau, director of Sónar music festival in Spain recently said that she could be the Rihanna of flamenco. And don’t get me wrong, I love Rihanna, but she never had the vision to do something like this. 
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Alfred Soto: Relistening to Radiohead is not an experience to which I often submit myself, but their use of hand claps, programmed or otherwise, loosened me up for what Rosalía attempts on “Malamente,” complete with mournful keyboard. 
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Nortey Dowuona: Twirling, circular drums wind up around the soft synths, with Rosalía’s gentle, short singing and claps carefully herding them together into the field.
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William John: We don’t have any Andalusian writers on the Singles Jukebox roster, as far as I know, which is a shame in this instance because I’ve been desperate to read something in English about Rosalía from that perspective that isn’t a garbled translation derived from Google software. Rosalía is Catalan, but has sent shockwaves through Spain that are slowly permeating into other Western markets (I confess to learning of her from a Dua Lipa tweet); the shockwaves are in part due to her striking videos, overseen by CANADA (also responsible for that memorable El Guincho video a few years back, who incidentally handles production here), but also for her use of gitanx imagery and accents as a non-gitana. She’s addressed these matters with defensiveness and naivety in interviews, and thus in Spain is the subject of some controversy. To her credit, she has worked with Las Negris, a group whose members are part of the Montoyita flamenco dynasty, on this song and elsewhere on her album El mal querer, and she seems to be both a devoted student of flamenco tradition and aware of her place in its worldHer designation as a pioneer, as someone revolutionising a centuries-old artform, seems to have come from media outside Spain more than anywhere else, and it’s important to acknowledge that though she presents a perspective that may initially strike Anglo listeners as unusual, she’s not the first and likely not the last flamenco artist to add personal flourish to this esteemed cultural institution. But when you watch her in “Malamente,” with its portentous murmuring and dramatic “tra TRA!” hook — one of the year’s most insidious — as she variously claps with menace leaning over the steering wheel of a truck, is raised up by forklift like a martyr to the pyre, and sits atop a frozen motorcycle, flagged down by a matador, with an expression of incredible intensity, isn’t her baptism as a revolutionary, future world conqueror the most obvious conclusion?
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Iris Xie: Something about this song is instinctual, velvety, and haunting, like it will grab you by the chest and then dare you to explore what lies in the world that it came from. Inside of its vortex, it conjures up the perfect environment for being audacious enough to dance on a cutie that you see at the club, and there’s enough breathing space in between the instrumentals and vocals to cultivate a chemistry and charisma after. There’s a stunning pre-chorus from 1:34 that reminds me of the high, dreamy vocals in some Bollywood sequences, before it drops back low into a whispered chorus that undulates with a mesmerizing repetition. You can’t help but dance along to that. It’s a siren’s song, remixed for 2018 and creeping along to a venue near you.
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Stephen Eisermann: Growing up, I was always enthralled by (what I thought was) gypsy culture. Clearly, the problematic media portrayals in both Disney movies and novelas my mom had playing in the background gave me a limited and exoticized view of gypsy culture and even now as I’ve taken the time to learn more, its hard to shake predispositions if the past. This song, very clearly R&B but with Latin tinges and seemingly Arab pop phrasing, is a culmination of all sounds that feel mysterious, as if the sound coming from my speakers form together to make that image of a gypsy from my past. All at once I’m enthralled and embarrassed, knowing that I should move past negative media portrayals yet entranced by the imagery this song brings to mind.
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Pedro João Santos: By releasing “Malamente,” Rosalía achieved that moment of conquering the pop sphere all at once, in the span of 2:30. Aong with co-author El Guincho, Rosalía never relinquishes control, and they distill flamenco into sleek, diligently-precise soundscapes. That sonic mesh, differing from the traditional approach taken on her last album, has been the subject of controversy. I highly recommend reading from all points of view on the matter of cultural appropriation and, although that of the Andalusian community prevails, it’s hard to grasp everything. This is a single that defies expectations of what an inaugural moment of pop domination is — its foreboding edge, the multilayered sound, the conceptual richness (most evident if  its parent album) — and takes other expectations to an extreme — vocal prowess is conspicuous, but my favorite part is how hooks are thrown relentlessly at the forefront and into the background. Within just ten seconds: “Así sí? Tra tra! Mal, muy mal, muy mal, muy mal… Mira! Toma que toma.” Instant yet disorienting, seamless yet complex. In any measure other than cultural sensibility, as Rosalía’s use of flamenco will continue to be the center of debate: it’s bulletproof.
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Will Adams: The handclaps alone would have convinced me, but it’s Rosalía’s steely confidence that makes “Malamente” worth revisiting.
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Edward Okulicz: It’s a short song, but it’s so packed with intoxicating and instantly gratifying hooks and smaller, subtle details that make it so satisfying to dive deeply into. Rosalía’s voice embodies so many moods in such a short time that one can’t help but be impressed at her performance and composition. She sings, she whispers, she interjects her catchiest lines with other catchy parts. The clapping rhythm is infectious, and the song generates so much heat I’m sure my blood raised the temperature of my body a couple of degrees after having it on repeat for an hour. After that, I put it on for another hour.
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Juan F. Carruyo: Some friends of mine hyped Rosalía to me by claiming she was “inventing a whole new genre,” which is probably a disservice to the successful fusion she and her co-conspirator El Guincho manage here: a bare bones production that’s rescued by a sultry flamenco melody and lots and lots of attitude. This is the one that blew up because it’s her most global, retaining just enough of an exotic touch to draw people in — the handclaps, the slang that gives the song its title — but also holding back from her virtuous pipes. 
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Joshua Minsoo Kim: Rosalía’s sophomore album was inspired by a 13th century fable entitled The Romance of Flamenca, a classic love triangle story that centers on Count Archimbaut’s jealousy-fueled transformation toward insanity. He eventually imprisons his wife — the eponymous Flamenca — in a tower, allowing her to leave its confines for no more than two reasons: bathing and mass. He was meant to represent the very opposite of courtly behavior to the story’s readers, and yet, this portrait of a powerful man restricting a woman’s life is just as necessary today. There’s consequently no greater statement that could have started El mal querer than its lead single, “Malamente.” The interaction of its flamenco palmas with minimal percussion and synth pulses pits listeners in a space between the traditional and contemporary. Even more, the spacious world that she and El Guincho create is simultaneously anxious and impassioned. Rosalía’s vocalizing glides smoothly along the beat before sharply piercing listeners with jaleo in the form of “illo!” and “tra, tra!” adlibs. In the album’s narrative, “Malamente” prefaces Archimbaut and Flamenca’s wedding, and the track’s subtitle indicates that the song is an omen. What is it foretelling, exactly? Well, it warns of the tumultuous relationship that’s to come from the Count and his wife, but it’s also a declaration that Rosalía is putting forth regarding her music, that it’s going to be charting unfamiliar territory. Critics may, and have, decried “Malamente” as being disingenuous to flamenco’s roots, positing that Rosalía is a mere cultural appropriater. This is despite her time spent at the Catalonia College of Music, a school where only one student per year is admitted to studying flamenco, and whose flamenco teacher commented that Rosalía was their most memorable pupil. She also has been vocal in wanting to collaborate with people outside the world of flamenco, and has already met with artists such as Pharrell and Arca. In a sense, Rosalía’s critics try to force her into her own proverbial tower, but it’s clear that she won’t stay inside. With “Malamente,” she delivers that very message to whoever will listen, reimagining new stories for Flamenca and flamenco in the process.
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Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The way “Malamente” worms into your brain, dancing in as this amorphous thing pulsating polyrhythmically and working in tones just barely within the boundaries of pop music, is deeply compelling. Even more compelling is what Rosalía does with it: over the funhouse-mirror flamenco-R&B palace she builds, the Catalonian singer’s precisely sung portrait of fractured fate and consequences feels real and haunted in a way that few pop songs truly are.
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Reader average: [9] (7 votes)

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2 Responses to “Rosalía – Malamente”

  1. Incredible track. About Rosalía being an appropriator of Andalusian/gitano music and culture: There’s something called rumba catalana that has been going on (and has had a pop edge) for at least 50 years. Azúcar Moreno, the biggest ever flamenco pop artists ever and a legendary Eurovision entrant, are part of it and there’s a loving relationship between the Andalusian and Catalonian peoples through flamenco. To me Rosalía is an updated rumba catalana.

    Also, @William @Joshua @Stephen: Isn’t Leonel like, half Andalusian Gitano? He’s talked about Romani music for a long time now.

    @Alfred: Loved the Radiohead reference.

    @Iris: Ojos de Brujo, a flamenco fusion band, has used Indian music (Bhangra, Bollywood soundtracks, even Carnatic music) for a long time so that might have slipped through the sound of Rosalía and El Guincho.

  2. this is so good wtf

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