Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

Rosalía – Bagdad

And we close out our newly curtailed Sound of 2019 (Half-)Week with, finally, a song we like…


Joshua Minsoo Kim: So many striking images: a woman bringing her hands together and then apart, representing both hand clapping (compás por bulerías”) and prayer; a chorus that interpolates the melody of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River,” with lyrics about a woman burning; a woman leaving the titular adult entertainment nightclub, one where she was presumably a spectacle, only to be observed by passersby who are also oblivious to her pain. The confluence of all these ideas — as well as the contemporary pop touchstone intermingling with traditional singing — conjures up the feeling of eternal purgatory. The invoking of fire lends itself to this idea, and proves poignant since fire is a source of both pain and purification from shame and guilt: perpetual penitence, suffering, and rejection. In telling this story, Rosalía implicitly asks: “Why is any of this necessary?” “Why is this something women still feel?” This is a song about their paradoxical fate, a song about woman as neglected object yet unceremonious recipient of burden and blame. I’m not terribly fond of “Bagdad” musically, and find it rather unexciting as a standalone single. But in the context of El Mal Querer, it’s a compelling and rich addition to the album’s narrative. 

Thomas Inskeep: If Björk were a Catalan woman re-inventing flamenco music, she might make something sounding like this astounding and instantly memorable single. The music she’s making with co-producer El Guincho isn’t just ahead of the curve — it obliterates the curve. 

Alfred Soto: “Bagdad” has promise: interpolating a melody from “Cry Me a River” into a song that becomes a response. But as much as I admire when artists mitigate sentimentality with distancing devices, the vocal distortions quash Rosalía’s pathos. 

Crystal Leww: Do y’all remember that era when people were begging Justin Timberlake to make an album because of his half-a-decade hiatus? I legitimately remember watching a “comedy” video featuring grown-ass women talking about how Timberlake was essential because Justin Bieber wasn’t grown and sexy. A lot of people said FutureSex/LoveSounds was what they missed about music, but in retrospect, it was Justified that was really full of the slappers. Justified was so good that Timbaland was coasting off the goodwill he earned from it as late as 2015, when “soundtrack by Timbaland” was seen as a real draw for Empire. It seems almost impossible for anyone to do something fresh and interesting with a song as dramatic as “Cry Me a River,” which has been flipped and mixed so many times over the last decade and a half, oftentimes to lackluster results. But “Bagdad” is good! While the arrangement is scaled back, Rosalía stays away from what artists often do with pop songs of the aughts, which is to make it twee or sincere, and leans into the art ho within.

Katie Gill: If you had me pick which 2000s-era Justin Timberlake song would have the most influence on multiple 2018/2019 songs, there is no way in hell I’d have picked “Cry Me a River.” Thankfully, this interpolates it much more smoothly than “Without Me.” Rosalía’s high vocals soar over the song, mixing wonderfully with those backing vocals. Then the song just ENDS, but because of the haunting sound, that’s okay! It fits the mood!

Anna Suiter: The repeated sections make “Bagdad” feel like a hymn, but not like a pretentious one. It’s got the awe part down pat, and in a small amount of space. You’d almost expect this kind of song to feel a little too tedious or overlong, but Rosalía knows exactly how long to stay.

Stephen Eisermann: A masterclass in interpolation, Rosalía manages the impossible here: I went and revisited the awful “Cry Me a River.” The way Rosalía weaves and warbles her voice in and out of the background choir and melody is ethereal and incredible, conjuring up the most magical imagery — think pink elephants from Dumbo, but done more tastefully. That the lyrics complete the story of her first album is simply extra, because there could be entire essays written solely on her vocal intricacies and the melody. It’s all perfect, and I can’t help but succumb and become entranced. 

Nicholas Donohoue: My sister loves Rosalía. When we were together for the holidays, by the time it took to get from our house to the Christmas Eve Mass and back she gave me the crash course on all the necessary and supplemental elements to a full appreciation. “Bagdad” is a good example of how hooked anyone can get with Rosalía. The “Cry Me a River” sample is so forward, an immaculately layered concoction surrounds the hook, and the song is one part of a whole narrative in El Mal Querer, which itself is a compelling meta-story. It’s an absorbing piece with so many entry points and as my sister and I have shown, many effective preachers and willing converts.

Pedro João Santos: This is one of 11 tracks overpowered with tension and augury–in addition to jealousy, a wedding, relational conflict, ecstasy; the whole shebang. Yet the hymnal “Bagdad” manages the feat of upending the rest of El Mal Querer in the suspense criterion: its air heavy with hand-wringing gloom, a vulnerable Rosalía singing of deep heartache, the palmas and the piano forming an increasingly claustrophobic wall of sound, moving forward and closing in on whoever dares to listen. It’s an everlasting thrill to behold. Even if the JT sample didn’t bode well for me at first–it didn’t help that it was part of an album so full of unexpected hooks, sinful dissonance and oddball mastery–it sounds affirmatively hers now, transplanted and rejigged for new pop life.

Reader average: [4.34] (20 votes)

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6 Responses to “Rosalía – Bagdad”

  1. The power that that has

  2. The influence that that has

  3. Not pictured: the faces on UK jukeboxers on seeing an attempt to make ‘slapper’ happen.

  4. I thought that saying a song or a beat “slaps” was not unknown amongst UK-ers? Nadia Oh said it enough times back in “the day” that I always assumed it was originally a Britishism.

  5. “slapper” is a legitimate term and I will die on this hill

  6. the ‘slapper’ train has loooooong left the station i’m not even the conductor i’m along for the ride