The Catalan singer Rosalía has built a career on being ritually accused of cultural appropriation. Her fame is indebted in part to her numerous Twitter haters, without whom, the public would have likely lost attention by now. Whether she’s appropriating the sounds and aesthetics of Andalusian gypsies, Caribbeans, or the Japanese, the 28 year old singer is a troll of global proportions, reveling in internet hate.
The fact that the internet’s cultural police continue to fall into her traps reveals just how shallow the general capacity for art criticism has become. Gen-Z Twitter users’ default position of moralistic-political posturing has severely limited their ability to critique the aesthetic integrity and metaphysical significance of works of art. Her flouting of the moral ideologies of her critics holds up a mirror to them, revealing how much those who ceaselessly harp about morality in the sociopolitical sphere lack any serious moral foundations, and rather are steeped in the same globalist ideology that they accuse the singer of. We don’t want to hear it, but we are all (less fabulous versions of) Rosalía.
Her latest album MOTOMAMI is a mind-altering amalgam of musical genres, high art, spirituality, and sexuality. She creates a synthesis that distinguishes her from other artists whose imaginations have been flattened by polemics du jour.
The internet’s diatribe against Rosalía began with a video created by the Spanish news outlet El Pais featuring several gypsy flamenco artists calling her out for “not understanding” the gypsy culture from which the music that made her famous derives. Lesser-known flamenco artist Maria Jose Llergo points her finger at Rosalía for “romanticizing” rather than “showing respect” for the persecution Gypsies have faced and the rich culture they have spawned.
As she went on to change up her sound to incorporate reggaeton and to collaborate with Latino artists like J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Tokischa, the accusations of appropriation spread like wildfire. Some went as far as creating memes pasting her face onto an image of Christopher Columbus, characterizing her musical collaborations with Dominican artists as a reenactment of the notorious colonizer’s conquest of the island of Hispaniola. In MOTOMAMI, we see her incorporating an even wider array of Caribbean sounds, from dancehall and dembow to bachata and bolero, and her videos even include several nods to Japanese aesthetics.
Perhaps it may be true that Rosalía, as a white Catalonian, hasn’t suffered the persecution that gypsies experience in Spain. Perhaps she may not have experienced the economic and psychological trauma born of colonization. Perhaps she could put more effort into understanding and giving props to the people whose music she borrows from. But to fixate on the power dynamics implicated in her musical experimentation to the point of totally ignoring the music itself, reveals how much the rhetoric of the day has become trapped in the drab, unimaginative worldview cooked up by academic poststructuralists. Its narrow scope of power relations renders its adherents totally ignorant of historical, artistic, political, and metaphysical paradigms that precede our current cultural moment.
The history of colonization and slavery in the Caribbean is an undeniably atrocious reality. But from the ugly mess of exploitation and suffering have emerged moments of humanity and beauty–to which the plethora of musical exchanges between Iberian, Semitic, African, and indigenous peoples bear witness. The legacies of flamenco, rumba, son, and bolero are just a few examples. By bringing reggaeton, dembow, jersey club, R&B, dancehall, experimental house, and indie rock into conversation with more traditional styles like flamenco, jazz, bachata, and bolero, MOTOMAMI expands this legacy to new horizons.
Rosalía’s synthesis highlights the parallels between the old and new worlds and the realms of high and mass culture. She name checks Lil Uzi Vert and Italian baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni in the same line, and goes on to make allusions to a wide array of cultural references: reggaeton pioneers Daddy Yankee, Plan B, Tego Calderon, and Wisin Y Yandel, flamenco singer Manolo Caracol, Salsa greats Willie Colon and Tito Puente, dembow artist Haraca Kiko, Super Mario, a variety of sushi seasonings and Kawasaki motorcycles, Apple exec Tim Cook, Lil Kim, Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni, Vivienne Westwood, Versace tracksuits, art film directors Almodovar and Tarkovsky…and to top it all off, she emulates Botticelli's Venus on the album cover.
Much like Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP, the eclectic set of references in MOTOMAMI brings pop culture into dialogue with high art, thus elevating it to canonical status. Further, her incorporation of contemporary Caribbean music into this synthesis proves that it's not mere party music–it’s art of cosmic proportions. This demonstration of artistic genius hasn’t stopped the Twitteratti from having a meltdown every time she won a Latin Grammy (she’s won eight), which makes us wonder where they were every time the equally Spanish but less talented Enrique Iglesias won.
The way she merges sounds comes from her perceptive recognition of parallels in the melodies and rhythms (take the syncopation of the dembow rhythm with flamenco handclaps in “Linda”), reminding us that Latin America and Southern Europe are not as culturally distant as historically inept poststructuralists would have it (they seem to have forgotten that you don’t get “Latin America” without the “Latins,” a term which used to refer more broadly to peoples who speak Romance languages).
The perceptiveness of reggaeton-flamenco fusion songs like “Linda” speaks not only to rhythmic parallels but also to spiritual ones. Of course, this doesn’t appear on the radar of her critics–beyond their historical and aesthetic ineptitude is their dreadfully banal metaphysical consciousness. In his 1933 lecture on the performative device known as the Duende, Federico Garcia Lorca alludes to the earthy, dionysian tension that can be heard in both flamenco music as well as in afro-Caribbean syncretic religious music (from which reggaeton’s percussion patterns derive).
This hints at the undercurrent of pagan spirituality that flows through most of the musical genres she blends. The gypsy, West African, Roman, and indigenous Caribbean manifestations of polytheistic fertility cults share similar convictions about the relationship between humans and the spiritual cosmos. Critics display their ignorance when calling Rosalía out for citing undebel, the gypsy name for god. Who knew transcendent entities were the property of any particular ethnic group?
She goes on to incorporate the Spanish Catholic mysticism of St. John of the Cross (whose poems Lorca cites as a Christianized rendering of the dionysian energy), having put to music one of his mystical poems and including a painting of him in one of her music videos. Her embodiment of the Venus archetype on the cover taps into the tension between the dionysian and apollonian elements of her syncretic pagan ethos.
The album’s title itself evokes this tension, and hints at themes of masonic dualism: “moto” refers to woman’s capacity for sexual adventurousness and violence, while “mami” refers to woman’s maternal, nurturing instinct and emotional introspectiveness. The whole album, she says, is “structured around binaries, two types of contrasting energies.” The recurring dualistic themes, including the caterpillar/butterfly motif in her lyrics and the interchange of red and white-colored clothing and sets in her videos, are reminiscent of occult initiation rites.
Surely if we look at the syncretic international aesthetic that Rosalía has developed from a purely geopolitical perspective, her work runs the risk of trivializing and taking advantage of the contributions of underprivileged communities. I concur with her critics that this aspect of Rosalía’s career ought to be held under moral scrutiny. But the excessive proportions of this scrutiny calls into question why her ardent critics are looking to an artist, let alone one signed to a label run by globalist elites, to be a paragon of moral integrity.
According to art and literary critic Camille Paglia, “ethical values and guidelines that should structure the social realm of business and politics do not automatically transfer to art, which occupies the contemplative realm shared by philosophy and religion. Great art has often been made by bad people. So what?” Besides, she adds, “the impulse or compulsion toward art-making is often grounded in ruthless aggression and combat.”
Paglia’s comments highlight the cognitive dissonance of internet progressives who at once are moralistic defenders of oppressed communities while being proponents of libertinism and ethical relativism: “expecting the artist to be a good person was a sentimental canard of Victorian moralism, rejected by the ‘art for art’s sake’ movement led by Charles Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde,” decadent writers whose flouting of the moral conventions of the day are echoed by Rosalía’s flippancy toward her critics.
In response to those who accused her of cultural appropriation after releasing her first reggaeton song “Con Altura,” she slyly implied that her critics were jealous of the “privilege” she had of getting to study music formally in college. And to gypsies who express concern with a white non-gypsy capitalizing on their music, she glibly replied, “flamenco is not the property of gypsies.”
She moves fluidly through genres and delights in prancing from continent to continent, trying on and discarding different cultural aesthetics with an ironic twinkle in her eye, as if taunting her critics: “who’s gonna stop me?” The haters can stay hating, as their tweets and blog posts only further propel her into global popularity. Her liquid-like identity is emblematic of the globalist elites for whom she works, and whose intentions are to syncretize the cultures of the world into a consumerist monoculture–all under the guise of multiculturalism and diversity.
Are we shocked to see a global pop star who melds elements of traditional cultures into tools of artifice and performance art, and repackage them in a palatable way to sell to international audiences? The Twitterati may posture as righteous dissidents, but they are more like pawns–the controlled opposition of the very entity they are attempting to take down.
The moral relativism and atomized rootlessness of the poststructuralist worldview Rosalía’s critics ascribe to is just another facet of the globalist ideology of the elites they claim to oppose. Their harping is a projection of their denial of the fact that they see themselves in the mirror when looking at Rosalía.