Latin pop has gone through many permutations and evolutionary changes over the last decade, becoming a new frontier in the creative arts. Rosalía Vila Tobella provides yet another direction on her sophomore full-length, El Mal Querer (The Evil Will). The Catalan-born, Barcelona-based singer, songwriter, actress, and dancer gained a Latin Grammy nomination for her 2017 date, Los Ángeles, an album that offered her own stripped-down take on flamenco and won her fans among the most popular artists in Latin pop -- including J Balvin, who enlisted her as a collaborator on his Top 20 single "Brillo" from Vibras. The captivating quality of her music also attracted the attention of director Pedro Almodóvar, who cast Rosalía in her feature film debut alongside Penelope Cruz in Dolor y Gloria. Wherein her only accompaniment on the earlier date was a guitarist, El Mal Querer reveals a distinctively developed sound of her own that meshes the classic flamenco and copla influences of her heritage with modern urban sounds such as pop, R&B, and reggaeton. Co-produced by the artist and El Guincho, this set is actually her graduate thesis for Barcelona's Catalunya College of Music, where she studied flamenco (they accept one student per year) and music production.
The set's first single, "Malamente," is a worldwide smash largely due to its innovative video that has garnered some 50 million views and another 50 million digital streams. It has been nominated for five Latin Grammys, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Urban Fusion/Performance, Best Alternative Song, and Best Short Form Music Video. It weaves a warm, mysterious synth through bass drum loops and Rosalía's flamenco palmas (handclaps) and pitos (finger-snapping), as her dramatic, grainy alto moves against the beat in a melodic hook that engages R&B in an irresistible combination. Second single "Pienso en Tu Mirá" is driven by its percussive elements in a bracing lament that juxtaposes the graininess in her vocal to loops and brittle, skittering beats that push the R&B angle toward copla rather than the reverse. "Bagdad" is a tender, aching exercise in modern Latin soul, as her lucid falsetto winds around the loops and palmas with a cadence that is at once hypnotic and hallucinatory. Third single "De Mi Nombre" adds a sampled requinto as a rhythm instrument, while her ever-so-slightly Auto-Tuned vocal trades on Gypsy flamenco and wiry reggaeton. By contrast, "Maldición" is a wildly experimental number setting a twinned melody (that pairs copla and smoldering indie pop) against a loopy Wurlitzer, skeletal sub-bassline, pitos, samples, and warped, nearly narcotic vocal effects. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- its brevity (just over 30 minutes), El Mal Querer is arresting in its tension, passion, and creative ingenuity. There is as much subtlety in both the compositions and production as there is drama, all of it imbued with restless soul via Rosalía's singular voice that marries the folk lineage of flamenco to 21st century styles and sounds, making El Mal Querer not only a provocative and original offering, but a magnificent one as well.