The 50 best albums of 2022: No 5 – Rosalía: Motomami

An experimental album that draws on so many contradictory styles might embarrass a lesser artist – but her third LP showed the Spanish singer has the pop smarts to pull it off

“Yo soy muy mía, yo me transformo,” sings Rosalía, on Motomami’s opening track – I’m very much me, I transform – before going on to compare her shapeshifting abilities to those of a butterfly, a drag queen, a “sex siren” and the night sky during a meteor shower. Given that she’s singing all this over a backing track where jazzy drums and free piano improvisation crash into a reggaeton beat nicked from Daddy Yankee and Wisin’s 2004 hit Saoco, and a synth so filthily distorted it could find a home on a Nine Inch Nails album, it’s a lyric that amounts to stating the obvious, albeit very entertainingly.

It’s not a collection of sounds that many mainstream pop stars would chose to open the follow-up to their 2m-selling international breakthrough album. But Rosalía’s third album delights in flinging diverse, even contradictory styles together – dembow, hip-hop, dubstep, salsa, industrial, bachata, the experimental electronics of Arca, R&B, flamenco, pure radio-ready pop – and presenting the results to the listener with an insouciant take-it-or-leave-it shrug. It’s the work of an artist who clearly sees her success as a platform that enables you to do what you want rather than an end itself. “Es mala amante la fama y no va a quererme de verdad,” as the Weeknd puts it on their collaboration La Fama: fame’s a lousy lover and won’t ever love you for real. Better to exploit it to your own ends than chase it.

Rosalía: Saoko – video

At the same time, Motomami isn’t one of those deliberately alienating, how-do-you-like-me-now gestures that artists who have struggled with success sometimes fling at their audience, like a snotty endurance test. Rather, it’s an album that doesn’t view being a mainstream pop star (at the time of writing, La Fama has racked up nearly 300m streams on Spotify) and having a desire to experiment as being mutually exclusive. Always a nice idea in theory, here it works in practice because Rosalía has the breadth of taste and the pop smarts to pull it off; she also has a strong enough identity to ensure that she never gets subsumed by the eclectic array of producers, guests and samples. It doesn’t matter whether the Neptunes are at the mixing desk, or James Blake is playing keyboards and singing, or a chunk of Burial’s Archangel is underpinning her soprano voice: you’re always aware it’s a Rosalía album.

Alternately tender, powerful, creepy and – in the case of Chicken Teriyaki – wilfully ridiculous, its 16 tracks never stop springing surprises on you. The flamenco song Bulerías flings a Soulja Boy sample into the middle of an otherwise respectful cover of Delirio de Grandeza, a bolero originally by revered Cuban singer Justo Betancourt, along with a namecheck for MIA. It reserves one of its prettiest melodies and most delicate, ballad-like production for a song called Hentai, featuring lyrics that translate as “I want to ride you like I ride my bike” and, indeed, “I’m in love with your dick”, then peppers the song with sudden bursts of beats that sound like machine-gun fire.

Meanwhile, Cuuuuuuuuuute switches from time-stretched vocals and punishing beats to an emotive piano ballad and back again, and G3 N15 sounds like a hymn – there’s something distinctly church-y about the organ – albeit a hymn drained of any sense of uplift and liberally sprinkled with a disorienting use of Auto-Tune. On Motomami, Rosalía draws from around the world in order to create a world entirely of her own: one that’s deeply strange and a pleasure to visit. This year has produced nothing else like it.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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