If you missed 2017’s Los Ángeles, the studio debut by Spanish singer Rosalía, you wouldn’t be alone. Though beloved by the critics who reviewed it, the album — a stirring series of ruminations on flamenco and death — didn’t break beyond her home country’s charts. However, if you’ve missed everything that’s come since — her appearance on J Balvin’s Vibras standout “Brillo,” 2018’s chart-topping Los Ángeles follow-up, El Mal Querer, a featured credit on James Blake’s Assume Form, and a months-long festival tour that’s taken her from Indio, California to Virginia Beach, Virginia, and beyond — well, you’re unfortunately late.
El Mal Querer re-told a centuries-old love story of ill-fated romance, handily re-purposing anything from roaring engines to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” along the way. The CANADA-directed visuals that accompanied singles like “Malamente” and “Pienso en tu mirá” exhibited an uncommon eye for composition, color, and image: a motorcycle, frozen in space while charging through a torero’s muleta; black cherries loaded into the chamber of a shotgun; a bed of nails hammered through a skateboard deck. Rosalía’s style, symbolism, and songs didn’t escape critical and commercial acclaim either, earning her two Latin Grammys, a rapturous performance at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards, hundreds of millions of YouTube views, and a No. 1 spot on the Billboard Latin Pop chart.
Rosalía and her team of dancers on-stage at New York City's Webster Hall.
This groundswell for the Spanish romantic, which began forming in mid-2018, most recently carried her to a two-show stop at the East Village’s newly-reopened Webster Hall for Red Bull Music Festival New York.
On April 26, after two-year-long renovations, the venue reintroduced itself to the city’s concert scene with Jay-Z’s B Sides 2 show, an opportunity for 1,500 people to stand unusually close to Hov’s aura for a night of live rarities and fan favorites. The tickets, even with their $250 price tag, sold out in an instant and, by all accounts, were worth it, as he brought out additional rap royalty (Nas, Cam’ron, and Jim Jones) to officially begin a new chapter for this beloved Manhattan club. A homegrown icon isn’t an easy act to follow but, to anyone who’s been charting her trajectory, Rosalía’s appearance in Webster’s mid-size Grand Ballroom is equally precious. This was your last chance to catch the singer at this proximity; in a year, it’s a near-certainty she’ll be touring in spaces at least 10 times the capacity of these storied but modest confines. And, on the second night of her sold-out stay (April 30), Rosalía showed why her spotlight continues to grow.
Wearing a red, glossy ensemble, she made the most of a small stage, charging the air with sharp, statuesque poses before turning on a dime to mob with her team of dancers. Her poise — a sudden twist of her arm into a crescent, delivered with the punch of an exclamation point — was complemented by her strength, how quickly she and her crew could dip into a humming, energetic bounce. And her voice, as powerful and poignant in-person as it is on-record, filled the room, quieting a chattering crowd arrested by her presence.
The hour-long set — which featured her latest Balvin collaboration, “Con Altura,” and a nearly-entire run of El Mal Querer — captivated the assembled fans, peers, and surely more than a few industry executives curious to see one of pop’s most promising talents on her way to the top. Above, Dua Lipa watched from the balcony, while even Frank Ocean strained to get a good view of the stage.
Acknowledging the moment that was unfolding, Rosalía was gracious, even on a night that, in her words, “isn’t normal.”
Rosalía’s climb has been steady, but on Tuesday, she reminded you how suddenly that rise can bloom into full-blown stardom. It’s true: Last night wasn’t normal, and neither will be everything that comes next.