the ultimate guide to understanding rosalía’s references
We break down the lyrics from 'El Mal Querer', which are as complex as her nail art.
Still from 'Milionària'
It’s been nine months since Rosalía released her second album, El Mal Querer. Turns out, three quarters of a year is more than enough time for the whole world to fall hard for both the record and the 25-year-old artist. Beyond her fusion of musical genres, the blockbuster cinematography of her music videos and her extravagant manicures, one of the most interesting facets of Rosalía lies in the complexity of her lyrics. Of course, unless you hablo español, you may well be missing out on a whole world of meaning. Her words, you see, are as visceral as the art of flamenco that drives them.
El Mal Querer is about a toxic relationship, inspired by an anonymous Occitan novel from the 13th century called Flamenca. However, the timeless narrative of the album, whose title translates to 'the bad love', doesn’t immediately connect with the messages found in the latest singles -- the ones that have skyrocketed in the international market. On tracks like “Con Altura”, “Aute Cuture" and “Milionària”, the Catalan artist bombards us with contemporary references and reflections on her quick rise to fame, along with her love of jewellery and fast cars.
In this guide, we take a deeper look at Rosalía's lyrics -- which contain everything from idioms in Caló (a dialect spoken by gitanos of Spain, France, and Portugal) to watches that cost more than houses -- in order to better understand the world of pop’s newest sensation.
“De Héctor aprendí la sabrosura / Nunca he visto una joya tan pura” from “Con Altura”
[“From Hector I learned about flavour / never seen a gem this pure”]
If you thought that Rosalía was referring to one half of Spanish duo Hector and Tito in her reggaeton megahit, you were almost right. In an interview with Genius, the singer confirms that she likes him almost as much as she likes Hector Lavoe -- one of the most important salsa singers of all time -- which is who this reference in particular is dedicated to.
“Aunque no esté bonita, la noche undivé / Voy a salir pa' la calle” from “Malamente”
[“Even though it’s not pretty, the night undivé / I’m hitting the streets”]
Here, Rosalía uses the word 'undivé', which comes from the gitanos gypsy community and refers to God. Rosalia uses it to illustrate that she will test her luck by going out in the streets, despite a gitanos' warning of imminent danger.
“Perquè em tanquin el Louvre així com el MACBA" from “Milionària”
[“Because I'm closing the Louvre as well as MACBA”]
After The Louvre was shut down in 2018 so Beyoncé and Jay Z could record “Apeshit”, the Parisian museum reached a record high number of visits. According to The Guardian, the statistics indicate that 50 percent of those visitors were under the age of 30. In “Milionària” a capitalist satire and the first song that Rosalía performs in Catalan, the artist refers to her roots and shares her desire to do the same as Queen B but for the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (MACBA), located in the artist’s favourite plaza. After all, if anyone can convince the skaters in Plaça dels Àngels to get off their boards and admire the works of Tàpies, Rosalía can.
“Por la noche, la sali'a del Bagdad” from “Bagdad”
[“At night, I left Bagdad”]
Without leaving Barcelona, here we land on another important location which is key to understanding the inspiration behind her album. Bagdad is the name of a legendary erotic club, also located in the neighbourhood of Raval, where the protagonist of El Mal Querer descends into hell. In this track, the dark-haired flamenco dancer cries inconsolably when exiting the club, the artist incorporating the melody from Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River”. “[Justin] heard the song and said, 'Yes, you can use the melody'. I got really excited because he never approves anything,” she confirmed on Beats 1.
Fun fact: the music video for “Bagdad” wasn't filmed in the actual Bagdad but at a club in the Parisian neighbourhood of Pigalle.
“Uñas de Dvine ya me las han copiao' / Que te las clavo niño ten cuidao" from “Aute Cuture”
[“Nails from Dvine have gotten copied / they’ll dig into you, boy be careful”]
Rosalía has made nail art a fundamental pillar of her visual imagery. In “Aute Cuture”, 'Dvine' refers to Dvine Nails, her go-to Barcelona nail salon. It's since become a big hit with her fans, as well as a topic of much debate on social media.
“Como las hojas de un cuchillo / Brillaban los sacáis suyo' cuando le di el anillo" from “Que no salga la luna”
[“Like the blades of a knife / outshone 'em when I gave 'em the ring”]
The most flamenco track on El Mal Querer is clearly influenced by the tragic 1931 play Bodas de Sangre, or 'Blood Wedding', by Federico García Lorca and by his enthusiasm for knives. Both the work and the song deal with a wedding doomed by jealousy and death. In the latter, Rosalía uses 'sacáis', which is Caló for 'eyes' -- playing on the Spanish 'sacar', or 'to remove' -- to allude to the eyes of the bride. Spanish music fans might recall this same reference in Niña Pastori's legendary track "Tú me camelas".
“Pongo rosas sobre el Panamera / Pongo palmas sobre la Guantanamera / Llevo a Camarón en la guantera (De la Isla)” from “Con Altura”
[“I lay roses over Panamera / I lay hands over la Guantanamera / I carry Camarón in the glovebox”]
Rosalía loves a car. So much so that in “Con Altura”, she decides to place roses on a mega expensive Porsche Panamera, named after the Pan American Race, an annual drag race rally held in Mexico. Her enthusiasm for fusing musical genres is also reflected in the above phrase, which could well be referring to how she she layers her flamenco sounds over a popular Cuban song. The artist has stated numerous times that her favourite singer is Camarón de la Isla, one of the most important flamenco singers of all time. In this sense, Rosalía takes advantage of her international reach to assert the artist’s legendary status.
Fun Fact: In the music video for “Malamente”, the bullfighter who Rosalía tries to ram with a motorcycle is wearing a Camarón T-shirt.
The whole chorus of “Malamente”
After a few months of momentum building with this, the first single from El Mal Querer, Rosalía took to Instagram stories to explain the album’s themes. While she was there, she explained that all of those uses of 'toma que tome' and 'así sí', which pop up throughout the song, actually have no real meaning. The phrases are 'jaleos', which are essentially flamenco ad libs. The use of 'tra tra', meanwhile, derives from the 'brap brap' of Jamaican music, and is often shouted during flamenco performances.
“Porto dos Audemars / Fets a mà coberts de diamants / I un Hublot Black Caviar Bang bang / Que te'l puc regalar" from “Milionària”
[I bring two Audemars / Handmade diamond covers / Me a Hublot Black Caviar Bang Bang / What can you give”]
In the first half of her "F*cking Money Man” release, Rosalía makes it very clear that -- unlike the rest of us mere mortals -- she doesn’t simply aspire to pay off a mortgage in 20 years. All queens need jewels, but our queen isn't interested in crowns -- she prefers to keep things super luxurious. The Swiss watch company Audemars Piguet is one of the most exclusive in the world, with fans ranging from Harry Styles to Kim Kardashian, while the black Hublot she mentions is valued at over a million US dollars.
“Sonando en las peñas y los Hamptons / Sangría y Valentino / En el Palace y en el chino" from “Aute Cuture"
[“Playing in the rocks and the Hamptons / Sangría and Valentino / In the Palace and in Chino”]
Rosalía 's genre-spanning sound and rising international fame is reflected in this verse. Despite her speedy trajectory, she has already worked with heavily respected flamenco legends such as Los Mellis, and performed at festivals such as Coachella and Glastonbury. The above comparison between sangria and the Italian designer is a wink to her favourite colour, red, which appears constantly across both her styling and music videos.
This article originally appeared on i-D ES.