Rosalía sounds like the future of pop music

Some days you might lick a stamp or change a light bulb and wonder, is it really 2022? Other days you might see a dog wearing an LED collar or a kid riding an electric unicycle to school and feel momentarily convinced that, yes, the future is actually here.

Now imagine that second impression sustained for roughly 99 minutes at 100 decibels, and you’re getting close to feeling the sci-fi frisson of Rosalía’s Monday night performance at the Anthem in Washington. It was hard to envision a pop concert more stunning, more visceral, more fastidious, more all-out wowee than this one, and maybe that was exactly the point: In Rosalía’s music, futurism doesn’t feel like anticipation or prophecy so much as a test of our temporal condition’s tensile strength, a means of living out the fullness of our imaginations.

You can hear it throughout “Motomami,” the 30-year-old Spanish pop sensation’s third and latest-greatest album, a syncretic masterstroke that combines flamenco, bachata, reggaeton, electro and more — all without ever sounding like yesterday’s collage. She’s a polyglot with a paralyzing voice, and she produces her music with great vitality and tremendous care — something she proved through sweat and tears Monday, positing her curiosity as tenacity, her meticulousness as virtuosity.

Like the album, here seen opened with “Saoko,” a song whose sputtery jazz intro quickly gave way to a pendulous bass line that sounded like a spaceship parallel parking on the roof. “Yo me transformo!” Rosalía shouted during the mantra-slash-refrain, then spent the rest of the night shape-shifting as promised. During the bachata-tinted twists of “La Fama,” she was the coolest person alive, her dancers kneeling before her in reverence, selling it all the way. During the spartan neo-flamenco of “De Plata,” she became far more fragile, her voice raw and exposed, until actual tears came falling down her face.

And during the wink-wink of “Hentai,” she was something like a debauched Mouseketeer, delivering a ballad she says was inspired by Disney cartoons, its title a reference to X-rated Japanese manga, its lyrics simultaneously porny, poetic, funny, mundane and profound. As she committed her lungs to the song’s absurdly beautiful crescendo, the towering video screens behind her made it appear as if Rosalía and her piano had crash-landed in an emerald meadow — likely a reference to the grassy slopes of the Windows XP home screen. Somewhere in this unknowable cosmos, Andy Warhol smiled.

A mini-arsenal of cameras buzzed around the stage for the rest of the night — helmed by videographers, dancers and occasionally the singer herself, selfie style but Rosalía integrated them into the choreography with an artful touch, allowing for a nonstop sequence of extreme close-ups to fill the massive screens behind her. Somehow, the concert’s sound design felt even more detailed, the singer’s voice consistently weaving through bass you could feel in your guts and percussion you could feel everywhere else. The palmas — those crisp hand claps that punctuate flamenco music — sounded almost hyperreal, as if God was lurking behind the curtains, applauding his favorite new singer like a smitten metronome.

And if the lights went up leaving your dizzy ears wondering what they had just experienced, maybe it was best to try to figure out what they hadn’t. This wasn’t your everyday information-age maximalist pop stuff. It wasn’t worldly mood boarding. It wasn’t trend forecasting, or klepto flossing or tea leaf browsing. This was something far more intimate, something futuristic and precious, and inextricably so — a new kind of pop music that seems fully aware of life’s unfathomable breadth, as well as the fact that we’re each given only so much future to live.

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