It feels like the cobbled courtyard of Somerset House might crumble into the Thames. On stage, a 25-year-old woman with the pop world at her feet is swerving and stomping in tandem with the revs of motorcycle engines, never missing a beat. The crowd – at least three quarters Spanish-speaking expats – is captivated, performing Flamenco palmas.
This is Rosalía, and she has range. She could pierce holes in your heart with a sullen Catalan ballad or crush it flat with a ferocious R&B arrangement, leaving you for dead. Musically manifesting these forms of heartbreak, in all of their exposing detail and complexity, is her forte. The incomparable Robyn aside, nobody in pop right now does it better.
The 25-year-old Catalonian artist won mass critical acclaim for her second record, 2018’s ‘EL MAL QUERER’. It was a masterful and measured voyage through love, inspired, in part, by The Romance of Flamenca: an ancient manuscript from 13th century Spain about a woman who keeps her husband under lock and key. It might’ve been just 30 minutes in length, but it felt expansive; accomplished. Each song throbbed with the kind of longing seldom felt in music the masses could dance to.
And yet here they are, swaying, clapping and shaking their shoulders to a series of songs that meld together, as serendipitously formed as the record that brought most of them here. She steps on stage with a solitary shout of “London!”, before breaking into ‘PIENSO EN TU MIRÁ’, a flamenco hip-hop track told from the perspective of a livid and jealous husband to his wife, though you gather by the shrieks that the subtext doesn’t matter as much in this setting. As she bounces on stage like she does in the music video, her fans follow suit.
In 2019, Rosalía is everything you could want from a pop star. She’s professional and dedicated to her craft. Her setlist is tight and she warrants the deep cuts. The dance routines are flawless, and she’s by turns humble and terrifying: being able to flit between those two is important. She does it a lot, like when she segues from her storming opener, into the unreleased ‘COMO ALÍ’, into her searing James Blake collaboration ‘Barefoot in the Park’. As she moves her body, constellations of stars in the backdrop move with her, like glitter clinging to the surface of water.
Tonight marks the 32nd time that she’s performed this show, though it moves with such agility that it could easily be the first. The set-up is simple: backing vocalists to the left; producer and percussionist to the left; six dancers flank her at all times. It’s a military-tight operation, but not a vapid one: the nature of Rosalía’s music demands that the artist herself takes it seriously so the desired effect takes hold. She knows that, requesting complete silence from the crowd before breaking into the heartbreaking ‘Catalina’, a cut from her debut album, almost entirely a cappella. As she reaches the upper register of her honeyed voice, the nuances of it poke through. If Ariana Grande is pop’s vocal acrobat, Rosalía is its contortionist: she reaches the corners others can’t.
The track everyone is waiting for is kept for last: the note perfect pop track ‘MALAMENTE’, which has the crowd yelling ‘Tra! Tra!’ at the artist’s request. The lights dim and everybody bar the star leaves the stage, illuminated by a spotlight. A rapturous applause ensues. Rosalía stands, thanking her adoring fans, eyes glassy with tears. And that, as they say, is how you do it.