When she released her breakout single, “Malamente,” in spring 2018, Rosalía didn’t have a record label. Today, her unique fusion of flamenco and urban music has led to deals with Columbia Records and Sony Music Latin, five Latin Grammy Awards, sets at Coachella and Lollapalooza, and hit collaborations with J Balvin and Ozuna -- plus, now a best new artist Grammy nomination. It’s the kind of trajectory that makes her this year’s Rising Star, but it’s also the culmination of years of work: The 27-year-old studied flamenco for a decade in her native Spain, and she remains hands-on with every aspect of her art, from the ornate production of her songs to the fierce looks and choreography of her videos. “After all the effort and sacrifice I have put into my performances and albums,” she says, “having people recognize and value my project is very, very meaningful.”
You have had such an explosive year. Do you still feel like a developing artist?
Even though the public may perceive me differently, I always feel like I’m learning something new, and I like seeing myself this way. It keeps me focused on doing things with the love and care that comes from knowing you can always improve. I always have that in my head. Even though you have to feel big when you’re onstage so the message reaches everyone out there and gets them excited, you also have to feel the humility that comes from being a student who never stops learning.
What’s the most important lesson you learned in 2019?
People who are perfectionists always want to control everything, but when you sing, you have to let go. And that’s hard. I’m increasingly conscious of the fact that, even when we know a lot, there’s an element of blind faith. For things to work well, you have to surrender to the moment. This is especially true of writing, producing and truly giving it all in a performance.
Your visuals often feature elaborate nail art. What draws you to that?
I grew up surrounded by women with long nails. I can’t imagine it any other way. Hands have a major presence in flamenco, and when your hands are decorated, it adds power. It’s not so much about aesthetics -- it’s about how I react when my nails are longer and full of colors and texture. It takes me to an expressive place.
Who are your heroines in flamenco?
La Niña de los Peines was a singer who created cantes [flamenco songs] in a very masculine field. And Carmen Amaya was a breath of fresh air: a woman who took many risks, who sometimes dressed like a man. Her style of dance has influenced all bailadoras. I owe how I make music to them.
Before you had a manager and a label, you worked closely with your mother and sister. How did they influence you?
My mother is a very strong, independent leader. My sister is also very inspiring, so my natural surroundings have been very feminine. That has extended to other women who inspire me, like [manager] Rebeca [León]: a determined woman who defends her point of view. I make music with many men, but my team is mostly women. It’s a little bit about vindication for women, too. As we see more women in positions of power in the industry, it will have an influence. Having more women in power means we’re all rowing in the same direction.