OPINION: Rosalia: A case study in cultural appropriation


Amy Waas

One of the most popular Hispanic artists in the world won two of this year’s Latin Grammy’s, but instead of congratulations, she’s faced with major controversy.

Rosalia’s 2018 album “Malamente” won Best Urban Fusion and Best Alternative Song and her popularity is well-deserved — listening to her music is like listening to music from both the past and the future. The album is a profound and unprecedented fusion of traditional flamenco and urban music. It quickly rose to the top of English and Spanish charts.

The catch, however, is that Rosalia should have never received a Latin Grammy. Rosalia is not Latinx.

Latinx, Latino and Latina all refer to cultural identities of Latin origin and geography: specifically, regions of North America, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. 

Rosalia is from Spain. Spain is not Latin; Spain is Hispanic. This is an important but often overlooked discrepancy. Furthermore, Rosalia’s use of flamenco, an art form she studied extensively, is controversial. Flamenco is from Andalusia, a southern region of Spain, whereas Rosalia is from Catalonia, a region that has historical tensions with the rest of the country. Some wonder if Rosalia’s affinity for flamenco and a more Latinx identity is less cultural appreciation and more cultural appropriation, a growing global issue in the music industry.   

Promoting a false sense of what it means to be Latin and using it to one’s own advantage, otherwise known as cultural appropriation, is disrespectful to the artists who work hard to represent their culture in a global setting. 

Hispanic music is already very popular. There is no shortage of Eurocentric celebrities, especially in the music industry. Continuing culturally inaccurate branding erases opportunities for diversity.

 It’s like when Justin Bieber’s remix of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” pushed the original out of the charts. Rosalia’s music is taking up space that could be filled by real, unique Latinx artists who are often dismissed. 

“Mia,” the 2018 Spanish hit by Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, was popularized by Drake’s involvement on the track. “Mi Gente,” an early J. Balvin hit popular in 2017, made an increased appearance in the charts after Beyonce’s involvement in a remix. And, Benny Blanco, a white rapper, has created a Latino brand for himself to gain popularity through collaborations, such as the 2019 hit “I Can’t Get Enough,” which features Tainy, J. Balvin and Selena Gomez. 

In the case of Rosalia, her popularity as a “Latina” artist suggests that a eurocentric pop star is far more likely to achieve global success than artists who look, sound and actually are Latinx. J. Balvin, an authentic Latino artist, has never won a Latin Grammy, yet he’s credited with the success of the modern Latin pop industry. 

Ozuna, a popular Latino artist, is featured on “Yo Por Ti, Tu Por Mi,” Rosalia’s latest song. He owns the second-most hits on Latin Charts this year but has received neither the awards nor popularity that Rosalia has.

This does not mean Rosalia and other eurocentric artists should not be appreciated for their successes. Instead, their music should be listened to and enjoyed outside of a Latin context to fully support the culture and history that helped make them famous. 

Maybe once Latin music charts are no longer dominated by Hispanic, eurocentric celebrities, there will be room for works by important, culturally accurate musicians who also deserve their chance.