Is Rosalía’s ‘MOTOMAMI’ an Altermodern Art Piece?

Just as altermodern culture materializes “trajectories rather than destinations”, Rosalía’s MOTOMAMI concerns the freedom to create and explore pathways.

Columbia Records
18 March 2022

“Post-modernism is dead”, wrote Nicolas Bourriaud in his Altermodern Manifesto for Tate Triennial 2009. The art critic and curator proposes a new term for the multicultural reality we are experiencing and for which the idea of postmodernism no longer suffices: altermodernism. According to Bourriaud, “artists are responding to a new globalized perception”, they “traverse a cultural landscape saturated with signs and create new pathways between multiple formats of expression and communication”. Rosalía’s MOTOMAMI (2022) falls within this conception. The third album by the Spanish singer, songwriter, and producer is a feast of sounds, words, and references – all ganged for a deliberately fragmented outcome.

Lyric-wise, MOTOMAMI combines personal storytelling and pop-art poetry. But aside from the words, it’s the music that makes MOTOMAMI so fitting to Bourriad’s definition. 

The aesthetics of altermodern culture differ from postmodernism in how they embrace cultural hybridization by way of prioritizing the “journey-form”, in the words of Bourriaud (in contrast with how postmodernism ). That’s exactly what we get in MOTOMAMI. Just as altermodern culture materializes “trajectories rather than destinations”, genre definitions or stable song sections matter less than the freedom to create and explore pathways in MOTOMAMI. Rhapsodies become canonic song structures. Genre hybridization becomes the norm. The album aims for the point where it won’t make sense if it makes too much sense. Exploration is the means and the end.

MOTOMAMI ranges from flamenco to bachata, reggaeton/neoperreo, dembow, bolero, synthpop, hyperpop, samba, and experimental collages that form what is nowadays known as “avant-pop” — or “artpop”, as per the influence of Lady GaGa’s 2013 homonym album. There’s a common denominator in the list of genres heard in MOTOMAMI: most are of Latin American origin. They shine a light on questions that have arisen since Rosalía started to branch into reggaeton, with singles like “Con Altura” (2019): how does she, a white, European woman, fit into the Latinx music scene? Is speaking Spanish enough of a starting point for her dialogue with marginalized cultures from Latin American, European-colonized countries? It’s a complicated debate and one that fits the altermodernism discussion too. 

[…] multiculturalism and the discourse of identity is being overtaken by a planetary movement of creolisation; cultural relativism and deconstruction, substituted for modernist universalism, give us no weapons against the twofold threat of uniformity and mass culture and traditionalist, far-right, withdrawal […]

– Bourriaud

“The production of meaning in representations is not a privilege of the producers,” writes Higa (2013), “because whoever receives (the receiver) also produces meanings through their appropriation” — even though “the range of cultural practises” shall not be taken “as a neutral system of differences”, “as this would imply “forgetting that both, symbolic goods and cultural practices, continue to be the object of social struggles” (Chartier, 1995, in Higa, 2013). There’s indeed a range of cultural practices in MOTOMAMI, and they come from Rosalía’s taste in music. She credits her references, and dialogues with them in her accent and on her terms.

In addition to Latin American culture and music, MOTOMAMI also has an undeniable Japanese influence. It manifests in song titles like “CHICKEN TERIYAKI”, “HENTAI”, and “SAKURA”. The lyrics of “MOTOMAMI” name-drops Japanese cultural symbols too (origami, sashimi). There’s also “SAOKO”, which samples “Saoco” (2004) by the reggaeton megastars and pioneers Wisin and Daddy Yankee. Rosalía’s chosen spelling of “SAOKO” might be intentional. “SAOKO” is a Japanese word; while “saoco” is Puerto Rican slang. The phonetic coincidence between the two denotes another side of the rhizomatic cultural exchange that marks MOTOMAMI: one symbol can assume different connotations among different places and cultures. Rosalía seems to be dialoguing with as many connotations as possible.

But because MOTOMAMI is an altermodern manifesto signed by Rosalía, it is only right that it is anthropocentric. Thus, the presence of flamenco among the other genres is justifiable. Rosalía’s background in flamenco informs MOTOMAMI in many ways, especially in melodies.

MOTOMAMI also challenges cultural circumscriptions through its collaborations. The collaborators are put in places different from their expected backgrounds. For example, the album features bachata, a Dominican genre. But when Rosalía collaborates with a Dominican singer, the song they sing together is not a bachata. Instead, “La Combi Versace (feat. Tokischa)” is a mixture of reggaeton, and new wave/synthpop. Meanwhile, the bachata “La Fama” features a Canadian pop star, the Weeknd.  

It’s not only the guest features and the genres that are placed in unexpected ways; but also Rosalía’s vocals. Sometimes, her voice takes the place of a beat or a synth (like in “La Fama”, where vocals replace the conventional bachata guitar). At other times, the vocals are chopped with strange timing and repeated in asymmetric patterns. The way Rosalía plays with glitches and vocal cuts, matching the beats of reggaeton, suggests order and intent beyond the chaos.

Some references inform micro-moments of MOTOMAMI and never come back (like the samba percussion punctually placed in “CUUUUuuuuuute”). It may seem like they don’t fit the overall landscape of the album, but that’s exactly why they do. Such liquidity is symptomatic of altermodernism. Art becomes a medium to present new information. 

Of course, among the mediums for sharing altermodern art, social media cannot be missed. Especially TikTok, whose acceleration is cut-tailored for liquid information. Rosalía even samples a viral Tiktok meme (“Number song”, by Vietnamese TikToker So Y Tiet’s) in “CUUUUuuuuuute”. TikTok was also the chosen platform for a special live performance of MOTOMAMI as part of the album’s promotions.

Rosalía justifies her artistic choices in the lyrics of “SAOKO” when she sings: “Yo soy muy mía, yo me transformo / (…) Me contradigo, yo me transformo / (…) Fuck el estilo” (“I am very much mine, I transform myself / (…) I contradict myself, I transform myself / (…) Fuck style”). Later, in ““CUUUUuuuuuute”, she sings: “Aquí el mejor artista es Dios” (“The best artist here is God”). Below God any creative exploration is valid to Rosalía because it’s human.

As the mastermind behind MOTOMAMI, Rosalía is conscious of her hyper-hybrid approach to arrangements and song structures. There’s even some humor in how she does it. We could say MOTOMAMI is her treatise on the music of the future if it wasn’t an abstract of the music of the present already. If you’re paying attention to today’s music and pop culture, it won’t be hard to acknowledge the innovation of MOTOMAMI while simultaneously feeling that it sounds familiar.

However, MOTOMAMI is experimental in a way that does not sacrifice function over form. These songs have a pop purpose: they are fragmented, but they are laid in catchy hooks and enthralling beats. MOTOMAMI doesn’t fail to entertain.

Works Cited

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Altermodern Manifesto. 30 March 2009. Tate Britain.

Higa, Evandro Rodrigues. “Para fazer chorar as pedras”: o gênero musical guarânia no Brasil – décadas de 1940/50“. PhD thesis. São Paulo. 2013.

RATING 9 / 10