Midway through her set at MGM Music Hall on Thursday night, the Spanish pop force Rosalía was attended to by a couple of her dancers. To her outfit — a royal blue sweater and matching, pleated miniskirt — they attached a feathery, voluminous train. It took up most of the new venue’s stage, adding a bit of Met Gala grandeur to the night. She then began to sing “De plata,” a passionate, guitar-driven cut from her 2017 debut full-length “Los Ángeles”; it not only called back to her roots in flamenco, it unfurled the full power of her soprano.
Surprises like this are the norm for Rosalía, whose latest album, “Motomami,” builds on the percussion-forward ideals of flamenco and the versatility of her voice, then spins off into unexpected places with daring and glee. A meditation on pop stardom that subverts the expectations placed on people in the spotlight, it balances its moments of jaw-dropping beauty with absolute sonic chaos; the album’s attendant tour, which had its US debut on Thursday, split the difference similarly, with Rosalía playing the world-commanding pop star yet being so down-to-earth that she wished happy birthday to an audience member.
“Motomami” — which had its deluxe edition released last week — is one of the most exciting records of 2022 because of the boundless way it views the world; it’s defiant while also being rooted in affection and, crucially, musical curiosity. Rosalía was born in Catalonia, and her adapting of in-vogue beats from pop of the Americas — particularly urbano and reggaeton — has resulted in some observers claiming that she’s engaging in musical colonialism. But her collaborations, lyrical namechecks, and thoughtful stylistic adaptations, as well as things she’s said in interviews, are signs that she’s following her fascinations rigorously.
Over 31 songs, Rosalía, backed (and occasionally surrounded) by a phalanx of dancers and trailed by a camera operator whose presence forced him to become part of the performance, dealt in extremes; she laid down knotty rap verses, launched into vocal workouts, sang through processing that made her sound even more future-shocked, showed off her dance moves, gave the camera extreme close-ups, and expressed gratitude toward the clearly over-the-moon crowd. She also poked fun at her own image, which was blown up in towering form on the screens adorning the stage; when footage of her pulling a sneery, gum-chewing face at the outset of the “Motomami” track “BIZOCHITO” became an online sensation, she leaned into the attention, and on Thursday the crowd buzzed when its static-laden synths kicked in.
One of the most aurally stunning songs on “Motomami” is named after a style of sexually explicit anime, and its lyrics live up to its title’s blush-inducing promise; on Thursday Rosalía performed it on a piano topped by pieces of her down-the-back braids, which she’d cut off during the wrenching rendition of the audience rebuke “Diablo” that preceded it. Rosalía’s refracted subversion of gender ideals in pop — singing honestly about pleasure as a woman, right after cutting off some tresses and wiping her face from sweat and makeup — added tension to the performance, although it was carried by the fact that she could really, really sing.
Another vocal showcase, the impassioned “Motomami” closer, “Sakura,” was the second-to-last song of the night; on it, Rosalía wrestles with the fleeting nature of pop stardom and the idea that risk equals reward. But she then deflated any pretensions by following it up with “CUUUUuuuuuute,” which careens back and forth between dance beats seemingly smithed from grinding metal and stark balladry as it tries to ground the listener, and Rosalía, in the world away from flashbulbs and fans. Rosalía’s wildly energetic, yet utterly human set on Thursday proved that she’s a pop force to be reckoned with — and that she’s only beginning to write her legacy.
Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At MGM Music Hall at Fenway, Thursday