“Con Altura” y Controversia: The VMA’s 2019

By: Evan Myers, News Editor

Eres unica, mamacita Rosalia,” sang Puerto Rican artist Ozuna at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 26, 2019. At his side stood Spanish sensation and artist of the hour, Rosalia, whose high-soaring, flamenco-pop sound combined with Ozuna’s urbano, reggaeton rhythms for a dazzling performance of their new hit song “Yo x Tu, Tu x Mi.”

For Barcelona native Rosalia—whose summer collaboration with Colombian artist J Balvin, “Con Altura,” won moonman awards for “Best Choreography” and “Best Latin Video”—the VMAs represented the culmination of a long rise to the top of the increasingly popular world of Hispanic music. For some Latinos, however, Rosalia’s triumph in the “Best Latin Video” category represented another problematic incident of cultural appropriation, provoking an outrage on Twitter that lamented the memory of Spanish colonial exploitation of Latin America and prompted questions about how our society defines who and what is Latin.

To understand the controversy surrounding Rosalia’s victory, it is essential to understand Spain’s colonial legacy in Latin America. Generally, colonial Latin America was defined by a caste system in which peninsulares (native Spaniards) and criollos (those born in Latin America to Spanish parents) ruled over mestizos (a mix of Spanish and Native American parents), Native Americans and enslaved Africans. Today, this legacy lives on in extreme wealth inequality that still exists—largely along those colonial lines of racial class—in many parts of Latin America. Thus, Rosalia’s victory elicited a strong response, and critics took to Twitter to voice their concern. One user said, for example, “it’s just such a slap in the face that the people who kidnapped our ancestors and have caused our communities so much suffering to this day still find ways to exploit our communities.” 

Rosalia’s defenders, however, are quick to point out that she has a massive fan base in Latin America and collaborates with numerous Latin American artists, and that she proudly recognized her Catalan roots in her acceptance speech (though she stopped short of saying that she is not Latin). Moreover, they claim that her accomplishment—she is the first female Spanish artist to win a VMA—should not be overshadowed by the debate over how to define “Latin” music and culture. Afterall, Rosalia is not responsible for the VMA’s vague award categories.

In sum, Rosalia is—as Ozuna points out in his verse on “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi”—unica, unique. She is a Catalan artist who composes her compositions in a flamenco framework, a historically Andalusian genre. She is a powerful woman in the world of Hispanic music, which has largely been dominated by men.

This is an important debate, however, perhaps the bigger takeaway is that our society too often prefers to debate over labels rather than simply appreciating someone’s talent. As Twitter user, Radio Mena, pointed out, “PSA: YOU CAN LOVE ROSALÍA AND NOT SAY SHE’S LATINA.” 

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