Rosalía’s latest music video for BAGDAD: Capítulo 7: (Liturgia) brings us a (blonde) Rosalía like we haven’t seen before. It also sets the stage for what is one of the most emotional (literally) videos for her neoflamenco-fusion project “El mal querer” [English: “Bad Loving”]. The LP, composed of 11 tracks, narrates the story of a toxic relationship based off of 13th-century novel “Flamenca”, for which there only exists a single copy in the whole world. Long story short, there's a love triangle involving a husband, his wife and her lover.
As you may (or may not) have seen in the gorgeous single cover art for each one of the tracks released from “El mal querer”, Rosalía embodies divine otherworldly versions of herself tying into the religious theme that is present throughout the entire album. From self-fulfilling prophecies to weddings, couples disputes and more, the whole album presents us with a window into the turbulences of the relationship, ending with liberation.
The artwork, shot by Spanish photographer Filip Custic is breathtaking with very present surrealist themes and techniques that transform the photographs into painting-like images. This is deliberate, since he even describes the artwork with terminology from the vast history of Western painting. Sfumato anybody? The album cover is a representation of Rosalía in full Renaissance Virgin Mary glory, elevated in heaven. (Seriously, if you haven’t seen them, go here and take a look at them.)
The music video starts off with Rosalía’s character working in the Bagdad strip club in Barcelona (where the singer grew up, hence the title of the song), with the 25-year-old Spanish songstress donning a red latex jumpsuit (very Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did It Again!”) and seducing the camera head-on, her character working hard to make that money. She is later seen speaking into her mobile phone, by the looks of it, arguing and sending voice messages to somebody on the other side, (a jealous lover probably, referencing the theme of jealousy, control and toxic love present in the rest of album).
This single phone call unfurls the drama that develops throughout the video. Clearly agitated over her phone call, Rosalía is overcome by emotion, hides in a bathroom and begins crying in the closed room that begins to flood with nothing other than her tears. (She clearly had some tears left to cry).
Although the work begins in such an ordinary and familiar setting to Rosalía’s other work, magical realism dominates the rest of the video, bringing new meaning to “cry me a river” and carrying us through a journey into Rosalía’s psyche. The video explores the cathartic effects of emotions, in this case exemplified by crying and being overcome by sorrow and frustration. Rosalía succumbs to her emotions in the confined space, with increasing intensity and no visible stop to it. The world outside of the room (clearly a metaphor of her mind) is unaffected by the flood of tears. It is unchanged, all while Rosalía struggles to survive, the rising water level shortening her life span until there is no more room, and consequently, no more air. Rosalía drowns, her death accompanied by the hypnotizing sound of “junta las palmas y las separa”, echoing like a rosary prayer.
In the next scene, or “the divine womb” as I see it, Rosalía floats with long robes in the very waters that once drowned her. She is reborn, shed from her humanity, transformed into a divine being full of life. Her emotions are not in control of her, but rather the other way around. We also see her back with her recognizable black hair, the way we’re used to seeing her in the rest of the videos for “El mal querer”. The video ends with a close up of Rosalía’s face with her hands together in prayer looking at the camera head-on.
The history of Western Art has a vast repertoire of female subjects depicted crying or in sorrow, and the Virgin Mary is one of the examples by excellence. Struck with grief over Jesus’ Crucifixion in scenes such as the Piety, where she weeps over his body, this is a recurring theme in Renaissance and Medieval art. The Piety (or La Pietà in Italian, referencing Michaelangelo Buonarotti’s) represents the Virgin filled with sorrow over the loss of her son and humanity’s salvation. The number of artists that have painted these scenes is only surpassed by the number of works themselves. Likewise there is great amount of art and source material mentioning weeping paintings or sculptures (seriously, choose your fighter).
The Assumption is another referent that is touched upon in this music video, specifically at the end when she is transformed. The Assumption (of the Mary into Heaven) is a dogma followed by the Catholic Church that describes what happened to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus at the end of her earthly (read mortal) life. Jesus takes Mary’s soul and elevates to Heaven, where she becomes the Queen of the Heavens, as depicted on a countless number of murals, pulpits, paintings and cathedrals.
Lyrically, the song talks about the descent into the album’s character’s personal torment, foreshadowing how if she doesn’t get out, she will burn in the very flames of her hell. The night serves as the backdrop for the events in the song, detailing how intense and isolating the character’s darkest hour is, magnifying her loneliness and desperation. The phrase “junta las palmas y las separa” [English: (she) joins the palms of the hands and separates them] is present throughout the whole song and is another allusion to Catholicism and prayer. The repetitive action can also be interpreted as hesitant, as somebody who wants to change their current situation, but in unsure how.
It is always dark before dawn, and Rosalía’s video demonstrates that by combating her inner demons she can see the light. Both literally and metaphorically, her character is transformed and lays down the foundation for the rest of the videos in this project with a more cohesive visual language. I am excited to see what this transformation implies for the future of this Rosalía’s project.