The 2019 MTV Video Music Awards were a special night for Rosalía.
Not only did the Spanish-born rising star wow the crowd at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. on Monday night with a stunning performance of her hits “A Ningun Hombre,” “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi” (alongside Puerto Rican superstar Ozuna) and “Aute Cuture,” likely introducing much of the cable network’s English-speaking audience to her singular sound for the very first time, but she also took home two Moonman trophies of her very own for her eye-popping video with Colombian singer J Balvin for their hit track “Con Altura,” making her the first Catalan artist to win big at the annual award ceremony.
However, one category in which their instantly iconic video (with a view count currently hovering at 778 million on YouTube) came out on top has some folks on the internet doing what they do best and crying foul. And no, we’re not talking about their Best Choreography win.
Rather, it was the televised victory in the Best Latin category that some wondering whether the European singer had any right even being nominated amongst Latin American stars like Maluma, Daddy Yankee, Anuel AA, Karol G, and Bad Bunny. At first glance, it might look like a bit of selective outrage. After all, J Balvin most definitely is Latinx, and it’s not as though all of the other nominees were solely comprised of Latinx artists. Bad Bunny’s nominated video for “Mia” features the decidedly Canadian Drake, while Daddy Yankee’s “Con Calma” features another Canuck, Snow. And J Balvin’s other nominated video, “I Can’t Get Enough,” is a song from American producer Benny Blanco (born Benjamin Joseph Levin) that also features Selena Gomez.
But Rosalía’s Best Latin victory, and her continued labeling as a Latinx artist—we here at this very website are guilty of it, having argued that she was destined to be “the next Latinx artist to break big” only one week ago—has ignited a conversation over who, exactly, gets to be called Latinx.
The Latinx umbrella, for those in the dark, is merely a catchall for the region of the Americas where Spanish and Portugeuse, as well as French, are primarily spoken. It includes more than 20 nations that roughly boils down to all of Hispanic America, Brazil and Haiti. As such, Rosalía’s roots in Barcelona ought to summarily exclude her from the categorization. There’s an entire ocean between her and the Latinx people, and while they are certainly no monolith, her undeniable Euro-centric privilege means that there’s a lot of life experience she’ll never share with the Colombian and Puerto Rican singers she’s teamed up with this year alone.
But with a country like the United States, who loves to lazily lump all Spanish-speaking people into one category when it comes to music (and most other things, if we’re being honest), where do we put someone like Rosalía? It’s a question the superstar-in-the-making has asked herself.
Speaking with The Fader in May, she ruminated on the very debate after an earlier Billboard interview for a video segment called “Growing Up Latino” rubbed plenty of folks the wrong way. “If Latin music is music made in Spanish, then my music is part of Latin music,” she told the outlet. “But I do know that if I say I’m a Latina artist, that’s not correct, is it? I’m part of a generation that’s making music in Spanish. So, I don’t know — in that sense, I’d prefer for others to decide if I’m included in that, no?”
While Rosalía didn’t take the stage in New Jersey on Monday night and denounce her inclusion in the Latin category as some might’ve hoped—and really, why should she have?—she did make clear that she’s from a place not included under the Latinx umbrella, telling the crowd, “I come from Barcelona. I’m so happy to be here representing where I come from, and representing my culture.”
At the end of the day, if the American audience, and the media corporations who present them with entertainment, aren’t able to make the distinction and recognize that not all Spanish-speaking singers are a monolith, then that’s on us to do better. (This writer, for starters, pledges to do better in the future.)
There’s no doubt that Rosalía deserved to be on the VMAs stage last night. It’s not her fault that we decided there’s only one category she can succeed in.