LONDON — C. Tangana, one of Spain’s biggest rap stars, two years ago hit “a little bit of a crisis.”
He was riding a wave of fame, known for provocative songs and equally provocative interviews. But he was fast approaching his 30s, he said in a recent Zoom interview, and risked becoming one of those “cringe-y, embarrassing” rappers who act a decade younger than they are.
So C. Tangana — real name Antón Álvarez Alfaro — did a U-turn and decided to try his hand at other styles of music that he had loved since childhood, like flamenco and rumba, even Spanish folk.
“I was opening a window I’d kept closed,” he said, adding, “I assumed it would go wrong.”
Álvarez’s experiment appears to have paid off. In February, he released “El Madrileño,” an album that mixes traditional Spanish and Latin American styles, including rock, with electronic sounds and beats more familiar to his trap and reggaeton fans. It’s turned him from Spain’s biggest rapper into one of its biggest pop stars.
Tú Me Dejaste De Querer” (“You Stopped Loving Me”), has over 100 million views on YouTube.
a review for the newspaper El País, the music critic Carlos Marcos wrote, “It remains to be seen whether this is the birth of a new Spanish pop, or something that we will forget in a few years.”
wrote Felix Guinnot, who said he was in his 50s, “but this boy is changing my musical perception.”
still felt by the country’s youth — he stopped rapping to work in a fast-food restaurant. Later, he got a job in a call center selling cellphones.
He started rapping again after falling in love with a colleague. It was a toxic relationship, Álvarez said, but it inspired him to get back into the studio. “I said, ‘It must be possible for me to make money doing this rather than selling phones or cleaning,’” he recalled. “It changed my whole mentality. I started to think I had to sell myself. I started to do things to get attention.”
In 2017, Álvarez had his first major hit with “Mala Mujer,” a track about his longing for a “bad woman” whose “gel nails have left scars all over my body.” But he was soon known more for his relationship with Rosalía, a Spanish pop star (he co-wrote much of “El Mal Querer,” or “Bad Love,” her breakthrough album, although they have since broken up) and for getting into political controversies.
threw C. Tangana off a concert lineup, saying that his lyrics were degrading to women.
More recently, he called for people to reclaim Spain’s flag from fascists, a potentially contentious endorsement in a country where some associate it with Franco’s dictatorship.
Ana Iris Simón, a music journalist and author who has written about the reaction to “El Madrileño,” praised Álvarez’s outspoken nature. “He’s not afraid of getting involved or giving his opinion,” she said in an email.
Some critics still accuse him of being overly macho, Simón said. They point out that only one of the new album’s 15 guests is a woman (La Húngara, a flamenco singer). But Simón said those comments were out of touch with how Spaniards viewed him. “Public opinion and published opinion have never been as far apart as they are now,” she noted.
the Gypsy Kings, the flamenco band that was hugely popular in the 1980s; Ed Maverick, a “Mexican folk romantic”; and Jorge Drexler, a Uruguayan singer-songwriter — was driven by his love of artists who’ve taken their own distinct musical paths. But he also hoped the collaborations with Latin American musicians might change some Spaniards’ view of the region.
“In Spain, we have this problem that a lot of people still have this colonial mentality,” Álvarez said. “They think that our culture is better than their culture, and that’s so stupid.”
During the interview, Álvarez said he was overjoyed that his experiment had paid off. He talked a lot about the joy of being seen as a good songwriter. But he seemed happiest when asked about the album’s impact on one specific person. His mother had “always been super proud” of him, he said, “but now she can sing my songs.”
Comments on his YouTube tracks suggest that is mother is not the only member of another generation doing that. Antonio Remacha, in Madrid, wrote a long message beneath one tracksaying that his daughter had forced him to listen to the record against his better judgment, but that he had loved it.
“I have to admit that at 62 years of age, he’s managed to impress me,” Remacha wrote of Álvarez, before politely and formally signing off: “Congratulations and all of my praise.”
Like many musicians, J Mascis, the leader of the stalwart alt-rock band Dinosaur Jr., has struggled through a year without touring.
“I’ve never been home this long since, like, high school,” Mascis said in a phone interview from his home in western Massachusetts. “To have no idea when or if you can do anything again, just sitting around,” he added, trailing off. “My mental health has definitely suffered.”
But a few weeks ago, Dinosaur Jr. took a step toward normalcy by announcing an extensive fall tour, with a handful of warm-up dates booked for as early as May.
“We’re not naïve; we know we might have to reschedule,” Mascis said. “But just to have something on the books somehow makes things a bit more hopeful.”
33 percent of their regular capacity, up to 100 people for indoor spaces. Throughout the country, rules from local governments have kept many clubs and theaters closed, or allowed them to operate at reduced capacities — which for many of those places does not allow enough business to cover the basic costs of operating and of paying artists and employees, said Audrey Fix Schaefer of the 9:30 Club in Washington.
“The only thing worse than being totally shuttered is being partially reopened,” said Fix Schaefer, who is also the communications director for the National Independent Venue Association.
Shuttered Venue Operators Grant fund, which they can apply for starting April 8 — are eager for the business.
The relative handful of clubs and theaters set to reopen in the spring are doing so with altered seating plans, temperature checks and adjusted financial deals with performers. A recent rock concert in Spain, with extensive Covid-19 protections, drew 5,000 fans. These events are being watched closely by the concert industry, which went into 2020 anticipating its biggest year ever but ended up losing nearly $10 billion in box office revenue, according to data collected by Pollstar, a trade publication.
calendar.) Tables have been arranged to allow space between parties, and patrons, who must wear masks when not seated, will get their temperatures checked upon entry.
“Even if it’s for 100 people, it takes on such a significance to be putting on a show,” said Michael Dorf, the venue’s founder. “It feels like a sacred job, putting on culture.”
Miller, a regular performer at the dozen City Winery spots around the country, said that he had struggled with the forced grounding from Covid-19, though he also noted the silver lining of spending more time with his family. The idea of playing live again, he said, both excites and terrifies him.
Foo Fighters and others; Summerfest in Milwaukee, a major urban concert series, is also planned for September. But whether Lollapalooza in Chicago will go forward is unclear.
In New York, a smattering of clubs are also planning shows, like Bowery Electric and the Bitter End. But the majority are holding out for when they can reopen at full capacity, or close to it, many proprietors said. The industry has been placing its bets on summer or fall for that.
fall tour at large clubs like Avant Gardner in New York and the Anthem in Washington. Sam Denniston, the group’s manager, said that all signs have pointed toward that being feasible, as millions more people get vaccinated and more venues fully reopen. Yet uncertainty about the pandemic means that anything could happen.
“It’s kind of like penguins sitting on the edge of a cliff, and they push one in to see if there’s a killer whale in the water,” Denniston said. “I kind of feel like we’re that first penguin. But someone’s got to take the risk.”
While stadium-sized artists are counting on the pandemic coming under control and the full revival of a mothballed industry by the time they hit the road, for many others below the superstar level, a year without shows has simply been long enough.
“I don’t know if I can wait another six months to a year,” Miller said, “to do my job again.”
“If I had not been vaccinated already, I really would have thought twice about coming here,” said Cristina Delgado, a doctor. But Ana, her sister, who was also vaccinated because she works in health care, felt differently. “I was going to come whatever, because I want to save culture and return us to normal life,” she said.
Inés Villasuso, a 24-year old nurse, also said that “it would have been better to get everybody tested again later, to have scientific evidence that can really convince the authorities that such a big event can be held safely.” But she and her twin sister, Eva, agreed that the concert outstripped their expectations. “It felt like living a total dream,” Eva said.
In an interview before the concert, Julián Saldarriaga, a member of Love of Lesbian, said that the band’s decision to perform had received very broad support, but also generated “some criticism, from people who have called us irresponsible or who say that we only care about money.” But for his band, he said, “we really saw this as an opportunity to take part in the recovery of culture.”
Rather than featuring a supporting act, the concert was preceded by a series of videos about Covid-19, shown on the big stage screen and interspersed with hits from the distant past — like “Come Together” and “Here Comes the Sun,” by The Beatles — whose themes warmed up the crowd.
To comply with the safety protocols, on Saturday, concertgoers visited one of three smaller Barcelona music venues to get a rapid antigen test for Covid-19. The cost was included in the €23 ticket price.
Christiana Guldager, a photographer, said that she cried before her test at the Razzmatazz nightclub. “I’ve been dancing so often in that place that it made me feel very emotional to find it instead converted into a mini-hospital,” she said.
The long-running unrest in Belarus has spilled over into this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, with organizers ejecting the country from the competition for songs found to have repeatedly violated rules barring political content.
The country’s original song entry, “Ya Nauchu Tebya” (I’ll Teach You) by the band Galasy ZMesta, was criticized by opposition figures who assert that lyrics such as “I will teach you to toe the line” endorsed the President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko’s violent crackdown on antigovernment protests. Eurovision fans started an online petition asking organizers to make Belarus withdraw from the competition.
This month the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the international musical spectacular, wrote to Belarus’s national broadcaster, BTRC, saying that the entry was not eligible to compete in the musical talent show in May this year in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.
“The song puts the nonpolitical nature of the contest in question,” the broadcasting union’s statement said.
statement on Friday evening that “the new submission was also in breach of the rules” and that Belarus would be disqualified.
Belarus was gripped for weeks by large-scale protests last year after Mr. Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in what many Western governments said was a sham election in August. His security forces then brutally cracked down on mass demonstrations.
Both songs that the eastern European nation entered for Eurovision this year came under criticism for what many viewed as pro-government lyrics and imagery. The band that performs the songs, Galasy ZMesta, was also found to have what could be interpreted as an anti-protest message on its website, taking aim at people who “try to destroy the country we love and live in,” and adding, “we cannot stay indifferent” toward them.
Eurovision’s rules state that the event is nonpolitical and that “no lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political, commercial or similar nature shall be permitted” in the contest.
Belarus started competing in Eurovision in 2004 and has fielded an entrant every year since, so it knew what it was doing in entering songs that contained political messaging, said Oliver Adams, a correspondent for Wiwibloggs, a widely read site for Eurovision news.
halted Eurovision’s 2020 grand finale, more than 180 million people watched the contest in 2019. As the world’s longest-running annual televised music competition, it has amassed a highly dedicated following of excitable fans.
The contest, which started 65 years ago, cemented its place last year as a cultural phenomenon with a Netflix movie gently mocking its eccentricities and obsessive fandom.
Countries’ being pulled up for submitting tunes with political undertones in Eurovision is rare, but has happened before. Georgia entered the song “We Don’t Wanna Put In” for the 2009 contest that was held in Moscow, but organizers rejected it for containing obvious references to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, including the wordplay in the song title. Georgia withdrew from the competition that year but denied that the song contained “political statements.”
This year, Armenia also withdrew from Eurovision. Its public broadcaster attributed the decision in part to the political fallout from the conflict with Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
“This isn’t the first time that political tension has found its way into the Eurovision-sphere,” said Mx. Adams, who uses the gender-neutral courtesy title in place of Mr. or Ms.
“These outer-Eurovision bubble problems do seep their way into the contest sometimes,” he added, “but ultimately they’re never going to break it apart.”