With the possible exception of Paraules d'amor (Words of love), by Joan Manuel Serrat, probably the song that has been sung most in the Catalan language over the past thirty years by Catalans themselves has been Sau's anthem Boig per tu - "Mad for you." The chorus of this classic stadium hand-clap number is no longer the property of the group, but rather has entered into the cultural memory of several generations of Catalans:
"Sé molt bé que des d'aquest bar jo no puc arribar on ets tu.
Però dins la meva copa veig reflexada la teva llum.
Me la beuré, servil i acabat boig per tu".
"I know very well that from this bar I can't get to where you are.
But in my glass I see your light reflected.
I'll drink it up, humble and beaten, mad for you."
But something's not quite 'right' in the Catalan used by the singer, the late Carles Sabater. The word reflexada is used when the linguistically-correct term would have been reflectida. A lyrical choice which would go without comment in a pop song in English, but the Catalan language community can be especially sensitive of such 'barbarisms', given that Catalan is a small language trying to maintain its voice in a conversation dominated by all-pervasive global competitors.
But this particular barbarism has been happily assimilated by the masses. And now the torch has been passed to Rosalía.
Right now, everything that Rosalía touches turns to gold. The talent of this singer, born and raised in the town of Sant Esteve Sesrovires near Barcelona, has now taken her into the stratosphere. In record time, she has shaken up the music world with her ability to combine different styles, since her 2018 global breakthough Malamente, winner of two Latin Grammys. Now, her new song may also have a special impact, perhaps for its musical mestizaje but especially for its unpretentiousness lyrical mash-up moments. The new Rosalía single Milionària, in reality a "double-single", with the first part, F*cking Money, Man, having an English title but lyrics that are almost entirely in Catalan, has left local fans gobsmacked. In Catalonia, the 25-year-old star's first musical foray into "the other" of her two native languages arrives at a time when the health of the Catalan language is being fiercely debated. Suddenly, the coolest singer of the moment chooses to sing in Catalan, her own language. And does so with complete normality. Maybe it will serve as an example.
From the title and the video, it's easy enough to guess that Rosalía's song is all about money. But there's one word in the Catalan lyrics which has become a focus for debate on the Twittersphere in her homeland: it's cumpleanys, in the second verse:
Que jo sé que he nascut per ser milionària
Perquè em tanquin el Louvre així com al MACBA (Fucking Money, la mixtape)
Cada dia celebrant el meu cumpleanys
I dos lleopards corrent pel jardí de casa"
"(Say it, Rosie)
I know that I was born to be a millionaire
Because they close the Louvre and the MACBA for me (Fucking Money, the mixtape)
Every day celebrating my birthday
And two leopards running around my garden at home."
Anyone who lives in Catalonia will recognise that Rosalía's reference to her cumpleanys is a borrowed expression, based on the Spanish word for birthday, cumpleaños. The correct Catalan word for birthday is aniversari, but this is one case where the smaller language's term sometimes gets substituted in everyday usage. Or altered. Also, in this case, aniversari just wouldn't scan right in the song. But it's not so much about that, as about the fact that half the planet has fallen in love with Rosalía precisely because she's brave enough to express herself naturally. To be unique. Different. An artist from head to toe. And if she wants to use 'cumpleanys', well...avanti (that is, "go ahead" in Italian, just to quote another case where some 'barbarous' Mediterranean cross-fertilization has occurred).
Criticism? She's received some. But fortunately, there are many, like Catalan cultural association Òmnium and writer Màrius Serra, who have reacted sensibly:
La Rosalía ens ho recorda: tenim una llengua milionària! 🧡https://t.co/xPtiLn2LWe— Òmnium Cultural (@omnium) 4 de julio de 2019
Translation: "Rosalía reminds us, we have a millionaire language"— Òmnium Cultural
(This is a play on the Catalan word for "millennial")
Una simple reflexió, més enllà dels manlleus desafortunats. Que potser els cantants que fan trap en anglès només pronuncien mots que figurin a l’Oxford Dictionary o al Merriam-Webster? https://t.co/HSX3ntXmhY— Màrius Serra (@mariusserra) 4 de julio de 2019
"Just a reflection, beyond the unfortunate linguistic borrowing: Do rappers in English only use words that appear in the Oxford Dictionary or the Merriam-Webster?" - Màrius Serra
Només per la reacció d'aquests que es creuen la reencarnació de Pompeu Fabra, això de la Rosalía cantant en català ja paga la pena— Pep Prieto (@PepPrieto) 3 de julio de 2019
"On its own, the reaction from those who believe they are the reincarnation of [Catalan linguist] Pompeu Fabra, makes Rosalía's song in Catalan worth the trouble."- Pep Prieto
em sembla molt bé la cançó en català de la Rosalía però “dintre” i “cumpleanys” ????????? Hagués costat molt fer-la sense faltes ???????— a þ r i l (@abrillmontero) 4 de julio de 2019
"Rosalía's song in Catalan seems very good but "dintre" and "cumpleanys" ????????? Would it have been so hard to do it without linguistic errors???????" - a þ r i l
Rosalía diciendo cumpleanys me ha puesto muy nerviosa— clàudia (@itssxclaudia_) 4 de julio de 2019
"Rosalía saying 'cumpleanys' has made me very nervous" - Claudia
(This tweet is in Spanish, all the rest here are in Catalan)
Tots els que critiqueu el “cumpleanys” que diu Rosalía, segur que sou dels que dieu “tinc que”... 🤦🏼♀️— Bego Farré (@begofarre) 4 de julio de 2019
"All those who criticize the "cumpleanys" that Rosalía uses, I'm sure you are among those who say 'tinc que'"- Bego Farré
("Tinc que" is another common case where a borrowed Spanish expression has become quite common usage in Catalan)
Feliç de veure que a tanta gent li molesta el cumpleanys de Rosalia. 😍— Ignasi M. Duart (@ignasimd) 4 de julio de 2019
A les Terres de l’Ebre sempre hem celebrat cumpleanys 🎉 i hem bufat les candeles del pastel... 🎂 i ei! Tot bé, eh? La gent ha vingut igual a la festa. #fuckingmoneyman#fuckingpuristesman
"Happy to see that so many people were bothered by Rosalia's cumpleanys. 😍 In the Terres de l'Ebre we have always celebrated "cumpleanys" and we have even blown out the "candeles" on the cake ... 🎂 Great, isn't it? And people came to the party anyway. # fuckingmoneyman # fuckingpuristsman"— Ignasi M. Duart
Indeed, September 25th is Rosalía's cumpleanys. And we'll congratulate the birthday lady, even if a few people might be determined to keep up the dissing. If you get what we mean.