Late last month, the Spanish art-pop flamenco star Rosalía played a startling and invigorated show at the revamped Webster Hall. By turns, she was a nightclub diva, an avant-gardist, a historical preservationist and a seamless synthesizer of then and now.
Rosalía was trained in flamenco — a fiercely traditional genre — but has been consistently embedding other, more cosmopolitan influences into her work. Her performance, the first of a pair of shows for the Red Bull Music Festival New York, was a refreshing reminder that not all the good ideas have been taken, and that savvy creators are restless reimaginers of the world they inherit.
What’s more, as Rosalía has become more established, her arsenal continues to expand. Her recent single “Con Altura,” a collaboration with the Colombian star J Balvin, is a sly pop-reggaeton song, a union of Spanish speakers across the Atlantic and a demonstration of the fluidity of current Spanish-language pop.
Such versatility and open dialogue is key to the current crop of rising global stars, many of whom are building on multiple styles, across national borders, and sometimes spanning languages — all in service of pushing pop relentlessly forward, often with the United States in its DNA but also in its rear view mirror.
That was on vivid display over the last two weeks in New York, in concerts by several artists who, taken together, comprise an exciting snapshot of the new pop rule book. There was futuristic pop, primarily not in English, from South Korea, Spain, Nigeria and Puerto Rico playing to packed rooms and, more often than not, bringing sounds more innovative than anything coming out of Los Angeles or Atlanta. In addition to Rosalía, there was exuberant, thundering K-pop from Blackpink and NCT 127; R&B-inflected Afrobeats from Mr. Eazi; and Latin trap, reggaeton and more from Bad Bunny, perhaps the definitive border-crossing pop star of the current moment.
The style that hews closest to familiar playbooks is K-pop, which embraces the boy band and teen-pop of the early 2000s and blends it with modern-day hip-hop and R&B hybrids and, sometimes, the bombast of E.D.M.
The nimble boy band NCT 127 — currently touring with nine members — and the breakthrough four-member girl group Blackpink both came to the Prudential Center in Newark, offering slightly differing versions of the template. (BTS, the most popular K-pop group of the moment and the most successful ever in this country, will perform two — yes, two — shows at MetLife Stadium — yes, stadium — this month.)
Both have members who primarily rap. Both have some lyrics in English. For Blackpink, the emphasis was on theater and, well, emphasis. Hits like “DDU-DU DDU-DU” and “Kill This Love” were full-scale assaults, and even when the members took solo turns, the performances were maximal, especially Jisoo’s cover of Zedd’s “Clarity.”
NCT 127 leaned more into hip-hop. One of the show’s high points was a video interlude in which the members were trapped in a 1990s time warp, outfits and all, and had to breakdance their way back to the present day. NCT 127 showed off pneumatically intense dance moves firmly in the Wade Robson and Laurieann Gibson traditions; Blackpink’s dancing was more tempered, and at times, reluctant.
For these groups, American pop was a jumping-off point, a multifaceted framework upon which they’ve laid countless embellishments. By contrast, the music of Bad Bunny, who performed at Madison Square Garden late last month, finds its closest kin in hip-hop. He sings and raps, and occasionally his music dips into new wave or pop-punk. But primarily, his performance served as a clear demonstration of the potency and range of current Spanish-language pop — the sentimentality of “Estamos Bien,” the gut punch of “La Romana.”
That same range is a hallmark of the music of Mr. Eazi, who was born in Nigeria and spent formative time in Ghana. His music injects some of the breeze of Ghanaian highlife music into the raw viscosity of Nigerian Afrobeats. (In this country, he is signed to Diplo’s imprint, Mad Decent.)
At his concert at Brooklyn Steel late last month, he was an intensely charismatic performer, delivering pumped-up versions of songs from the two volumes of his “Life Is Eazi” albums. Songs that were delicate on record became technicolor and, sometimes, raunchy onstage. But rarely did he stray far from the lessons of the West African music that serves as the foundation for the current explosion of music from that region — he was a faithful advocate for history while very plainly making a case to be included in the current pop conversation.
That tug-of-war was reminiscent of Rosalía, another artist who casually pushes and pulls between the trappings of tradition and the demands of pathbreaking pop.
For decades, world music was marketed in this country strictly in terms of its fealty to the past: It wasn’t in conversation with the pop music made in the present day, but served as a counterweight and stubborn holdout. And the exceptionalism of the American pop music industry rarely allowed room for ideas from elsewhere to infiltrate the mainstream, meaning the global music that had the greatest impact here was generally of the historically inclined sort.
The internet, blessedly, has smashed all of that. This current crop of vanguard global pop stars are often almost as popular here as in their homelands, if not more so. The music business is increasingly borderless, with music made across the globe as accessible as that made across the street. (Terrestrial radio largely hasn’t caught up, but its influence is waning.)
Billboard announced on Monday that it will soon launch the Global 100, a chart that will aim to reflect songs’ popularity around the world, not simply siloed off by national markets. It will be fascinating to see whether songs made here make as much of a dent worldwide as songs made elsewhere are making here. If weeks like the last two are any indication, imports may soon outstrip exports.