The Spanish flamenco singer, nominated for four awards, took home best Latin with J Balvin for her hit "Con altura"

By Justin Curto
August 26, 2019 10:50 PM

Rosalía took the stage by storm — and surprise — at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, performing hits including “A Ningún Hombre (Cap.11: Poder),” “Yo X Ti, Tu X Mi,” with Latin pop star Ozuna, and “Aute Cuture.”

The 25-year-old Spanish flamenco singer, nominated for four VMAs, sang exclusively in Spanish during her performance.

Earlier in the night, she accepted the award for best Latin alongside J Balvin for their song “Con altura,” which translates to “with height” in English.

Who is the breakout performer? Here are five things to know.

Check out PEOPLE’s full MTV VMAs coverage to get the latest news on one of music’s biggest nights.

1. She grew up around flamenco.

Rosalía, born Rosalía Vila Tobella, has performed the traditional Spanish music for over a decade, including in flamenco clubs called “tablaos” throughout her home of Barcelona as a teen.

“It was like getting pierced by an arrow — it was the purest thing I had ever heard,” the singer told Pitchfork in 2018 of the first time she heard flamenco music.

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2. She released her debut album in 2017.

The record was called Los ángeles — but not after the city. Rosalía made her self-recorded concept album based off a collection of traditional flamenco songs, all dealing with death. (The title roughly translates to “the angles” in English.)

“I feel like with Los ángeles, I wanted to establish my musical legacy … and honor the classic sound of flamenco in the most traditional sense,” Rosalía told Jezebel in 2018.

Rosalía at the 2019 MTV VMAs
Christopher Polk/Variety/Shutterstock

3. Her acclaimed second album tells the story of a tragic relationship — that draws on Justin Timberlake.

Rosalía’s El mal querer (loosely: “the bad want” or “the bad desire”) was inspired by the 13th-century novel Flamenca, written by an anonymous author in the Romance language of Occitan. Each song is a chapter, tracing the fall of a relationship.

“It’s the story of a woman who married a man who becomes consumed with jealousy, and he goes crazy and imprisons her,” Rosalía told Pitchfork. “And it got me thinking, almost anthropologically: Centuries later, have we altered the ways in which we love and relate to other people, or are we still acting in the same ways?”

“Bagdad (Cap 7: Liturgia)” features a familiar melody — taken from the chorus of Justin Timberlake‘s 2002 hit “Cry Me a River.” Rosalía’s Spanish lyrics, according to Genius, translate in English as “And she’s going to burn, if she stays there / The flames rise up to heaven to die / There’s no one else around there / There’s no one else, sitting and clapping.”

4. J Balvin isn’t her only major cosign.

The flamenco star has also recorded with Pharrell after he invited her in spring 2018. “There is no one who makes decisions for me — never,” she told Billboard of the collaboration earlier this year.

She made her follow-up to “Con altura,” “Barefoot in the Park,” with English electronic artist James Blake.

And outside of music, Rosalía has also worked with Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodóvar on his forthcoming film Pain and Glory, starring Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz.

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Rosalía
Robin Little/Getty

5. She’s nominated for four awards at the VMAs.

In addition to best Latin, which she already took home, Rosalía’s high-concept videography garnered her nominations for best choreography and song of the summer for “Con altura” and best new artist.

The 2019 MTV Video Music Awards are airing live from Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center on Monday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m. ET.

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