Shakira candidly crosses cultural divide, and back again
Everybody knows Shakira is a success at crossing over. Nobody knew the hip-thrusting Colombian songstress would be so good at crossing back. Shakira was already a major star in Latin America in 2001 when she became a pop sensation in the U.S. wit...
Everybody knows Shakira is a success at crossing over. Nobody knew the hip-thrusting Colombian songstress would be so good at crossing back.
Shakira was already a major star in Latin America in 2001 when she became a pop sensation in the U.S. with her first English-language album, the multiplatinum "Laundry Service." And her dominance heading into the Latin Grammy Awards Oct. 26 in New York City with a field-leading five nominations -- including best song, record and album -- confirms that she hasn't lost any ground in the Spanish-language market either.
What's most notable, though, is that Shakira has managed to work both sides of the border with such ease, with no apparent compromise or change in her identity.
How Shakira accomplished such a feat may lie less with the artist than with the cultures she straddles. Musically, Latin America and the U.S. have been morphing together, for better or worse. It's a phenomenon that has little to do with contemporary globalization. This is all about rock 'n' roll.
Shakira is the first artist of the rock en espanol generation to become a star in the U.S. So for her, crossing over meant a linguistic, but not stylistic, switch. This allowed her to preserve a creative continuity regardless of language.
Shakira was born in Barranquilla, Colombia. But when it comes to her musical tastes, the singer had a lot in common with teenagers from Boston, Belfast or Birmingham who entered puberty in the early '90s.
Still, her music has always had native touches. There were the Andean pan pipes of "Whenever, Wherever" from "Laundry Service." And the restrained reggaeton beats of "La Tortura," from last year's "Fijacion Oral Vol. 1."
That fusion has been the signature of rock en espanol. This genre was conceived to combine a rock foundation with elements of roots music from Spanish-language cultures. That's why Shakira's music seems so natural, in either language. Sure, her English lyrics may be awkward at times, but her musical essence seems second nature.
Both the Spanish-language "Fijacion Oral" and its English-language follow-up, "Oral Fixation Vol. 2," hit the top 10 on the U.S. mainstream album charts. Executives at Epic Records treated both albums equally, pitching "La Tortura" to English radio stations. It became the first Spanish-language number to be featured on MTV's "Making of the Video," which aired with English subtitles. And the Spanish album became a simultaneous hit on the Latin and mainstream charts.
"We didn't see the audience as being divided," says Lee Stimmel, senior vice president of marketing for Epic Records, which released both albums last year.
Compare Shakira's experience to that of Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, one of the biggest crossover stars of all time. Iglesias was the premier pop singer in the Spanish-speaking world when he wooed English-speaking fans with his suave style on his 1984 breakthrough smash, "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," a duet with country star Willie Nelson.
In Los Angeles, there was such a rage over the dapper divo that he set a box-office record with 10 consecutive nights at Universal Amphitheatre, a run that remains unbeaten.
When loyal Latin fans at one of those concerts shouted requests for their old favorites, Iglesias bluntly told them to "shut up," explaining to his new admirers that it was another new term he had picked up in English.
The Spaniard had committed the No. 1 crossover crime: He had insulted his former fans, while appearing to pander to his new ones.
Shakira, by contrast, was never suspected of changing herself to please anybody. She even insisted on learning English so she could write her own songs, rather than let others speak for her or reshape her.
Shakira is the first Latin crossover artist who also has gained critical acclaim from the English-language rock press. She has managed to sell millions and still seem genuine, a prerequisite for rock respect.
Hips don't lie -- in any language.