How Shakira’s music has impacted her listeners, from Latin America to the U.S. and beyond
SERENITY VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Shakira’s fifth studio album, “Laundry Service,” signaled her career transition into more English music.
October 12, 2022
One major star throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month is the Colombian legend Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, more commonly known as Shakira, or the “Queen of Latin Music.”
From releasing the official song for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” to performing at the Superbowl with Jennifer Lopez in 2020, Shakira has reached icon status not only in the U.S., but also globally.
Shakira’s music was no longer restricted to the niche of Latine households; her songs could now be heard on the radio. As an added bonus, American listeners were now able to experience one of the most important aspects of Latin culture: music.
Songs like “Hips Don’t Lie” went double platinum and allowed Shakira to reach mainstream success. However, it is important to remember the beginnings that allowed her to cross the threshold from Latin America to the U.S. and beyond.
Most of the music Shakira is known for ranges from pop to reggaeton, so it might be shocking to some that she started off with more acoustic pop and rock influences. My mom, who grew up listening to Shakira in Guatemala, was the one who introduced me to her lesser known side.
“Whenever, Wherever” was playing on the radio, and my mom hummed along, not knowing any of the words to a song she knew only in Spanish. It was then she made me play the Spanish version and I was sent down a rabbit hole of previous albums and her pre-radio fame, completely free of the grasp of the English language.
Her third studio album “Pies Descalzos” is a delicate listen that features gut-wrenching lyricism about heartbreak and loss in songs like “Te Espero Sentada” and “Pies Descalzos, Sueños Blancos.” My personal favorite of Shakira’s early work is the 1998 album, “Dónde Están Los Ladrones,” with “Si Te Vas’’ being my favorite song of hers to date. It’s a savage breakup anthem where she insults her former partner by calling him a “pedazo de cuero” (piece of leather).
Here is a Latin artist making a hit single with an American group that dominated the early 2000s, and said group is singing in Spanish.
It’s at some point after this album, however, that Shakira’s work takes a significant turn. Her sound shifts to a more mainstream pop with more sexually charged album covers. The biggest perpetrator of this phenomenon is probably “Oral Fixation, Vol. 2,” the album where “Hips Don’t Lie” originates.
This, along with a couple other albums released between 2001 and 2009, featured many songs in English, something I previously thought was a betrayal of Latin America.
I was quick to call Shakira a sellout that traded her artistry to appeal to audiences in the United States, but a conversation with my step-dad made me completely rethink the matter.
I was excitedly telling him about my initial writing outline, insisting that her early work is so much better than what she has put out more recently. He listened tentatively but looked unconvinced, and he let me finish talking before offering his rebuttal.
“Los artistas tienen que evolucionar o se quedan atrás,” he stated firmly, an angle I hadn’t even begun to consider. Artists have to evolve, or they get left behind; Shakira has managed to stay relevant because of her willingness to adapt, while still maintaining the essence of what got her to where she is.
Her songs are not quite as acoustic as before, and admittedly she has had some questionable collaborations in recent years, but it does not necessarily mean she is fighting for relevance.
“GIRL LIKE ME,” featuring the Black Eyed Peas, a song I quite frankly cannot stand, is likely not something she saw herself releasing in the early stages of her career, but it is not evidence of being a sellout. It is more so evident of her presence in all spheres of music. Here is a Latin artist making a hit single with an American group that dominated the early 2000s, and said group is singing in Spanish. More pop sensibilities do not have to equal a decline in quality.
Shakira’s broad appeal does not occur at the expense of her Latin and Hispanic heritage, so although her music now reflects a more modern sound, she still almost exclusively sings in Spanish and her songs reflect influence from the genres of the past. Her persistence in culture now means newer audiences can indulge in all the music — new and old — Shakira has to offer.
So as this Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, listen to Shakira’s older music alongside her newer releases to celebrate how far everyone has come.
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